The latest issue of Emmy magazine (Issue No. 6, 2007, with Law & Order: Special Victims Unit’s Mariska Hargitay on the cover) includes selections from our Archive of American Television interview with actress Patricia Heaton, star of Everybody Loves Raymond and the current hit series Back to You. Heaton was interviewed in October, 2006. The interview is not online, but can be viewed at the Archive’s headquarters in North Hollywood, CA.
Here are some excerpts from the article:
Q: What was your first professional job?
A: It was a commercial for Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. Jason Alexander was in it. I was a waitress serving beer. I was moving through the bar with the cameras following me, just serving people — all happy, young people having a good time. I made a lot of money because they ran it during the Olympics.
Q: What was your first television work in Los Angeles?
A: My strategy was not to try to get an agent, but rather to get casting people to see me. Casting people can hire you whether you have an agent or not. So I got a lot of casting people to come to a play. I was very businesslike about it. I called people on a regular basis; I sent out flyers with the reviews from my shows. The first thing I did was an episode of Alien Nation. My first ongoing gig was on thirtysomething. I still didn’t have an agent or a manager. At that time, that was the hottest show on TV, and it was miraculous that I got on without any representation. I used to go to agents and say, “I’ve now done my fifth episode of thirtysomething. Would you like to represent me?”
Q: Was that role a turning point?
A: It was the driest role. I played the ob-gyn to Patricia Kalember and Patricia Wettig. The storyline ended up that Patricia Wettig’s character was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. In every episode, I was looking up her gown. There was no emotional arc — I was just a device. But everybody watched that show, and that opened doors. It got me an agent. Soon after, I auditioned for a pilot called Room for Two with Linda Lavin. It really clicked. It’s funny, because they said, “She just came off the drama thirtysomething. Can she do comedy?” At Bill Esper’s class, almost everything I did was comedy or turned into comedy. I knew I could do it. I got the part, but it only went for, maybe, twelve episodes.
Q: How did you hear about Everybody Loves Raymond?
A: I had read for a couple things, and nothing was quite right. When I read the pilot for Raymond, I thought, “This is a beautifully written script.” I didn’t think my character was that interesting, but the script was so good, I thought, “They’re very good writers, they’ll figure it out.” The day I went to the audition, I was really harried and had a babysitting issue and had to get in and out fast. I ran in and they talked and talked and talked. I was thinking, “I have got to get out of here. I need to just read and go!” So I finally said, “Can we just go ahead and read?” And they said, “You’ll read for us?” My agent had said, “She’ll meet, but she won’t read,” because I was such a star — yeah, sitting in my backyard clip- ping coupons, trying to save fifty cents on two packs of Ballpark franks. I said, “Yes, I’ll read, and then I’ve got to go.” I was in this mode, which was exactly where Debra was in the scene. I didn’t really have to do anything. She was angry with Ray — I’m always angry with my husband. Initially, I’d never heard of Ray — he was a big deal in the standup world. He was sitting by the door when I walked in. I saw him and I thought, “Hmm, I’m not going to put the addition on my house yet, ‘cause I don’t think it’s going.” But we really hit it off. He also says I’m the only actress who would kiss him in the scene when it was required. None of the other actresses who did the scene would kiss him.
Q: What made Debra funny?
A: I think it was her ability to put up with certain things and then just fall apart. She really tried all the time. What was really interesting were the silences. Debra got to just stare at Ray or Marie when they said or did something that was so over-the-line — she couldn’t believe what she was hearing and seeing. The writers allowed you to just have those moments, and the audience would go crazy. You wouldn’t have to say a word, but the audience was laughing because they knew what Debra was thinking.
Q: What advice would you give aspiring actors?
A: Try to create your own work. The business is changing; television is changing. Nobody knows where it’s going, and it seems a little tough right now. They’re doing more reality shows and fewer scripted shows and cutting back on money, so you need to create product for yourself. Get together with your actor friends and write stuff and film it or pro- duce it or put it on stage. Use YouTube and MySpace to put your product out there — and to put yourself out there.
Emmy magazine is available at some newsstands or can be ordered directly online here.