The title to Ray Romano’s decade-defining sitcom was rife for play on words. If there was title for his initial professional contact with Martin Scorsese it would be “Everybody Loves Raymond Except For Martin Scorsese Because He Literally Has No Idea Who He Is”. During the process of directing and casting the pilot for Vinyl – the 1970’s HBO music series that Scorsese created with Mick Jagger, their team requested a tape.
“So, we sent it in and their response was Marty likes what he saw,” Romano said, “He’s considering Ray. And he’s never heard of Ray. No, not kidding. And we, my agent and I were like -so he’s never seen the show? She goes, ‘No, he’s actually never heard of it.’”
Such is the dividing line for one of the highest-paid and well-known sitcom actors of all time and one of the most well-regarded directors of all time. The awareness overlap wasn’t even mutual.
An actor with the career success that Romano had with his nine-season show on CBS, can see how it’s difficult for people to want to see him in a different light. The fact that Scorsese had never heard of him was an opportunity.
“Marty doesn’t watch TV,” Romano said “I was lucky when Marty hadn’t seen anything that I had done. It was just fresh.”
And further, many comedy-based performers see a difference between doing stand-up and performing as an ‘actor’ as a barrier in both perception and career track. Success can become a saddle when approaching a next move to one or the other. Fortunately, Romano has seen the long-term process in simpler terms and with good fortune.
“It wasn’t like I started out saying stand up is my passion. I found that, just knowing that I wanted to perform somehow. And I said oh, ‘this is it’. Stand is up is what I want to do. And then I got the opportunity to act and now I want to do both,” Romano said.
“I had messed around in acting. You know, I took drama in college and all that. But once I got into stand up, That was my passion. And that’s who I really felt that’s what I felt I did the best. And then there’s Everybody Loves Raymond came from that. David Letterman saw me on his show and signed me to a deal to develop a show and that’s how Everybody Loves Raymond came to be. So, I wasn’t pursuing the acting. I always had a thought and a desire to do something with acting. But my goal is to be a great stand up and that’s what I was doing when Everybody Loves Raymond came. And then I was Everybody Loves Raymond for nine years. But I always had this desire and a part of my dream wasn’t to be a sitcom actor. I love that show, and I love the sitcom and I’m proud of it. But when it was over, I was interested in trying something not ‘heavy drama’, but definitely exploring that area.”
In The Irishman, Romano certainly gets that chance. His portrayal the legendary teamster union lawyer Bill Bufalino supports the integrity of the whole structure and Romano nails his part. Bufalino worked closely with Jimmy Hoffa and overlapped regularly with the other principals of the epic mob crime epic. The film grapples with weighty issues of the consequences of crime and the influence a small circle of men had on the 20th century.
“Bufalino was not like, this intimidating criminal presence,. The big impression isn’t that he wasn’t one of those guys, but he was still in that world,” Romano said.
The central character, Frank Sheridan, the titular Irishman is gradually pulled into a criminal circle, sometimes of his own accord, and sometimes by how the world makes its accords for you. The consequences of his and the groups decisions become weightier as time passes and the reality of this and their world envelop around him. Scorsese said that he views Sheridan at his core, as a good person.
“If you took that same man and his same soul and started his life in a different way, I can see what he means that there’s a core of a person there, and his path took him into this world. And he did some horrible things. But, I think with this movie, Marty was showing how it’s not as black and white as people think. And that’s what’s unique about the movie,” Romano said.
“There’s an emotional core that’s similar, no matter where you are in life, you could be in this criminal world, or outside and we all feel the same things. Unless you’re a sociopath.”