Ray Romano Reveals He Saw a Cardiologist Over Stress of Directing 'Somewhere in Queens' (Exclusive)

The veteran actor tells ET he was more stressed out over his directorial debut than when he booked 'Everybody Loves Raymond.'

After more than three decades in the business, Ray Romano is stepping behind the camera for the first time with the semi-autobiographical film, Somewhere in Queens. The veteran actor said he was far more nervous directing this movie than he was when he booked Everybody Loves Raymond, the iconic sitcom he starred in for a decade.

"I've never written a [movie] script. I've never directed or anything," the 65-year-old told ET's Matt Cohen, sharing that he wasn't initially going to direct Somewhere in Queens. It took some convincing that because it was a deeply personal story, Romano was naturally a good fit.

"I wasn't going to do it and my agent told me I should... We were shopping [it] around and he said, 'Why don't you do it?' And I said, 'No, absolutely not. I really don't know about the technical side of it. I know what I want. I know what looks good. I know the color and the feel and the tone.' He told me, 'Listen, this is a personal story to you, don't give it to anybody else,'" Romano sad. "He twisted my arm and I finally said yes. And then I hated him for it."

As Romano explains, he felt the physical and mental toll of preparing to take on the monumental task of leading the production, sharing that he went to the doctor to manage the symptoms of his anxiety over his directorial debut. (He recently shared on Marc Maron's WTF podcast that he had an almost completely blocked artery in his heart and had to undergo a procedure.)

"I got to New York for nine weeks of prep, second year of COVID. I'm with my wife and we go on location scout for Day 1 of nine weeks prep. And I realize it's happening. I called my agent at one in the morning because I couldn't sleep. I go, 'I can't do it, can't do this. I can't stay here for nine more weeks and have this anxiety.' By day 3, I'm not joking. I had to go to my cardiologist in New York and get on the treadmill and do a stress test because I was getting chest pains," he disclosed.

"Yeah, it was all up here. And it was nine weeks of that, muscling through, and then Day 1 of filming, it all went away. Now you're doing it. And there's no time for this and it was -- hate to give him credit for it -- I'm glad [my agent] made me do it," Romano reflected, adding that if he puts on the director's hat again, his experience will be a little bit smoother. "I hope it won't be the same case but you never know."

Co-written by Romano and Mark Stegemann, Somewhere in Queens follows Leo Russo (Romano), who lives a simple life in Queens, New York, with his wife, Angela (Laurie Metcalf), their shy but talented son, "Sticks" (Jacob Ward), and Leo’s close-knit network of Italian-American relatives and neighborhood friends. Happy enough working at the family construction business alongside his father (Tony Lo Bianco) and younger brother (Sebastian Maniscalco), Leo lives each week for Sticks' high-school basketball games. When his son gets a life-changing opportunity to play basketball in college, Leo jumps at the chance to provide a plan for his future, away from the family construction business. But when heartbreak threatens to derail Sticks' dream, Leo goes to unexpected lengths to keep his son on this new path.

"It's very specific about this world that I grew up in, in Queens," Romano said of the film. "But what I hope is that people identify no matter where they're from because it's ultimately about family and people and what people are afraid of and what people need in life. You make it specific about one specific group of people but it resonates with everybody. That's what I'm hoping. That's kind of what worked with Raymond. It was about New York, Long Island people but what I'm finding now is... 'That's my mother. That's my father.' And that's kind of a cool feeling to know. Underneath it all, we're all the same really."

Romano said telling his story through the film was therapeutic "in a sense." "It was inspired by what I was experiencing in real life with my son. My son was graduating. He was a star basketball player and he wasn't going to play in college and in the last game, I was very sad that I was going to miss this experience with my son. But also I loved living vicariously through him with all this excitement," he shared. 

"It was therapeutic just to realize on different levels, it's all the same. It's all relative. That guy we wrote about was going through that and people may not go through exactly what he was going through. But they do go through that feeling of wanting to be seen and wanting to have a sense of purpose. So it's always therapeutic," he added. "When people identify and realize we're not alone in any of this... It does help to know you're not alone in all these troubles you have and all this inner turmoil. Everybody has to get through something and you do it. You get through it."

He acknowledged that he's been fielding a few offers for potential follow-up directing gigs, even though the movie hasn't officially been released. He said he'd only entertain directing again if he was the one to work on the screenplay.

"What’s funny, I've been getting little offers to direct. I don't know why. They haven't seen this yet. I don't know how they know if I can do it or not," Romano quipped. "I've been sent little scripts. And I'm being honest, I'm not drawn to someone else's script yet. If I write another one, I would do it again." And, he assured, he can handle the pressure. "Because now I have the medication, I have the treadmill. It ended up being that enjoyable. And if I have a passion for some piece of writing, I would do it again."

Somewhere in Queens is in theaters on Friday.