Out of 200 women, Phil Rosenthal fell in love with Patricia Heaton. It was the mid-1990s, he was casting “Everybody Loves Raymond,” and he wasn’t having luck locating the right woman to play Debra, the wife of his lead, Ray Romano.
“The wife in the sitcom is notoriously the hardest one to cast,” says the show’s executive producer. “But Patty just blew the doors off the place during the audition. It was undeniable — everyone agreed right away that she was right.”
“Raymond” was Heaton’s big break. The Ohio native had gotten her start on the Off Broadway stage, but was a latecomer to Hollywood — “I didn’t move to L.A. until I was 32, and I didn’t have a manager or an agent,” she says — and knocked around with recurring roles (“Thirtysomething,” “Party of Five”) in scattered shows. In 1996, the year “Raymond” premiered, she didn’t even have a character name in “Space Jam,” just “Woman Fan.”
“Raymond” changed the pattern.
“I haven’t had much choice as far as career goes,” says the actress, who gets her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame today. “It’s not like I’m a supermodel; the fact that I have this career at all is a gift. But TV has afforded me the opportunity to be with my family and have my kids and still be married after 21 years. It wasn’t necessarily a choice; it’s how the cards fell.”
Nine seasons as Debra Barone (during which she won two Emmys) let her hone her sitcom skills as the spunky, take-no-guff straight woman on the show, and she had two of her four children during production.
“She works hard and has a terrific attitude about the work,” Rosenthal says. “In any given situation, you believe her — I always felt she was 100% natural.”
After “Raymond,” Heaton paired with Kelsey Grammer on the short-lived “Back to You,” then got her groove back when she landed in “The Middle” in 2009.
Her conservative political stance has earned her some undesired headlines, such as recently when she tweeted negatively about Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke, but she insists that “it’s never stopped me from working.”
True enough: Heaton is busier than ever: She’s producing her brother’s screenplay, “The Christmas Heart,” for Hallmark and plans to write another book this summer (her memoir came out in 2002). She’s also mulling what she’ll do after “Middle” ends — and it may not involve acting.
“I don’t know if I’ll want to keep doing this,” she says. “I’m not sure what the next thing would be. But I never thought I’d be one of those people who die on stage.”
Heaton savors ‘Middle’ ground
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