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Sundance Q&A: Ray Romano gets serious

The ”Everybody Loves Rayomond” veteran talks about taking a step toward making more serious fare with his pitch-black comedy ”The Last Word”

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In The Last Word, which premiered last Saturday at the Sundance Film Festival, Ray Romano plays a depressed man who befriends a professional writer (Wes Bentley) who crafts suicide notes for other people. (Winona Ryder also stars as Bentley’s love interest.) While Romano has some funny moments, the role marks a transition out of sitcom TV and into more serious work for the actor: Think Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Earlier this week, EW.com caught up with Romano in Park City for a quick chat about playing against type.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Can you give a little backstory — what the film is about and who your character is?
RAY ROMANO: Wes Bentley plays a man who writes suicide notes for people, and my character becomes one of his clients. My character is a frustrated music composer, kind of depressed and in a very dark period of his life, and he seeks out Wes. They strike up a relationship, and at the same time, Wes strikes up a relationship with the sister of one of his former clients who did commit suicide. [She’s played by] Winona Ryder. And it’s about the three of them, it’s kind of morbid and dark, but there’s also a connection between all three characters that gives it some hope. It’s not as dark as it seems.

How did you get attached to this film? This is a departure from stuff that you’ve done before.
Yeah, yeah, that’s partly why I took it. I read the script, first for the lead (my agent gave it to me), and I immediately thought, Oh well, I’m not the lead, but I really like this character. You know, he’s got issues, there’s something going on there, he’s deep and dark, but he’s also funny without trying to be funny. It’s not a character that people are familiar with me playing, but it’s also not crazy-far away. The audience still seems to like him…. I feel lucky that it has a good balance of drama and comedy, enough to show people something outside of what they know me as.

Do you want to do more of that?
Yeah. The hardest part when you have a TV show for nine years is [people] only see you as one thing. And it’s hard to get them to take kind of a leap of faith, so that the audience will go with you and you’ll be able to do something like this [movie]. So yeah, I mean, I think I’ve done TV.

Really? You’re not working on anything else in TV?
Well actually, not to say I wouldn’t do TV again. I wouldn’t do a four-camera show. I like doing film, you know, single-camera.

It must be hard to transition.
Yeah, [there is a] project we’re working on: a single-camera one-hour show for cable. And, you know, someone will bring up an idea to cast a person that I know from TV, like a sitcom actor, and my immediate reaction is, No. I’m like that because all I know of him is [his work as a sitcom actor], that’s how people know him. So I get it. I get that people see that. I’m not complaining, because I’m proud of Raymond and I’m proud of what we did. But if you want to go there, it’s not easy to dig your way outta that. So this film and this character is like a step in that direction, hopefully.