'Backstage With' Actress Patricia Heaton

Patricia Heaton is on television somewhere in the world every day. She's famous for playing the wife of a sportswriter on Everybody Loves Raymond, one of the most popular series in history. But success came late to Heaton. Host Scott Simon talks with Heaton as part of the PBS television series, Backstage with ...

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Patricia Heaton played the mother of three children - including twins- on "Everybody Loves Raymond," and she also plays the mother of three in "The Middle."]

Patricia Heaton's on television somewhere in the world every day. She's famous for playing the mom in the middle of America - mother of twins who's married to a sportswriter on "Everybody Loves Raymond," one of the most popular series in history. In the new series, "The Middle," she plays the mother of four in Orson, Indiana.

But success came late to Patricia Heaton. She worked odd jobs in hotels and restaurants into her late 30s; she saw several big stars in their underwear while working room service in a hotel; and almost gave up acting. She's also been a hip ensemble star off-Broadway, and co-star with a Saint Bernard.

I sat down with Patricia Heaton for the PBS series "Backstage With." She's a little unusual among Hollywood stars. She says that her faith's important to her.

Ms. PATRICIA HEATON (Actor): I've always felt a spiritual connection with acting. And I felt whole when I was onstage. And you know, the word holiness means you're whole - all the parts of who you are - emotionally, spiritually, psychologically, physically - are all in balance and all fulfilled. And I always felt that onstage, and felt comfortable onstage.

So - and felt this connection, that this is what I was created to do. That -and then - so this whole time I was in New York for like, nine years and nothing was happening and I thought, well - would have this argument with God. It's like, why -this is what I'm pretty sure I'm supposed to be doing, so why is it there's not a single door opening?

Then I did get to the point when I moved to L.A., I went on a mission trip to an orphanage in Mexico for three days, maybe. And it was, you know, such a moving experience that when I came back, I thought, oh, I could do something else. I could do that instead of acting, and be completely at peace and feel that wholeness in that. So I thought, okay, well, I was getting a couple auditions in L.A. and I thought - and I really did have this conversation with God, very straightforward. It's like, all right, I don't have to do the acting anymore, I'm sorry I yelled at you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HEATON: I will go do stuff - I can go do this orphanage work. But I am getting these auditions. So I'm going to keep going on these auditions if you keep sending them. If you want me not to do it, make it really clear that I should go with this other thing. So until I hear from you, I'm going to keep doing these auditions.

SIMON: How did "Everybody Loves Raymond" come about?

Ms. HEATON: My husband and I, by that time, had two kids - and we were broke. And I got this audition at the last minute for "Raymond." I heard they were looking for a Patricia Heaton type.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HEATON: I'm right here, clipping coupons. So I went in, and I had a babysitting conflict. My babysitter was in college, and she needed to get to class. I said, I promise you I'm going to be right back; please just stay. And I ran over there. And I was kind of, you know, frazzled and hassled and, you know, mad at my husband for something - as all women here know, you're always mad at your husband for something.

And that all worked perfectly for this part. So I didn't even have to do anything. You know, I came into the audition...

SIMON: 'Cause you were always a little bit mad at your husband, in that way.

Ms. HEATON: Yeah, always a little bit mad at my husband, always frazzled, always tired. And so I came in, and there were probably 20 women in the waiting room to read for this part. And I thought, oh, I'm never going to get back. I said, I have a babysitting thing; do you mind if I go in first? And they were so gracious and kind, and they let me go in ahead of them. And then I sat there, and I'm kind of ready to read the pages, 'cause I've got to get back home. My whole thing was get in and out. That was my whole - it wasn't even get the job - it was just go in, get out.

And the director just kept and the producer just kept chatting with me and chatting with me, and I'm answering their questions. They're asking me where I'm from. I'm looking at my watch, and then they say, oh, and this is Ray Romano. And I was like, oh well, this show's not going anywhere. This is...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HEATON: I thought - I was waiting for Ray to come into the room. I was just going to ask that guy to get me a cup of coffee while we were waiting.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HEATON: And of course, I didn't know Ray at the time, or know what sort of a genius he is and what a great guy he is. So I finally said, do you mind if we just - I'm kind of in a time thing; do you mind if we read? And they said, oh, you'll read? 'Cause your agent told us you wouldn't read, that you would just meet. There's a thing where, you know, actors who are kind of - well, agents think that they're trying to preserve their actors' - their clients' dignity, that they're not going to have you audition anymore 'cause you're too much of a star. You just go and you meet them, and then you walk away.

