y Alex Witchel | Ladies Home Journal Magazine
Everybody Loves Raymond’s Patricia Heaton is proud of her breasts, happy to joke about her marriage, and sanguine about one day leaving the show that made her a star.
Motherhood and Hollywood
“You’d never think an actor would say this,” Patricia Heaton says, settling into a booth at the Polo Lounge in the Beverly Hills Hotel, “but I’m sick of talking about myself.”
Maybe so, though no one seems sick of listening. In addition to co-starring on the hit sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond as beleaguered housewife Debra Barone, permanently stuck in bicker mode with her sportswriter husband and meddling in-laws, Heaton, in the last few months, has become a best-selling author. Her collection of essays, based on her own life experiences, Motherhood and Hollywood: How to Get a Job Like Mine, was published last fall and Heaton has been talking about it, her show and herself ever since.
She came to lunch during a hiatus week from shooting Raymond, for which she has twice won an Emmy Award for best actress in a comedy series, and took full advantage of her freedom, drinking a Campari and soda. As she talked, a waiter stood tableside, engaged in what was perhaps the longest steak tartare preparation on record, hanging on every word Heaton said.
Maybe he was waiting to see if she would blow up when asked about her famous contretemps about plastic surgery. In her book, she scoffs at Hollywood women for having it and lying about it. As a guest on the Late Show with David Letterman last fall, she alluded to an unnamed star who was then on the cover of a fashion magazine who denied having it. It just so happened that Michelle Pfeiffer was on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar that month, and within hours, it seemed, Heaton was on record as having apologized to the stunning movie star. When asked about the incident at lunch, Heaton gives a short, cold stare and says, “We’re not discussing any of that,” in the same tone she might use to discipline an unruly child — or perhaps, Ray Romano.
Soon enough, though, Heaton, 44, switches gears and talks about her own plastic surgery, which has included a tummy tuck (much needed, she says, after her four sons were all delivered by cesarean) and an accompanying breast lift. She also raises her chin to show where some loose skin had been lifted. She really does look terrific, thin and toned. She is wearing a sleeveless black top and Burberry plaid pants, which — in the true test — do not amplify her behind. On the contrary, you can barely find it.
“Plastic surgery is like the big elephant sitting in the Hollywood living room,” she says. “Everyone does it and apparently, no one is supposed to talk about it. I understand privacy, but when women come up to me who’ve also had four kids and cesareans and say ‘My body’s shot, but you look so great,’ I’m not going to lie to them. I probably look better now than I have my whole life, including when I was 15. Some people are cool with the fact that their bodies bear witness to this great thing they produced, their children, and I understand that. But on a personal level, it makes me feel better that my breasts are not down to my knees when I’m undressed in front of my husband.”
“The fourth kid did me in,” she says. “But I also found that I do well with surgery. I don’t bleed or scar, and painkillers don’t make me nauseated. I could operate heavy machinery on Percoset.”
The mention of pills prompts her to pull from her purse a small plastic bag marked “Lunch,” filled with pills and capsules. “Herbs,” she says, “something that helps process body fat, another that’s an appetite suppressant.” As she speaks, she is eating her way through the steak tartare and a plate of French fries. “This guy I go to named Avtar,” she says, “does the herbs and gives colonics. He’s got four kids, one of them plays tennis, and he’s doing a colonic and you’re on the table looking at a big map of your colon saying, ‘How’s your kid doing in tennis?'” She laughs. “It’s one of the things that I love about Los Angeles, that that’s considered normal.”
Life at Home
What’s not normal in this company town, obsessed as it is with showbiz, is that Heaton and her husband, actor and producer David Hunt, don’t let their boys — Sam, 9, John, 7, Joe, 5, and Danny, 4 — watch TV after 4 p.m. on weekdays. Not even Raymond. “It’s not appropriate for their age, anyway,” she says. “People will come up and tell me the show is not for kids, and I say, ‘No kidding.’ That’s why it’s on at 9 at night, which is when they should be in bed.”
This discipline echoes her own Midwestern upbringing in Bay Village, a Cleveland suburb. She was the fourth of five children born to Chuck Heaton, a sportswriter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and his wife, Patricia. She comes from a large and devout Catholic family, but, in a long spiritual journey of her own, Heaton has chosen Presbyterianism instead. Her children attend a private Episcopal school (she’s not exclusionary) and when they come home each day, the first thing they do is their homework, which she later checks. The family eats dinner together at 5:30, the kids play outside for an hour, then she reads aloud with them before bedtime.
Between shepherding their schedules and shooting her show, it doesn’t sound like she gets much private time with her husband. She holds up her hand, forming a big zero. “That’s his major complaint,” Heaton says. “Of course, if he could cook, he would get sex a lot more often.” She smiles wryly. “We’re supposed to go out once a week but it doesn’t happen. We do go to therapy — though if we stopped going and used that hour to have coffee together, that might help more.”
The couple takes a break each summer at their home outside Cambridge, England, where her husband is from. An added bonus for Heaton is seeing her mother-in-law, June Hunt, whom she adores. Her father-in-law died six years ago.
“I just love her,” Heaton says. “And the kids can’t get enough of her. She’s the dream mother.” She stops herself. “The dream mother-in-law,” she amends. That goes to the heart of what seems to be the greatest sorrow of Heaton’s life: She was 12 when her mother died of a brain aneurysm.
“I was in seventh grade then,” Heaton says, “and there wasn’t any grief counseling or therapy or anti-depressants. I went to school one day, and when I came home she was gone. Then, literally, there was the wake, the funeral, and then the next night my father was asking, ‘Did you get your homework done?’ I think that’s when I started to feel that I was always on my own, every man for himself. I’m not good at accepting help. When it comes to accepting emotional support or affection, I’m a little guarded and hardened to that. My mother-in-law was with me during all four of my births and when she was sitting next to me holding my hand during the cesareans, well, I craved that.” She blushes. “It’s almost embarrassing.”
It’s not, of course. But this issue is central to Heaton’s innate struggle: the simultaneous need for affection and hating herself for needing it. Although she is smart and articulate, she is not warm, and when she speaks of her feelings — baldly and fearlessly — she does so without making eye contact.
Her father remarried when she was 17, Heaton says, to a woman who had never been married before. “Part of the problem was that I hadn’t accepted my mother’s death yet,” she says. “It was an adjustment for everyone, although I think it was hardest on my stepmother, Cece. She’s a lovely person and now it’s fine, we’re all adults. I don’t feel anger toward anyone. But still, that whole thing was a lot of where I got my sense that, ‘Okay, I’m on my own. Dad’s remarried, he’ll be taken care of, one of my older sisters became a nun, the other one got married — they were getting hooked into something else.'” She sighs. “I’ve been in a lot of therapy for all this.”
As the mother of four boys, did she ever wish for a girl to, in some way, bind her back to her mother? She nods. “We’re thinking now about adopting or having foster children, and if we did, I would look for a girl without a mother because I could relate to that. I was not an easy kid. I was sort of bratty and a big showoff. And I fear that will be visited upon me as karmic justice.” She smiles, but not too much, as she starts on her creme brulee.
Although her husband runs the couple’s production company and is busy developing future projects, it must still feel touchy for her to be the main breadwinner. She nods. “It could have been a problem,” she says carefully. “But always, from the beginning, I insisted everything be joint accounts, not separate. God’s plan for us right now is that I’m working, but that definitely will change. Raymond will end in two years and we don’t know what will happen then. You see people all the time who are on hit shows and then you never hear from them again. So I never hold that over my husband’s head. Also, there is something in actors that looks for change and is comfortable with instability. I know for sure that all things come to an end.”
Although her marriage, for now, at least, is not among them. “The first year was horrible and a couple of years ago we were having doozies of fights,” she says. “My first, brief marriage was also to an actor, which is why at my second wedding, when I was going down the aisle weeping and my friends all said, ‘Oh, how beautiful,’ I just knew I was making the same friggin’ mistake over again and couldn’t stop it. But my husband and I have gotten into a groove and I hope this is really who we are. He’s been going out of his way lately, taking more responsibility with the kids. He used to go straight to the computer in the morning while I was trying to find the shoes, and his pitching in makes a huge difference. Again, I find it difficult to be taken care of and rarely acknowledge it, and every act he does registers, but I also just need to verbally acknowledge him and hug him.” She laughs. “It would be helpful if we touched once in a while.”
Of course, she could just as easily be referring to her TV husband. Heaton claims great affection for Ray Romano with whom, in addition to the show, she also appears in Ford Motor Company’s breast cancer awareness ads. Her methods of expressing it, however, aren’t any warmer or fuzzier than Debra’s in their often contentious on-screen marriage. “I’m always dissing Ray and making fun of him, talking about his money,” Heaton says. “My decorator just did his house, which is beautiful, tasteful and elegant, and I saw his bedroom and said, ‘I cannot picture Ray in this room.’ I feel like he’s my brother. At the Emmys, when he won, I was sobbing. I ruffled his hair before he went up there and people said I was trying to make him look bad. But no, it was like he was my dog — ‘Good boy!’ And anyway, it was just one piece sticking up. It made him look adorable, actually.”
That dynamic — for better or worse — resonates with millions of viewers. “People say, ‘You must have a tape recorder in my bedroom, we just had that conversation,'” Heaton says. “And I find it very easy to memorize the scripts, which are so close to conversations my husband and I have.” Now that she is finding harmony in her own marriage, however, it might not be long until it spills over to the Romanos.
“Obviously, everything is heightened for comedy,” Heaton says. “But I would like to do at least one episode where Debra and Raymond really get along.”