After nine ratings-tastic years as Everybody Loves Raymond's Debra, Patricia Heaton wanted to shake things up with her next, non-put-upon-housewife role. In TNT's The Engagement Ring (premiering tonight at 8 pm/ET), she plays Sara Anselmi, a vineyard owner whose own love life is thrown for a loop when a decades-old marriage proposal arrives in the mail for her mother (played by Lainie Kazan). Heaton shared a few minutes with TVGuide.com to discuss this return Engagement, life after Raymond and her new sitcom dreams.
TVGuide.com: What was your strategy in picking your first post-Raymond project?
Patricia Heaton: We had The Engagement Ring in development for quite a while and I always loved it because of the question that it poses, which is, "What is true love? Is it chemistry, this excitement you feel when you first meet someone? Or is it many years of being together and building a family and a history?" I also loved the fact that it was multigenerational, that it was not just about my character and her romantic life, but also about my parents. You don't get to see that very much.
TVGuide.com: I eagerly awaited Sara's reaction upon opening the long-lost letter that could have changed her mother's life.
Heaton: That's one of my favorite scenes in the movie! And especially once Lainie Kazan was cast, I thought, "Oh, I cannot wait to see her do this," and she was just so wonderful.
TVGuide.com: She certainly is a force of nature in this movie.
Heaton: Isn't she? She is a force, and that is so what that part needed. I loved that no matter how old you get, you can still have these intense romantic feelings for a lost love. It was great in that my parents have to grapple with that, that my dad has to grapple with my mom's feelings for someone else.
TVGuide.com: The premise alone can give a person goose bumps.
Heaton: Yes. It builds up to this sort of intrigue and almost a comedy of errors. The emotions are so high, and with it being an Italian family, it's like this comic opera. I thought it was so different from anything I read that was a TV-movie. And as our [director of photography] said, "It's so nice to shoot a TV-movie that's not set in a hospital or a courtroom."
TVGuide.com: Yes, it has this great, palpable vineyard feel to it.
Heaton: Mmm-hmm. Well, we shot two days in Napa, and we shot the rest in these vineyards up on Vancouver Island. We had these beautiful locations. That was another thing that attracted me — if I have to spend 12 to 14 hours a day somewhere, it may as well be in a vineyard! [Laughs]
TVGuide.com: Is it just me or does your leading man, Vincent Spano, have a hint of Ray Romano-ness to him? Maybe it's the voice?
Heaton: [Laughs] You think so? I suppose you're right, I hadn't even thought of that. It wasn't intentional; maybe I just do that out of habit because I was with Ray for so long.
TVGuide.com: You're part of ABC's big project based on the 9/11 Commission Report. Who are you playing?
Heaton: I play Barbara Bodine, who was the ambassador to Yemen at the time that the USS Cole was bombed. I have a scene with Harvey Keitel [playing FBI investigator John O'Neill], which was a dream for me — we had a wonderful time. I'll tell you, it is a terrific script. I read it while I was in England; it's a three-part miniseries, and boy, I couldn't put it down. I'm really looking forward to seeing that come out.
TVGuide.com: Would you ever do a series again?
Heaton: You know, I'm in development with ABC for a sitcom, so hopefully in the next year I'll be back on a sitcom. A four-camera sitcom, at this stage of my life, with the kids, is really the only schedule I can accommodate. We had all the kids with us while we were shooting The Engagement Ring and my husband [David Hunt] was there, obviously, because he plays my fiancé, but it was hard with the very long hours. It's very difficult to do that and have a normal family life, so I'm looking forward to getting back to a sitcom.
TVGuide.com: It's funny that Raymond ran for so long because you also were up for the role of Seinfeld's Elaine. Either way, you're indentured!
Heaton: Yes! It's a good kind of indentured to be.
TVGuide.com: Do your two Emmys still make you smile?
Heaton: Yes, they do. I have offices in the old animation building on the Disney lot and they're right there, all shiny!
TVGuide.com: Is there any chance for a Raymond reunion somewhere down the road?
Heaton: I would think so. We had such a great time together and everybody loved seeing each other, so any excuse to get together would be great, yeah.
TVGuide.com: Brad Garrett's spin-off stalled; was there ever a germ of an idea for you to get the follow-up? Maybe kill Ray in some tragic hockey-puck accident?
Heaton: [Laughs] No, I don't think that was ever possible!