HBO’s new series Vinyl takes an inside look at the music business in the 1970s. With executive producers Mick Jagger and Martin Scorsese, there are a wealth of both music aficionados and historians behind the scenes. In front of the cameras, Bobby Cannavale stars as Richie Finestra, a struggling record executive looking for a breakout act.
In a surprising turn, Ray Romano plays one of Finestra’s partners, Zak Yankovich. Zak is a more conservative businessman, sometimes a voice of reason and sometimes downright opposition to Finestra. Romano was part of a Vinyl panel for the Television Critics Association and afterwards he stuck around speaking to press about the show. Vinyl premieres February 14, 2016 on HBO.
Ray Romano Interview:
You’ve said Vinyl is so cool it seems surreal. Is there a sense of coolness on this that hasn’t been on your other projects?
Ray Romano: “I don’t even think you have to ask that question. Mick Jagger, snorting fake coke, hanging out with hookers, beating up Bobby Cannavale – we go at it one episode – this is like nothing I’ve ever done. Nothing this edgy and dark as this, and there’s humor also.”
Men of a Certain Age was a little dark.
Ray Romano: “It had an edge to it, but that character was flawed but not as flawed as this guy. From the pilot you can’t really see how deep and dark it gets for my character, but it gets pretty cool in that sense.”
Working with icons like Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger, what were the cool things you learned about them?
Ray Romano: “Mick I only met once but for Marty, first of all, I knew he was a genius when it came to films and all and his knowledge of films, but I had no idea. Every conversation we had he’d reference an old movie from the ‘50s. I told him I went to Sicily with my wife and the watermelon man woke us up in the morning. He’s like, ‘Oh, that’s just like such and such a movie.’ The next day in my dressing room the DVD of that movie would be there. He’d have somebody get it. So, just to talk to him and the wealth of knowledge…he knew I didn’t know anything but he loved to talk about it. And also he would let us do our thing acting-wise. He opened it open to us and let us improvise here and there, so that was very cool. The energy and the enthusiasm he has… Again, I’d never met him so it was all exciting to experience.”
This is set in the wild music scene in the ’70s. Have you experienced anything like what goes on in this series during your career?
Ray Romano: [Laughing] “No, just my wife’s spending of my money. But, no, I never lived in the fast lane like that. As far as that end of it goes, my story’s kind of boring. I snorted coke for the first time on this show and it was fake coke. I never did it in my life. So, it’s fun to play it but I don’t have anything to draw on really.”
What is it that you guys are snorting?
Ray Romano: “It’s like a lactose/lactate powder. Some form of milk powder.”
What’s your relationship to music as an actor?
Ray Romano: “My mother’s a Juilliard graduate. She studied to be a concert pianist and then she gave it up to have a family, so she taught for 50 years. She taught us piano. We play a little piano. I play drums. I annoyed my parents for a little bit. But, otherwise, I like all types of music. I can’t specify one. But I am a rock ballad guy.”
How much music do you hear on the set?
Ray Romano: “If you’re there, you can hear anything. Anytime I see a cool scene, even that I’m not in and it involves a musician playing anything, I record it on my phone and send it to my kids. In a scene with Janis Joplin, there’s a woman singing Janis Joplin and they’re playing the music. And Marty would play music before every scene. For every scene he would crank up the music just to get the energy going.”
What’s the best music to get lucky to?
Ray Romano: “I lost my virginity to the first three minutes of ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ so try that one.”
What were you looking for when you got this project?
Ray Romano: “It was 10 years since Raymond and [my reps] knew I wasn’t going to do a sitcom again. They knew I didn’t want to do a straight wall-to-wall comedy as far as a movie or whatever, but a drama – an indie dramedy – would have been fine. I did Parenthood, Men of a Certain Age, something like that. So this, my agent just sent me the script. ‘See if you like this role and I’ll see if they’re interested.’ The cool thing was Marty had never heard of me, never saw me. So when I sent my audition tape, he was seeing me for the first time. That was like a blessing in disguise.”
You said they knew you were never going to do a comedy again?
Ray Romano: “A sitcom. I think I can safely say I’m never going to do a multi-camera sitcom because I did it. I don’t want to have to follow what I did. If that’s my legacy, that’s fine. I want to comedy again; I love doing comedy and I did comedy in this. But multi-cam I’m happy with the way I left it.”
Are you happy for that to be your legacy?
Ray Romano: “I want to still work. I want to keep it going. I don’t mind that that’s part of it. I don’t mind that that’s the genre, I made my mark in that genre. But, yeah, I’m happy that I’m doing something. I’m not going to retire, really, so I’d like to do something great again.”
Do you still do standup?
Ray Romano: “I still do standup. I don’t do it very much but one thing good about this was it filmed in New York so I got to hang out at the clubs where I started. I was five blocks from the Comedy Cellar down in the Village where I started, so I would go on the nights I wasn’t working. I would go down and I came up with some good new material. That’s always exciting. I still play Vegas three or four times a year, five times a year, and I do a lot of charities.”