Interview Date: 01/06/2011
Run Date: 05/31/2011
Way back in January, Bullz-Eye was fortunate enough to have a couple of quick close encounters with some of the stars of TNT’s “Men of a Certain Age”: Ray Romano, who happened to have his longtime friend and co-star Jon Manfrellotti by his side, and Scott Bakula. At the time we did the interview, the series was on the cusp of heading into the sunset for the mid-season hiatus of its second season, so we figured, “Fair enough, we’ll hold the interviews ‘til then.” Little did we know it’d be nearly six months before the show would be back, making its return on Wed. June 1.
Bullz-Eye: First of all, I’m a big fan of the show…
Ray Romano: Thank you. So, wait, do you know this guy, then? (Gestures to Jon Manfrellotti, who plays Joe’s bookie, Manfro, on the show)
BE: I do know that guy.
RR: (To Manfrellotti) Come on over here, guy!
Jon Manfrellotti: What’s up?
RR: This guy says he’s a big fan of the show…and he must be, ‘cause he knows who you are.
JM: Oh, yeah? How you doin’?
BE: I’m doing well, thanks. So, Ray, you were stepping a little bit out of your comfort zone when you started this show. I guess that was a conscious decision on your part…?
RR: Oh, yeah, yeah. I didn’t want to do another sitcom. I mean, why, you know? It’s kind of, like, I’m proud of what I did, I don’t think it’d ever be as good as that if I ever tried another one, so, y’know, why taint my sitcom… (Hesitates) I don’t want to say “legacy,” ‘cause it sounds too high faluting, but that’s what it is for me. Plus, y’know, I just wasn’t interested. I wanted something that would kind of excite me, and doing a one-hour dramedy seemed the right thing.
BE: I understand it was originally about the bookie and then became about the other three guys.
JM: (Laughs) Exactly.
RR: (Laughs) It was about the bookie, and he wanted…well, I don’t want to say that he wanted more money. He wanted some money.
JM: I needed dental.
RR: Yeah, we thought we could get him just for dental. (Laughs) But he was a recurring character on “Raymond,” you know? He played Johnny.
BE: Absolutely, yeah.
RR: But this felt like a perfect fit. We’d been friends for a long time, and…Johnny was good, but it wasn’t you. This is more…
JM: This is a more complex character. Johnny was more kinda, “Hey, Mrs. B, you make great lasagna. Yeah, Ray is an idiot!” But this is a real character. He’s got layers, this guy.
RR: Yeah. And it’s kind of in your wheelhouse, too.
JM: Yeah. (Hesitates, then laughs) You mean Johnny wasn’t?
RR: No, no. Well, yeah, but we could’ve got…
JM: Jeff Garlin? (Launches into a brief Jeff Garlin impression)
RR: (Waits for Manfrellotti to finish) So, what, you were doing a bit there?
JM: A little bit. Just for you. It’s between us.
BE: So how did the chemistry between you, Scott, and Andre come together? Did it happen pretty quickly?
RR: It happened over dinner. We had never met, and Scott came in and read, so I got to know him for that hour that we talked to him. Andre came in and read. But then after we cast them, Mike (Royce) and I and us, we went out to dinner. We went to Mozza and…you know, we just hit it off. Scott’s one of the nicest guys in the world, you know. Talks a lot. Very easy to have a conversation with. Andre’s one of the nicest guys in the world, but a different type. He’s a little more reserved, a little more…well, you know, he’s a Juilliard graduate, so he has this air about him, but when you break it down, and when you yell “cut” and it’s just us three sitting there, we all have the same bullcrap we’re talking about: kids and pains and farting and hurting ourselves. You know, old man stuff. But the chemistry is there, that’s for sure. It’s not forced.
BE: How do you think the show has evolved, now that it’s in its second season?
RR: I think that it’s good. We’ve kind of gotten our rhythm going. And, also, you know, the one thing we didn’t want to do was heighten or raise the stakes just for the sake of doing it, ‘cause…we like what we did in the first season, and I think the worst thing you can do is say, “Okay, now we’ve got to go up a notch.” Now, this year, I think we did go up a little bit, but with a tone where it felt really organic. Things are getting a little hairier for each guy, but it doesn’t seem like we’re forcing it, you know? I think we’re staying true to the show that we wanted to do. Next season, I don’t know. (To Manfrellotti) Next season, you may have to…let me think.
