The star of “Everybody Loves Raymond” returned to his hometown for the Tribeca Festival premiere of his directorial debut “Somewhere in Queens,” a sensitive and amusing new dramedy in which he also co-wrote and stars.
The film depicts Leo Russo (Romano), an Italian-American father who assists in the running of his family’s construction firm, and his wife, Angela (Laurie Metcalf), a breast cancer survivor who lives in continual fear of the disease returning.
Sticks (Jacob Ward), their timid teenage son, struggles to make friends and meet girls until he falls in love with the tough-as-nails Dani (Sadie Stanley) and starts to open up. Sticks sinks into sadness after Dani breaks his heart a few weeks later, jeopardising his opportunity at a collegiate basketball scholarship.
As a result, Leo takes drastic and dubious methods to get his son back on track, but he eventually begins to wonder why he’s doing it. At its premiere in Lower Manhattan on Friday, “Queens” received positive reviews as well as strong laughter and applause.
Romano, 64, had been really nervous about taking his first steps behind the camera and was relieved by the overwhelming response. After arriving in New York for preproduction two days earlier, “I needed a stress test because I realised, ‘I’m going to have a crew, I’m going to have to go on site, and I’m going to have to make judgments.’
I couldn’t handle it. “I can’t do it,” I informed my agency on Day 3. I don’t know how I got through it after he talked me down.” “You just have to go – there’s no time for anything else,” Romano continued. “And then you thrive on (the stress).” “What astonished me was how much I liked it.”
Romano got directing tips from his “Get Shorty” co-star Davey Holmes and late-night host James Corden, who recommended the book “My First Movie: Twenty Celebrated Directors Talk About Their First Film.”
“One of the themes of this film is that we’re not alone: all of your anxieties are shared by others,” Romano explained. “It’s reassuring to know that you’re not alone in experiencing some of the same difficulties you are.
So it was fascinating to hear some of these directors talk about how terrified they were and how little they knew, and how they would cry every night, convinced that the crew despised them. That was simply a little reassuring, I don’t know why.”
Romano’s suspicions were misplaced, as Metcalf, 66, praised him for the first time since her Oscar-nominated performance in “Lady Bird” in 2017. On the red carpet, Metcalf stated, “Directors with whom you connect as an actor are few and far between, at least in my experience.”
“In all the years I’ve done it, I’ve only had a handful of people, and he is one of them.” Romano, who lives in Los Angeles, was also able to collaborate with his daughter Ally, 32, who is a co-producer on the film.
They lived in the same city apartment and commuted to work together every day. “It was nice to have someone there to make sure I was on time and warn me when I was being too neurotic or grumbling too much,” Romano said. “She learned how to keep me preoccupied from my wife.”