Look, I have no real explanation for why this interview with Ray Romano and Mark Duplass devolved into a discussion about The Karate Kid Part 2, a movie neither Romano nor Duplass appear in. The Sundance Film Festival is a weird place. Everyone is low on oxygen and there are people everywhere and before you know it, everyone is talking about The Karate Kid Part 2. Oh, and “itchy ass.”
Both Romano and Duplass do star in Paddleton, which will premiere this week here at Sundance and will be on Netflix shortly afterwards. And it’s not a comedy. Actually, it’s a pretty heavy film. Duplass plays a man who finds out he only has a few months to live. So he and his best friend, played by Romano, go on a road trip to purchase the prescription medication necessary to end one’s own life before the disease can take over.
Romano and Duplass make a good pair on screen and off. And, for Romano, this continues his fascinating post-Everybody Loves Raymond career in which he seems to just be playing roles that both interest him and are nothing like Ray Barone – and Romano addresses this and explains why he’s been making the choices that he has been making.
When Romano entered the room in a studio just off Park City’s Main Street, Duplass had just brought up hemorrhoids for reasons I can’t even begin to explain, a subject Romano quickly wanted to change…
We are talking about hemorrhoids for some reason.
Ray Romano: I don’t know if I can join in, but if you transfer to just itchy ass, I can get in that conversation. Adam Sandler, you know his stand-up special? Did you see his new stand up routine?
I did. It’s great.
Romano: That bit he does about wiping your ass and you just keep going. And you go, “Okay, it’s got to be done now.” And then it gets even worse. And then he goes, “You know what? Just on principle, this is going to be the last one.” [Removes sunglasses] I’m going to take these off…
You looked like a movie star.
Romano: I know. And they’re prescription, so sometimes I forget that I have them on.
All I knew before I watched this movie was you two were in it, so I was “ready for some laughs.”
Romano: The worst thing is when you do something and they want to sell the comedy, and you know there’s more to it than that. But they think that’ll get them in the seats, the comedy. And I hate that because then, okay, some people are going to be like, “This is not what I signed up for.” But I don’t think they’re doing that with this. I think they’re marketing it as a drama-comedy, right?
Did you two know each other before this?
Mark Duplass: Not very much at all. We knew each other’s work and I was a fan of Ray’s. I loved what he did in The Big Sick. I loved how he handled the naturalism, the understated ability to be super funny and real and get the drama by throwing it away.
Romano: That’s where we met. We met at the premiere of The Big Sick.
Duplass: And then we got to know each other better as we were building out the story together and kind of building Ray’s character in particular. And when we’re making these movies, there’s not that many people on set. Every day together, all day. Shooting all day.
Romano: It’s tough. Oh yeah. We did a couple of casino nights.
What were you playing?
Duplass: Ray was teaching me games.
Romano: We would do Blackjack with little cross bets.
Duplass: And then you see all these other games that you can play. He knew how to play all of those games.
Romano: Pai gow. The thing about pai gow is, if you want to kill two hours and not lose a lot of money, you can do that.
After press for this movie is over, are you going to be friends?
Romano: We’re going to be Hollywood friends, which means I invite you to my Labor Day parties and stuff like that. But you’re like the busiest man in Hollywood, plus you have two kids. So even if we were best friends, we probably wouldn’t see each other.
Duplass: I see my best friends like five times a year. I do work, family, and self-care. That’s all I’ve got. There is this thing that happens where we will be kindred spirits forever and it’s really nice actually to be able to have that as a grown-up. Make a new friend and have that thing.
Romano: I also like having you on my speed dial list because my kids want to be in the business. I want to write a script, I’m going to ask for your advice on everything.
What’s your script about?
Romano: I’ve been writing a kind of vaguely autobiographical dramedy.
Romano: Not really, but it’s based on me and my wife’s family in Queens. Italians in Queens. And it’s a dramedy. I’ve been procrastinating on this thing. I have 138 pages ready to send to your people so they can tell me I need to cut 50 of them.
Your post-Everybody Loves Raymond career has fascinated me. You could have moved on to something similar, but you take all these roles we wouldn’t expect. Like your cocaine-snorting character on Vinyl.
