Ray Romano returns as the voice of Manny in Ice Age: Dawn Of The Dinosaurs, the exciting new 3-D animated film from Twentieth Century Fox. As Manny and his wife Ellie (Queen Latifah) prepare to become parents, they are embroiled – along with the rest of the herd – in a gripping and risky adventure that takes them into a dangerous, tropical, lost world populated by dinosaurs. The film is the third in the enormously successful series and is directed by Carlos Saldanha.
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Everyone’s favourite woolly mammoth is back with his oddly assorted family, embarking on a scary journey into the unknown. All the familiar characters also return along with some colourful new creatures too, including dinosaurs.
By Elaine Lipworth
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Ray Romano started his career as a stand up comic. Early on, he won a comedy competition and toured the States with his routine, appearing on a variety of TV shows. Romano went on to star in the international TV hit, Everybody Loves Raymond. His work on the show led to numerous awards, including an Emmy in 2002, and two additional Emmys, as executive producer for outstanding comedy series, in 2003 and 2005. He has also starred in Eulogy, Welcome To Mooseport, Grilled, The Grand and 95 Miles To Go, an autobiographical documentary of his life on tour. He is the author of the best-selling book based on his comedy: Everything And A Kite.
Funny and self-deprecating as always, Romano sat down for the following interview in Los Angeles.
Where do we find Manny at the start of the story?
Ellie is pregnant and Manny is about to become a father. He’s a little confused and a little scared but also excited. He is continuing the line, which is a good thing. He had thought that the species of woolly mammoths was becoming extinct and now he is going to make more, another generation. So it’s a thrilling time for him.
He is a little nervous isn’t he?
He is but anyone who is about to be a parent or is a parent can relate to the anticipation of it all and the nerves. I became a father myself a long time ago. I thought I knew what I was doing but I didn’t really and luckily there were people around to get me to step in at appropriate moments. You try to participate as much as you can, but basically your goal is to get out of the way. Of course Manny has had a family before so he kind of knows what that feels like but it still feels new to him; it is just as special as the first time I’m sure. He’s still just as nervous and probably causes a little more trouble than necessary, although he is doing his best and trying to help and at least he’s happy.
What you think it is about the plot or the story that makes it interesting?
Well I think this one is cool because it involves having a baby. The audience will love that storyline and there are also new characters. The dinosaurs make it different and interesting. There’s something for everybody in there. But I think ultimately the story is about family and the theme examines how important family is and how important it is to stick together, as well as all the added comedy and a lot of visual excitement.
Can you talk about your chemistry with Queen Latifah who is the voice of Ellie?
Queen and I have never recorded together. I think that’s what works. (laughs) I think I have great chemistry with a woman who never has to see me in person. But Manny and Ellie just compliment each other. He is kind of strong when he has to be but also clueless in many ways. She knows she has to let him think that he’s in charge and let him think he’s the strong one, but in reality she is the strong one. That’s the way it works in my personal life too and I do think that’s what works with Manny and Ellie. You know, they need each other.
Can you discuss the journey Manny finds himself taking in this movie?
Manny is planning for the new addition to the family but Sid and Diego feel a little neglected and a little left out. Sid has his own way of dealing with it; he tries to find a baby of his own. Of course, Diego is too much of a man for that, too tough, so he keeps all his emotions held in, as we men tend to do, and it takes a while for Manny to realize that he already has an existing family in these characters and he needs to make sure that he includes them. I’m sure other families can relate to that. You know, I had my daughter first and when I had my twins two years later, there were two new additions. So you have to find ways as a parent to include everybody. That’s what Manny has to do now. He has to include the whole herd in this new adventure.
Do you think that’s why families can relate to these movies?
I think this relates to families worldwide. What I learned from doing my TV show, which also applies to ICE AGE, is that a family is the same no matter where you’re from. The troubles, the issues and the dysfunction are all the same. Perhaps people are speaking in a different language and wearing different clothes, but it all boils down to the same thing. It is all about families sticking together and trying to relate to each other and resolving arguments, which happen in any close family. This is going to sound corny but the love is the same, it’s universal. Put that to music (laughs).
What kind of dad is Manny going to be?
He’s going to be overly protective-that much is certain. He’s getting a second chance at fatherhood. He is very anxious but I think the audience knows he’s going to be a pretty good dad, a great dad. He will probably let his kids get away with everything, like I do. And he is going to get yelled at a lot. I have four kids. My wife really does all the work and I have all the fun. When she’s away I get the job of taking care of them but I’ve probably done more damage than good by the time she comes back. (laughs). But they have fun with me. I’m good at the job; I just go about things in a different way.
Do you identify with Manny a lot?
