Ray Romano looks back on his roles, from Everybody Loves Raymond to The Irishman
Following a brief run in theaters, Martin Scorsese‘s new film The Irishman is now streaming on Netflix. The movie has received much buzz over the superstars with top billing (Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci) who were filmed with CGI de-aging technology to tell a story that spans decades. But The Irishman‘s cast is stacked all the way down. Ray Romano also stars as mob lawyer Bill Bufalino, cementing the dramatic turn the Everybody Loves Raymond actor has taken in recent years. So ahead of The Irishman‘s release, EW caught up with Romano to discuss a few of the most significant roles of his career.
Everybody Loves Raymond (1996-2005)
Romano is the first to admit that “there is a large portion of the public who still just know me from” his breakthrough role as Raymond Barone on his self-titled CBS sitcom. Although Romano has returned to TV for various roles over the years (some of which are detailed below), he’s insistent on not returning to sitcoms: “I don’t want to have to follow that.”
“I like that it still holds up. It still resonates,” Romano says. “People see themselves in it, even though times change. It’s funny because it could look dated, because just technology-wise, everything is different. But I think the emotion of it is very relatable. I’m proud of it. The secret was just writing about things that relate to us, and that’s half the battle. When people can relate to it and see themselves, then the comedy is much easier.”
Ice Age franchise (2002-2016)
After the sitcom that bears his name, Romano’s next-most famous role is one where you never see his face. He voiced Manny the woolly mammoth, who spends the first Ice Age movie helping a human baby survive the arctic weather alongside John Leguizamo‘s sloth Sid and Denis Leary‘s sabretooth tiger Diego. That film was so successful it spawned four sequels over 14 years; Romano jokes, “I don’t think the real Ice Age lasted as long” as this franchise.
“I thought we were done with three, at number three, but the writers kept coming up with new scenarios, and the audience wanted to see it,” he says. Romano has also watched young fans try to reconcile his voice with the cartoon character they recognize it from: “Kids won’t recognize it right away, but if their parents say, ‘he’s Manny,’ then they get this odd look like, ‘wait a minute, what’s he doing here?'”
Before The Irishman, Romano’s first collaboration with Martin Scorsese was this HBO series about the New York music industry of the ’70s. Vinyl had a glittery pedigree, with a Scorsese-directed pilot and Mick Jagger himself on as a producer, but it was canceled after just one season on HBO. Scorsese himself has called Vinyl‘s cancellation “tragic” and wondered if things would have gone differently had he directed every episode. Romano, too, says he was “bummed out” by Vinyl‘s cancellation, but is still proud of his performance as record executive Zak Yankovich — particularly the episode where his character has a threesome.
“That was the most nerve-wracking episode,” Romano says. “Me and Bobby Cannavale go to Vegas, and we’re trying to sign Elvis Presley. We hear Elvis wants to leave Colonel Parker, and we go to try to sign him to our thing and things go crazy. Then he gets two hookers for me, and I was going to have this threesome and also be drunk at the same time. I didn’t know which was more nerve-wracking because when you have to portray drunk, you could do it horribly. It’s not something I’m used to. It’s both worlds: I don’t drink, and I don’t have threesomes. The joke I said was, ‘I think being drunk is even scarier.'”
Get Shorty (2017-present)
Romano’s current TV role is as movie producer Rick Moreweather on Epix’s Get Shorty series, though he is well aware Epix can be a little harder to find than other channels. Romano says he based Rick’s hair on Brian Grazer, though he notes Grazer is “an A-list producer” while Rick is a washed-up maker of B movies who gets roped into a scheme to create films that double as an artistic outlet for hitman Miles Daly (Chris O’Dowd) and a money-laundering operation for crime boss Amara De Escalones (Lidia Porto). Though Get Shorty shares a name with the 1995 Barry Sonnenfeld film, there are important differences in tone.
“The movie was great, I like the movie, but there was a lightness to it, and it involved gangsters. And whenever there is a little bit of comedy involved, and maybe it’s a little broad, it takes the stakes away from a crime movie, or something, you know? This is not that,” Romano explains. “This is dark, and it’s intense. It’s funny at the same time, but it doesn’t compromise the intensity and the authenticity of the danger involved. So I just don’t want people to think, ‘oh, it’s just a light comedy about the crime world.’ No, it’s gripping. It is funny at times, but it holds you.”
The Irishman (2019)
Although Romano stresses he’s “not in it a lot,” he definitely makes an impact in The Irishman. In fact, one of the film’s trailers was built entirely around a scene between Romano’s character, mob lawyer Bill Bufalino, and Robert De Niro’s titular Irishman Frank Sheeran. Romano jokes, “I tell my family, ‘You don’t need to go. Just watch the trailer.'”
As someone who’s worked a lot in both TV and film, Romano has opinions about the ongoing debate about whether The Irishman should be watched at once in its three-and-a-half-hour entirety or split into chunks like a TV show: “I think you want to sit there and be immersed. It’s different from some of the movies he makes. It’s not as intense in some ways, but it’s more intense emotionally. There’s more of a story, there’s more exploring. You get inside this guy: The remorse, the regret, and the wrong decisions. I think it’s a piece of art, really, and I think this one has more of an impact just sitting there and seeing it from beginning to end.”
The Irishman is suffused with information about its real-life subjects; almost every character comes on screen alongside a caption detailing how they eventually died.
“There wasn’t a lot of video footage of my guy,” Romano says. “There was literally like a blip of a thing when he’s in front of Congress or something. There were some materials about him, but not a lot. They say he was the cousin of [Joe Pesci’s character] Russell Bufalino, but then they also say they made that up and Russell just let him say he was related because it got him further along. So you don’t know what was true and what wasn’t. But then what I didn’t have, I made up. I make a little backstory for every character that I’m doing. And so, I just wrote that out. But they tried to get me to look like him. I don’t know if you’ve seen the picture of the real guy, but he’s a little more rotund than me and bigger. And he wasn’t like Pesci’s character, who could say something and the chill would go through your body, you know? He wasn’t that guy, but he was a cutthroat in the lawyer world. So I made some stuff up, and I did some research, and then the rest was all makeup and fat suits.”
Considering how CGI would later de-age the characters, Romano admits it was sometimes hard to keep track of how old De Niro’s and Pacino’s characters were from one scene to the next. And that the same confusion sometimes got applied to him.
“The funniest thing was when I was older, they put a little fat suit underneath me, and one day Al Pacino inspired me in my favorite way ever, accidentally,” Romano explains. “We were sitting down ready to do a scene, and he got scared, and he looked confused, because you’re jumping around timeframes. One scene you’re 40, the next you’re 70. And he looked at me and he goes, ‘Ray, are you wearing a fat suit in this scene?’ I go, ‘I’m not, Al.’ I had just come from lunch, and I was bloated, and he thought I was wearing the fat suit. I said, ‘All right, you just inspired me to not eat this.'”
The Irishman is currently streaming on Netflix.