Ray Romano is playing a game testing his knowledge of capital cities. I challenge him and he scores 100%
In The Big Sick, the semi-autobiographical film written by Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon, Ray Romano and Holly Hunter play Emily’s parents. We first meet them in the hospital where there daughter has been put into a medically induced coma for a mysterious infection. They’re keeping bedside vigil when her ex-boyfriend Najiani, essentially playing himself in the film, rushes back see how he can help.
Romano’s character Terry is responsible for some of the best laughs in the film and has one of the most memorable moments in the hospital food court talking about 9/11 with Kumail. It’s a great performance, and I got to talk to Romano about it — as well as how Everybody Loves Raymond still lives on around the world.
I used to watch Everybody Loves Raymond in England and I recently revisited the show. The comedy still holds up. It’s still as funny today as it was then.
It airs there in the morning right? I’ve had friends tell me they watch it as they’re getting ready for work.
Yes, 8.30am on Channel 4. I’d watch it after I got my news fix.
People relate to it, it’s about family and you know it plays everywhere. It plays in Russia of all places. There’s a documentary called Exporting Raymond and it’s about Russia wanting to do an Everybody Loves Raymond. Phil Rosenthal, the head writer went over to consult and he made a documentary about adapting the show to Russia and how he had to cast it and adapt the family. The family couldn’t live across the street because that meant they’d be able to afford a house and so they lived in the same house. They took our scripts and wrote it in Russian, changed a few things, but they took all 210 scripts and they did 250 more episodes. It’s the longest most popular 30-minute show there in Russia. I think I just heard that.
It’s amazing that the dynamic of the family is the same no matter where you’re from or your cultural differences. It’s the relatability that holds up after all this time.
That’s what was so great about seeing you in a role as father again.
This is very good. That’s one of the best things about being in this movie aside from it being very good and having this great message to it. People are seeing me in this light. I’ve taken a lot of steps since Everybody Loves Raymond. I did Vinyl, I did a movie or two here and there, and I did Parenthood. It was baby steps that I’ve taken to get some of the people who have known me in Raymond to accept me in this. A lot of people are probably coming right from Raymond to this. It’s not easy when you’ve done a character for nine years for people to accept you doing somebody else, but this movie has done that and I’m grateful for having done this.
You and Holly have such great chemistry, I have to say.
I know. Isn’t it weird?
But you haven’t known each other.
I never met her until the table read. I was afraid of her because that’s a given with any woman, but especially with an Academy Award winner. We talked a little before we sat down at the table read. We bonded. She has twins and I have twins. I got a little more at ease knowing she wasn’t going to bite my head off. As intense and deep as she is, you normally associate that with someone who is difficult or off-standing. She was just the opposite. She was the easiest to talk to and so collaborative. It was serendipity that it worked.
I have to give credit Judd Apatow for casting me.
Did you meet the parents so to speak or what did Emily tell you about your real-life counterparts?
We didn’t meet them because Emily said we were writing the characters based on who we got. When they got me, I had to figure out how we ended up together so I wrote this backstory and they put that in there a little bit. She was okay fictionalizing the parents for the most part. Her parents didn’t have the marital problems.
What I did learn was that Emily showed her parents a rough cut of the film and her mother said, “Holly Hunter is prettier than me, but your father is more handsome than Ray Romano.” She actually told me that. I wish I knew that before so I would have done that. I think it was great that they let us bring the characters to life by ourselves.
Did you get to do much improv?
Many scenes were minimal. We were open to doing it at all times. The first take we did as written, but they were open to paraphrasing. Sometimes Kumail and I would open the doors more.
We did thirty minutes of the take where we talk about parlor games and also in the scene where I’m in his room spilling my guts. I work better when I’m not tied word for word. That’s a big part of why I felt everything was real.
You also became acquainted with Kumail’s culture.
Yes. I knew of arranged marriages but I didn’t know it was still going on and still being strictly enforced by some families. But, if they fall in love, and you’re thinking that, but you realize that it’s been brought down from generations and that’s what’s cool about the movie. You respect those beliefs and you also realize how love can transcend all that. I asked Kumail whether they really would have disowned him. He said, “when she was sick they were compassionate. When she was well and recovered, that’s when they were mad at me.”
Even with all that, this is also a great timely film with all the differences. It would work if he were Italian and she was Jewish. It’s more about two people and love. In my family, there’s no religious tradition, it’s not life or death. If I wasn’t Italian it would have caused trouble for my wife.