'Raymond' Emmy Winner Brad Garrett Steps Into the Great One's Shoes for CBS' Biopic 'Gleason'

When Brad Garrett won a best-supporting-actor Emmy for his work on CBS’ Everybody Loves Raymond, the 6’8” stand-up appeared genuinely floored. Or was that just…acting? ”I’m not that good,” Garrett demurs, still reeling the day after the ceremony. ”All I kept saying in my mind was, Giants don’t cry, giants don’t cry.”

Not everyone was shedding tears of joy. ”It’s a disaster,” jokes Raymond creator Philip Rosenthal of Garrett’s victory for playing chronically melancholy cop Robert Barone. ”Brad’s too happy. We have to do whatever we can not to let the happiness shine through.”

That won’t be an easy task, considering how elated he is over his title role as the Great One in CBS’ movie Gleason (airing Oct. 13). ”I was dying to do it for years, and I really had to rally to make it happen,” says Garrett, who originally pitched the idea of starring in a Rosenthal-penned Jackie Gleason biopic to the Eye network five years ago. ”We were just completely ignored,” remembers Rosenthal.

When Garrett later heard that CBS had acquired the rights to Gleason’s life story, he placed a call to network prez Leslie Moonves. ”I said, ‘Listen, I know you’re doing the Gleason project, and I would love to have a shot at auditioning,”’ Garrett recalls. ”There was this pause, and he said, ‘Great. Who would you like to play?”’

Moonves wasn’t the only one who couldn’t see the towering Garrett as the 5’11” Gleason, so the part was given to Mark Addy (Still Standing). ”As an actor, you get used to losing things,” says Garrett. ”But this was something I felt like I could nail if people could just forget my height for a minute.” When Addy dropped out at the eleventh hour due to scheduling conflicts, Moonves reconsidered and offered the role to Garrett.

”Accuracy was so important to me in this, although I had hardly any time to prepare,” says Garrett, who did an uncredited rewrite of the script with pal Dave Boone. When Oscar-winning makeup artist Greg Cannom proved too costly for the telepic’s tight budget, Garrett and director Howard Deutch (The Replacements) paid him out of their own checkbooks. The facial prosthetics took three hours every morning to put on, and an hour and a half to take off.

Garrett, whose weight has fluctuated during his six seasons on Raymond (”I’m the comedic Luther Vandross,” he quips), packed on 12 pounds and was supplemented by three different-size fat suits. To disguise Garrett’s height, doorways on the set were built at eight feet instead of the standard 6’9” and his costars wore boots with seven-inch heels. ”Saul Rubinek, who plays my manager, said, ‘I don’t know if I can act in these things,”’ says Garrett. ”And I said, ‘I’m begging you — if you don’t put these on, it’s Gulliver’s Travels.”’

In tandem with his Emmy win, Garrett’s bravura performance in Gleason should vault him to a new career level. ”Maybe I won’t have to be the wacky neighbor,” he says. With Raymond possibly in its final season (Ray Romano has yet to sign for another year), could Robert get his own spin-off? ”I wouldn’t rule it out,” says Rosenthal. For his part, Garrett is wary: ”What makes Robert fun are the four people he bounces off. If we could have the same writers, that might make it easier.”