So I finally said, yeah, I'll read. It was like - no wonder they've been just sitting here chatting with me. So I read it really fast. I was like, come on, let's do this; I've got to go. And they were so lovely and the next thing I know, I was being called in to meet the president of CBS at the time, which was Les Moonves, and read for him and got the part.

SIMON: After Raymond came to an end, you did a Broadway play.

Ms. HEATON: Off-Broadway.

SIMON: Off-Broadway.

Ms. HEATON: Yeah.

SIMON: Even better story - where you used some language, some characterizations that would seem to be a little bit at odds with the role you played...

Ms. HEATON: Right.

SIMON: ...for all those years.

Ms. HEATON: Yes.

SIMON: Do you take some special pleasure in that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HEATON: You know, I - I hate to say this, but for two years in high school, I went to St. Augustus Academy, which is no longer in existence here, in Lakewood, Ohio. And there's something about all-girls Catholic school. My language was so bad when I was at that school, so all I had to do for that role was just hearken back to those days. I remembered every word.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HEATON: And it was really a lot of fun. I loved it. And I got to play the wife of Tony Shalhoub, who is the star of "Monk."

SIMON: The compulsive...

Ms. HEATON: The compulsive, obsessive compulsive detective.

SIMON: Obsessive compulsive detective, right.

Ms. HEATON: But he also happened to be the best man at my wedding. And a very -he and my husband did plays together years ago. So that was great fun to be able to do it with him. And I actually, at one point, had to make out with him, which was really weird, because he's a very good friend.

SIMON: You made out with the guy who was the best...

Ms. HEATON: Man at our wedding, yeah, yeah. Like I said, I'm in a really weird business, and very embarrassed that I get paid to make out with my husband's best friends.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HEATON: So...

SIMON: So how did that go?

Ms. HEATON: It was funny. I mean, we would laugh about it. And there was - we would just do this every night. And you just - it's so weird. I mean, maybe it's because I've been married for 20 years that, you know, at this point just kissing somebody is not a big deal - either with Tony or my husband. You know, it's like...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HEATON: So - my poor husband. He gets the stick all the time. It's wonderful kissing my husband. But so you just - and it's just acting, too, and you're trying to make it work for the play and for the audience and whatever. So - would just do it every night and you just come to that point, you do it, and there's nothing.

Then one night we do it, and there was this like, this weird kind of like - spark, like chemical spark. And right after that scene, when we were passing each other backstage, he looked at me. He said: Was that weird for you? I said, that was really weird, wasn't it? That was really weird. And that was it. And then it never happened again.

So it was just you know, it's just one of those things. But it shows you why people have such a hard time in our business staying together, because there are two things: If you're going to play being in love with somebody over and over again and being romantic, your body will actually follow your mental state. And so people do, you know, think they're in love with this person.

But the other thing it does show you, that if you actually did that at home in your own relationship, like you just every day pretended you were really in love and you acted loving toward that person, that you will follow. I mean, it will actually happen.

SIMON: So you can learn something about life from acting?

Ms. HEATON: Yeah. I mean, from pursuing acting, for sure. And, you know, the thing about acting too, it really is a craft. There is like, a skill set. It's not just having feelings. And as far as life lessons from acting, I don't know. I mean, I just think you learn to be a disciplined person. I think the, you know, the actors that I know work really, really hard.

You also learn to live with instability. I always know I'm going to lose my job. It's either going to be canceled next week or next year or nine years from now, but I always know my job is going to go. So I've never - we've never had stability in our lives, and that - so you learn to live with that. And then nothing really rocks you 'cause you - I always expect the worst, actually. And then so when good things happen, it's like wahoo, that's great. You know, it's good, because it helps you just let go of stuff here.

And the thing about my mom dying, which really also helped me a lot, was that's kind of the ultimate instability. And that happened to me early on, which was a good thing for me.

SIMON: You were 12.

Ms. HEATON: Twelve, yeah. So I knew from then, nothing is for certain. I guess the trick would be to know that everything could fall apart, and not have it depress you. To know that and still be happy because ultimately this journey, if you say, you know, God willing, you live 'til you're 80 or 90, that's this much time in eternity. So I think we just, you know - if you have that perspective, then you can get through just about anything.

SIMON: Well, it's been wonderful talking to you today.

Ms. HEATON: Oh, thanks.

SIMON: Thanks very much.

Ms. HEATON: Thank you, thanks. It's been great to be here. Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Patricia Heaton.

(Soundbite of applause)

SIMON: Patricia Heaton - I spoke to her as part of the PBS series "Backstage With." That's produced out of WBIZ in Cleveland.

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