Romano: Yeah, that was fun.
It feels like this started with Funny People, when you played yourself.
Romano: Well, it actually started, because when Raymond ended, I was kind of in this void of what now. And I was kind of spinning. I was falling into this rabbit hole. Like, I don’t know who I am now. What am I going to do?
Were you getting a lot of stuff that was too similar?
Romano: No. I mean, I could’ve done a sitcom in a second. I could’ve made a phone call and had a sitcom. But I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to shy away from comedy. Me and my buddy Mike Royce, we wrote Men of a Certain Age. The critics loved it. I think what caught them off-guard was they’re expecting, “There’s sitcom boy, and he’s going to be broad,” and this and that. And it wasn’t. And that bought me some points. And the reviews were great. But I think the audience, “Oh, this is going to be the Ray Barone thing we know.” But it wasn’t. And so those people fell off, and then the people who accepted it for what it was just wasn’t enough to keep it on the air. So it’s baby steps. You’ve got to ween them off that character.
So basically, “No, Ray Barone is not coming back.”
Romano: Yeah. It’s a process. It takes time.
Without spoiling anything, the ending of this movie is pretty heavy.
Romano: Whenever I do a scene that is a little heavy like that, I need to prep. I need to put the headphones on and go in the corner and this and that.
What do you listen to?
Romano: Just the saddest music I can think of. You know, “Hallelujah.” “Everybody Hurts.”
Duplass: By the way, we are going to partner with Spotify on the Ray Romano crying scene playlist. We have to do it.
Romano: I have a playlist. It’s called “Zak” because I started it on Vinyl when I had to do a scene where he contemplates actually killing himself and he breaks down. I remember calling my agent and said, “This is the second episode!” And it said, “He had tears streamed down his face.” I didn’t know it was going to get this dark for this guy! So I said, “I don’t know if I can do this.” And my sensitive agent goes, “You better.” That’s his advice. “You better do it.”
If there was a documentary made about Paddleton and it showed you in the corner listening to “Everybody Hurts,” people would think that was staged.
Romano: But the point was, I didn’t even do it for that! That’s the point I was trying to make: This was so real to me. It surprised even me that it affected me so much, that scene.
In the movie, at a karaoke night, instead of singing, Mark acts out the plot to a kung fu movie. You should do that in real life. That should be your thing.
Duplass: I feel like The Karate Kid Part 2 would be a nice bit for that.
Why The Karate Kid Part 2?
Duplass: To me, it’s the epic nature of the plot. All the architecture involved so it allows you to, A, have multiple characters and, B, more bad semi-racist Okinawan accents.
My favorite thing about Karate Kid 2 is that little line of exposition at the beginning explaining why Elizabeth Shue isn’t in the movie even though it picks up right when the last one ended.
Duplass: Yeah! Literally three seconds later, he’s like, “Yeah. She had another date to the prom, and she left with somebody, and he crashed the car.”
Romano: Have you watched the show on YouTube? The series Ralph Macchio did? What was the name of it?
Romano: Cobra Kai. Yeah. I think I saw about three episodes. And it really focuses on the other guy, the bad guy.
Duplass: Do you remember the scene in Karate Kid 2, it’s a five-minute, one-take scene right after Mr. Miyagi’s father has died? And there’s an empty space in the frame where Mr. Miyagi is kind of feeling emotions. Daniel comes and sits in it. Daniel talks for four minutes in a very elegantly-delivered monologue about when he lost his father, how it was very hard for him, and he felt guilty he should’ve spent more time with him. But he ultimately gave him the gift of telling him he loved him. And Daniel finishes this, and the whole time Miyagi is brimming with emotion. And then Daniel takes a moment and he puts his hand on Mr. Miyagi’s shoulder, and right when he does it, a single tear drops out of Miyagi’s eye which has been brimming there for a second, and they fucking cut out. And it’s like, wow.
Pat Morita nailing it.
Duplass: And it’s like the whole movie is a dumpster fire, and that five-minute scene is Oscar-worthy. It is perfection.
My favorite thing about Karate Kid 3 is the one line of exposition that explains why his girlfriend he met in Okinawa isn’t in this third movie.
Romano: Hey, it worked in part 2!
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