For comedian Ray Romano, 2017 has proven that it’s never too late to explore a new side to your career.
Made famous by starring as the titular character on Everybody Loves Raymond for nine seasons, Romano has managed to maintain a successful career even after the series took its final bow in 2005.
After an extended and beloved role on NBC’s Parenthood and a lead on the short-lived HBO series Vinyl, Romano proved he could take on serious and dramatic roles like the best of them -- but don’t expect him to forget his comedic roots anytime soon.
“If a good, full-out comedy came my way I would definitely consider it, and these ‘serious’ projects I’ve done have all had comedy mixed in with the drama. I do like the mixture of the two,” Romano tells ET about his recent pattern of more emotional roles.
Romano’s love for the mixture of comedy and drama was made all the more clear this past year with his latest projects, Get Shorty and The Big Sick.
On the EPIX series inspired by the 1995 John Travolta crime comedy, Miles Daly (Chris O’Dowd) undergoes a career change from drug mobster to Hollywood producer and teams up with Romano’s Rick Moreweather, a movie producer struggling to find success on his own in the industry.
“Taking on a new character and finding the soul and truth to what he does is always challenging,” Romano says. “My character deals with shady people in a shady business, and I had to figure out a way to justify the things he does and to make him feel like deep down he’s a good person.”
Attracted by the “sharp” writing, Romano found himself “going places I’ve never really been as an actor,” he says, joking that the character’s outrageous, spiky hairstyle is the real treat: “And the hair, I’ve never had that hair. Not many people do.”
In The Big Sick, which is based on the incredible true story of Kumail Nanjiani (playing himself) and Emily Gordon’s (Zoe Kazan) struggles as an interracial couple when Emily becomes ill and falls into a coma, Holly Hunter and Romano portray Emily’s worried parents, who eventually warm up to Kumail.
When the film shifts to the budding relationship between the parents and their daughter’s boyfriend, both of the seasoned performers steal every scene they’re in, earning considerable acclaim and awards season buzz.
Despite the formidable relationship seen onscreen, Romano admits “the chemistry between Holly Hunter and I as a married couple in crisis was a bit of a revelation for me.
“Two people from such different places, looking and sounding so dissimilar and yet feeling so perfect for each other, I don’t know how it happened,” he attempts to explain. “I give all the credit to Holly. She’s so damn good.”
The film, which was chosen by the American Film Institute as one of the top 10 films of the year, had a budget of just $5 million and grossed over $55 million and is expected to have a real shot at earning Academy Award nominations, particularly for its screenplay.
“The way people have taken to it -- I knew it was good, but it’s been such a great experience to see the way it has touched people for so many different reasons,” Romano gushes.
“It’s great to be in the conversation, and I will be at every award show that Holly gets nominated for,” he modestly adds. “I’m a realist; I’m not worrying about any acceptance speeches yet.”
For Romano, an actor who has been working in the industry since the early ‘90s, the roles he has worked on this past year are ones he believes he was not capable of at the start of his career. “You grow and get better with everything you do, good or bad, and I needed to get a lot better from where I started,” he says.
Romano’s trick to getting better: living.
“I think for me, life experience has made me a better actor,” Romano, who turns 60 on Dec. 21, reveals. “I have a lot more sad things to conjure up when I need to go there. Happy ones, too.”
While this year has proven to be his most interesting yet, one can only hope that it leads to an even more fulfilling 2018 for audiences and actor alike. “Without a doubt, The Big Sick and Get Shorty have been as rewarding and creatively fulfilling as anything I’ve done,” Romano reflects. “Career-wise, it’s opened a couple doors for me that weren’t as easy as I thought to get through.”
Those doors include The Irishman, an upcoming film about the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci that Romano filmed in the fall. “How that happened I’ll never understand, but it doesn’t get more ‘standout’ than that,” he says.
MORE SCENE STEALERS OF 2017:
How Kumail Nanjiani Is Handling All That Award Chatter Surrounding 'The Big Sick' (Exclusive)
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Why 'Daily Show' Correspondent Hasan Minhaj Chose the Hard Path in 2017 (Exclusive)