Yeah, in that sense I do. In his relationship with Ellie, the woman is the one who is the voice of reason and the one who’s calling the shots. And that is the way it is in my house. I wake up in the morning and I get clean underwear and an apple every day. My wife does everything in the family. That’s probably how it’s going to be with Manny, in their family. He is going to be the guy that can give the piggyback rides but she’s going to do all the real work and the hard stuff, and that’s good. It’s good that there’s a mix like that. That’s why it works.
What do you think of the 3-D element?
I am sure it will look spectacular. I haven’t seen it but they always blow my mind with these films, each one is better than the last. This one will really excite the audience. I’m pretty excited myself, and it’s also cool because you can see it with or without 3-D, either way.
Does it surprise you when you watch the final film how much rapport you have with the other actors, when you haven’t even worked together? You are often recording the voices separately…
Well it is true. This is the third ICE AGE film I’ve done and I’ve never once been in a studio with one of the other actors. You have fifteen recording sessions for each movie and it is always amazing to me when I see the final film how it appears as if we’re really interacting, arguing with each other; it is as though the other actors are standing right next to me. It is amazing how we’re laughing with each other. I have to give credit to the director, to the animators, to the mixers. But after a while recording the voices, as actors making an animated film, we have to picture the other actors at work. It really is pretty amazing how it works and you never know how it will all turn out until you see it for the first time. In the beginning when I did the first one I was stunned. I would say ‘really this is working?’ And I never believed it would work until I saw it all up on the screen.
What is your experience of working with Carlos Saldanha the director?
I have known him for a while from the previous films and he makes you feel very comfortable. He also laughs a lot. He’s a good laugher – which is a big bonus. Carlos often lets you do your own thing; you do a couple of ad libs here and there and then he also comes around and says, ‘Now let’s get what’s on the page’, you know, so you get it all, which is great. As a comedian, I need to hear someone like him responding while I am recording because I’m so insecure. He makes the performer feel at ease. When we are working, he has to be Ellie and I have to tell you, he does it pretty good. It’s a little disturbing (laughs).
How does Manny deal with the dinosaurs and how do you create his emotional response to what is happening?
I just had to think of something that could scare me. It’s hard doing those scenes because you’ve got to be very physical and you’ve got to picture the dinosaur towering over you. And at the same time, you can’t really move away from the microphone, so it took a couple of takes before I got used to emoting and running and being scared, and also staying within the frame so they could hear me clearly. As I did more, it got easier to picture these scenes without anybody there really responding but it was also odd at times because I haven’t had much practice sliding down an ice cave or falling out of a tree onto a dinosaur’s nose. But you learn as you go and I’m already ready for the next one.
Can you talk about some of the other characters? Simon Pegg plays Buck, a new character, and a one-eyed weasel.
Buck is the new little guy trying to steal the scene from me. Manny is always surrounded by funny little creatures. First of course there were Scrat and Sid who were hysterically funny and then they added Crash and Eddie to steal the show in the second film and now there’s Buck. That’s what makes the movie great–there are all these characters around me and you can rely on them to be funny and get a laugh. Manny does the ‘heavy lifting,’ the hard work, but they get the laughs, which is good. I don’t mind at all when they steal the scene from me.
Did you ever think that there would be an Ice Age 3 when you started out?
No I never thought we’d get this far. I’m telling you honestly, when we first started ICE AGE, after my first couple recordings, I really thought I was going to get fired because it just felt so awkward to me and I didn’t think it was working. It was so bizarre just to be standing there with the microphone. But the story was good and when I saw the quality of the acting and the animation and the success of the first one, I knew we were not going to stop. Each of these films has been so entertaining, they really move along. So I’m hoping for ICE AGE 4 because my daughter has just started college, and she takes after her mother. She spends a lot of money, so it would be nice to do another! But seriously, that’s not the reason I’d do it. (laughs) I love these films.
What are the challenges of creating a strong animated character?
Well I don’t want to sound to ‘actory’ because I am playing a mammoth after all, but I do try to find a voice for him. People may think I’m just being myself but I’m actually not; I try to become Manny. I actually get into the character. And it’s just like anything–when you play a character for a while, it evolves a little. You start out and you’re just trying to find it and the more you do it, the more it becomes organic. They gave me enough time to actually find my way into this guy. I think from the first movie to the second movie there is a subtle difference in Manny because I’ve grown into the character more.
How passionate are you about your work?
Well it’s what I do. My TV show ended four years ago and people said ‘how’s retirement treating you?’ and I say, “It’s unemployment, it’s not retirement.’ For a while it was fun to be away and have time to myself and that lasted for about three months, and then I realized that this is what I do for a living and it makes me happy. Now I have this film and some other projects are coming along. I’m very fulfilled with my work; it gives me a good sense of myself. I’m very lucky that I am able to do something I love to do.
Are you funny at home?
It depends who you ask. If you ask my wife, the answer is no. My twins think I am funny and my eighteen year-old daughter – not so much. My son is eleven and he just plays videogames so I haven’t really talked to him in a while. I don’t know what he thinks.