Ray Romano has had a very successful career in front of the camera, winning multiple Emmys for his long-running and beloved CBS sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, which he followed with a slightly more dramatic turn in TNT’s Men of a Certain Age, a show he also co-created with Mike Royce.
Romano makes his directorial debut with Somewhere in Queens, a film that isn’t exactly based on his own life but does pull extensively from it. Romano co-wrote the script with Mark Stegemann and he also stars as Leo, an everyman who’s frequently mocked by his large Italian-American family and just wants the best for his basketball star son, Sticks (Jacob Ward), as he tries to navigate married life with his wife, Angela (Laurie Metcalf).
Nearly a year after its premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival, Somewhere in Queens finally arrives in theaters nationwide, where the New York-flavored film will finally be seen by audiences outside of Manhattan.
Above the Line was offered just a few minutes to speak with Romano, and we took the opportunity to ask him about crafting the film’s title, why he thinks this story has universal appeal, and what it felt like to be behind the camera for the first time. He also emphasized the positive aspects of including pieces of his own life in this heartfelt story.
Above the Line: I had the chance to see this film at the Tribeca Film Festival last year and I really enjoyed it.
Ray Romano: That’s great. We’ve been to a couple festivals, but that was our most fun one, Tribeca.
ATL: This is a very New York movie. How much do you think the city is part of the spirit of this film?
Romano: It is part of its spirit, but that doesn’t mean it’s not going to resonate with everybody. It’s a little bit like Everybody Loves Raymond. That was Long Island, and I remember that the network wanted to move it out of New York. They were like, ‘We’re not going to appeal to Middle America.’ That was ridiculous at the time, because Seinfeld was the #1 show, and you couldn’t be more New York than that was. But that’s what I’m finding. It’s New York[ers], their attitudes, their language, their essence, but it’s ultimately about family, and underneath it all, the core of it is that it’s just [about] people going through things. I feel like it’s universal.
ATL: Did you always have this title in mind or did it come to you later on?
Romano: No. The title was the very last thing. We didn’t even have the title while we were editing it. We had Ray Romano Untitled Project as the title of it for the longest time. I knew I wanted the word “Queens” in the title, and I might have even wanted the word “Italian” in there. Our working title was An Italian Family in Queens, [but] that didn’t quite work because it wasn’t about every member of the family. It was about the father and the mother and the son, and there were characters around them.
There’s a line in the film where the kid tells his girlfriend, ‘I’m not going to that college, I figured I’d try to find my own thing, something real for myself.’ So I thought, “oh, there we go! Maybe Someplace Real in Queens.” For a while, that was the title. I got a little backlash from a couple people saying it sounded too poetic, [like it was] trying too hard. I ended up seeing their point and thought, “Let’s keep it simple” — Somewhere in Queens.
It still, to me, has a few meanings. It is somewhere in Queens, but there’s also a fairytale essence to it. I’m reading in [too] deep [to] things that I’m sure no one else is, but it’s about getting somewhere. These people in Queens want to get somewhere. It ended up growing on me, and very late in the game, we locked it down.
ATL: I understand that this film isn’t autobiographical, but it is somewhat based on your own life. Can you explain?
Romano: The idea came from me living through my son graduating high school. He was a star basketball player, and he was graduating, and [he] was not going to go play basketball in college. I remember the last game of his career was very sad for me, very emotional. I was going to miss it. I was going to miss the excitement of watching him play.
I was also going to miss the attention I got as the father of the star kid, and I just thought, “I have a lot going on in my life. I’ll be okay. But what about a guy who doesn’t have a lot? What about some poor guy who feels like the only time he’s significant is when he’s in that gym with his son?” That’s where we started, from that story.
The people are people I’ve known my entire life, and the experiences, like the banquet hall for every occasion, I’ve lived that over the last 35 years with my wife. I married into that family. My wife is a breast cancer survivor, [so] I wanted an element of that story in there. My son struggles with social anxiety, [so] I wanted to touch on that. I took little pieces of my life and incorporated them in there.
ATL: What was the experience like being a first-time feature director?
Romano: The pharmaceutical company made money on me, let’s put it that way. It was very nerve-wracking. Not in a bad way — all prescriptions. I was very stressed out leading up to it, because I had never done it, and I didn’t know if I was capable of it. I didn’t know how it was going to go. I didn’t know if the actors were going to respond to me. “Are they going to respect me?” So many things. I didn’t know one lens from another lens. My agent talked me off a ledge, and just advised me to surround myself with good people.
I made sure I found a cinematographer [Maceo Bishop] who was going to get me what I wanted. I had an assistant director [Christopher Swartout] who was on top of things on the set. I concentrated on getting the story [and] on getting the performances. The cast was great. I did get lucky, I will say that. There were no divas. There was nobody who thought they didn’t have to listen to a first-time director. We all collaborated, and it ended up being a great experience after we started. Leading up to it was nerve-racking [though].
Somewhere in Queens opens in theaters on Friday, April 21, courtesy of Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions.