From executive producers Martin Scorsese (who directed the pilot), Mick Jagger and Terence Winter, the new HBO drama series Vinyl, set in 1970s New York, is a ride through the sex-and-drug-addled music business at the dawn of punk, disco and hip-hop. And it’s all seen through the eyes of record label president Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale), who is trying to save his company and his soul without destroying everyone in his path. The series also stars Olivia Wilde, Ray Romano, Juno Temple, James Jagger, Ato Essandoh, Max Casella, P.J. Byrne, J.C. MacKenzie, Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, Jack Quaid and Paul Ben-Victor.
While at the TCA Press Tour, actor Ray Romano (who plays Zak Yankovich, head of promotions and a partner at American Century with Finestra) spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about what drew him to this project, being an unknown actor to Martin Scorsese, what it was like to collaborate with him on the pilot, going all-out with the music, his nude scene in Episode 7, and all of the new experiences he’s had with this show. Be aware that there are some spoilers.
RAY ROMANO: I know! I was at home waiting for projects. I was on Parenthood and there was one season left, and I was thinking, “What’s next?” I’m at this age where I’m trying to write my own script, and they sent this over and I decided to put myself on tape. There were a couple points in the season where I wasn’t even in the season and when they would play it back on the monitor, I’d go, “This is so cool, I have to film it.”
What was the appeal of this, for you? Was it the music or was it the era?
ROMANO: It was all of that. The script was great. I grew up in that era. I was a teenager then. And it was Martin Scorsese and Bobby Cannavale. I didn’t know I was going to get the part. I put myself on tape and the cool thing was that Martin Scorsese had never heard of me. He had never seen [Everybody Loves Raymond]. I was just an unknown actor to him. I don’t want to sound conceited, like he has to know who I am, but that seemed a little odd. He’s a film genius. He doesn’t watch sitcoms. But, it worked out to my favor because sometimes you see the character and you can’t seen anything else. It took about four weeks until they finally said, “You’ve got the part,” and I’ve been pinching myself, ever since.
How was it to work with Martin Scorsese on the pilot?
ROMANO: It was great. Every detail was covered. There were technically long shoots with these great shots, but he also let us do our thing. There was a freedom to it. As long as we were in the parameters of the scene, he let us go a little bit. We would rehearse and he’d be like, “That’s great! Do that!” His energy, when the take was over, would be like, “That’s great! Let’s do it again!” He was very supportive. I was amazed that he allowed us to interpret a scene and go off the script a little bit. Not a lot, but he allowed that a little bit. We had a scene on a plane and one of the escort girls did a whole little speech, and he liked it and let it go. He does that. And then, in editing, he finds what he wants. It was a great experience, in that sense. I like that. It was great. I was intimidated to meet him and talk to him, but that all went away. He made you feel very comfortable.
And you had to feel like you were in good hands on the music front, with Mick Jagger’s involvement.
ROMANO: He’s also a music connoisseur and knows everything about that era. So, you knew the music side was going to be top-notch. It’s HBO. On Men of Certain Age, if we wanted a song, it would break the bank. But, Vinyl can go all-out.
Because this was an era of anything goes, is this a show where anything goes?
ROMANO: I don’t know if you want to see the Everybody Loves Raymond guy in a nude scene. If you don’t, don’t watch Episode 7. It was very nerve-wracking for me. I had to be drunk and have a threesome. I’m not that guy. Bobby Cannavale is that guy. But it was Vegas and things got crazy, and it happened. We go to Vegas to try to sign Elvis Presley and things get crazy. My character is stoned. From the second season, he’s drunk and doing coke, for the whole episode. As an actor, that’s nerve-wracking enough because you have to do it at the right level. And then, I had to be naked, but I was almost more nervous about having to be drunk. The director wasn’t going to yell, “Too big!,” during the nude scene. For the drunk scene, you can be bad drunk or good drunk. We’ll see. My wife was not happy, hearing about it.
Is that something that you just have to have a laugh about?
ROMANO: You do laugh about it. I got bits for my act from that. You laugh at it, but don’t get me wrong, it was nerve-wracking for me. I don’t do that stuff. For a sitcom sex scene, you get in bed and that’s the end of the scene. It quick and it was fast, but it was foreign territory for me. Not for Bobby. Bobby Cannavale has been down that road before. With my character, I think it will be a one-and-out. I don’t think you’ll see my character naked again, so relax everybody.
Because this is a show that’s brought you all-new experiences, what have you most enjoyed about playing this character and living in his world?
ROMANO: I think he’s a good guy. I’ve justified what he’s doing, but it’s a shady business and he has to do some shady things. There’s a lot of cutthroat and back-stabbing and ugly characters in that business and in that world, but there’s a morality to it. Even though we do go down that road, I think we’re the good guys. I think the audience still roots for us. I haven’t had roles where I’ve gotten to go a little dark like that, so it’s fun to do that and still find a way to feel like I’m doing the right thing still. There are a lot of heavy scenes, which was new to me. We did the pilot, and then six months later, we got the script for the next episode and I didn’t even know my character was married. In the pilot, did you know if my character was married or not? There was no wife and no kids, and no mention of it. He was out with hookers. But when the second script came, I realized that he has a wife and kids. Also, it gets very heavy. My character contemplates killing himself, in the second episode. Those dramatic challenges are something new to me. These characters go low and high, which is fun. I just hope they don’t kill me.
Vinyl airs on Sunday nights on HBO.