JM: I build a time machine, and…
RR: Nah, nah. Manfro starts Tweeting… (Laughs)
JM: I wouldn’t know a Tweet from a…
RR: Never mind. Don’t say it.
JM: From Tweety Pie?RR: Nice. Good pull-back. Way not to pull the rip cord on that one.
Bullz-Eye: Well, you came up to Malcolm McDowell when I was talking to him, then you came up to Henry Winkler when I was talking to him, so…
Scott Bakula: Sorry about that!
BE: No, no, I took it as a sign that I clearly needed to talk to you, too.
SB: Well, there you go. That’s actually how I get interviews: I horn in on other people’s conversations ‘til they get the hint. (Laughs)
BE: You didn’t have to twist my arm! So what was it like to step into this role? You’re not generally known for comedy, per se, and this isn’t 100% comedy, but…
SB: Well, actually, I’ve done a ton of comedy.
BE: Sure, I know you have. I just mean that your most high profile roles are more in the science-fiction vein than they are comedy.
SB: Yeah, I’ve done a ton of half-hour work, and I’ve done a lot of comedy on stage, so I never even thought twice about that part of it. I was just looking at the tone of the piece, and…it’s so quirky and so odd because of Mike and Ray, and their perspective on life is so unusual, so that was very appealing to me. And getting to play an actor is always a blast. Whenever you get to play what you are, you know, and kind of put your spin on it, or be not like who you yourself are as an actor, it’s kind of… (Hesitates) I don’t know why, but it’s just a lot of fun to get to do that. You’re kind of commenting on yourself, basically.
BE: Are you able to draw from personal experience when you’re doing the audition scenes?
SB: Oh, yes. Yes, absolutely. Personal experiences, friends’ experiences, people that I know that are still doing it, still working at it, trying to do it. And, you know, our business doesn’t get any easier. I mean, it may for some people that are way up high on the ladder, but, in fact, it’s gotten more impersonal. You hardly ever go in and meet a director anymore. You go on video for some casting director, and they send it away, and they say, “Oh, you’re going to go read for…” (Hesitates) What was that big movie from a few years ago? Something “Bones.”
BE: “The Lovely Bones”?
SB: Yeah! “Oh, you’re going to go on video, and they’re going to send it to him in New Zealand.” So I’m, like, okay, I get it, but… (Trails off)
BE: What role did you read for?
SB: I read for the killer.
BE: Oh, the one Stanley Tucci played.
SB: Yeah. So, you know, it’s just…the business is crazy. But I love to play a role like this, and the guys are great, the network’s great, we’re having a good time.
BE: I heard you say that you guys found your chemistry over dinner.
SB: Yeah! Basically so. And none of us knew each other before we met, before we started working on the show. And because of that, Ray wanted to meet Andre (Braugher) and me, and I spent an hour with Mike and Ray just talking. And I came back five days later, we spent another hour rehearsing and working on some scenes…and videotaping them and sending them to the network! (Laughs) And Andre had to do the same thing. I don’t know who they wanted to get or who else they wanted to see – a lot of people will do that – but I was, like, “No, the script is so good! I’d love to be a part of the show!” And I wanted to do something on cable, and I hadn’t done that. Other than Showtime. I’d done a bunch of stuff for Showtime, but not a series. And I love what the series world is on cable right now, so that was another thing, and that has not been disappointing. TNT has been great.
BE: All right, I know you’ve got someone else waiting to talk to you, but just to briefly touch on the role you were playing immediately before this – as Chuck’s dad on “Chuck” – do you remember when you first found yourself going up for “dad” roles?
SB: Well, the “Chuck” thing was… (Hesitates) Was that my first “dad” role?
BE: It’s the first one that leaps to mind, anyway.SB: I feel like I might played another dad at some point, but…anyway, it’s a little different. (Laughs) But that’s life, you know? I can’t stop that from happening, and if the roles are great, you go where the roles are. And “Chuck” was great. I loved that.