NEW YORK – Ray Romano makes directing look easy.
On Friday, Romano, star of "Everybody Loves Raymond," touched down in his native New York for the Tribeca Festival premiere of his directorial debut "Somewhere in Queens," a tender and hilarious new dramedy that he also co-wrote and stars in.
The film follows an Italian-American dad named Leo Russo (Romano), who helps run his family's construction business, and his wife, Angela (Laurie Metcalf), a breast cancer survivor living in constant fear it will return. Their quiet teenage son, nicknamed Sticks (Jacob Ward), struggles to make friends and meet girls, until he falls for the iron-willed Dani (Sadie Stanley) and begins to open up.
When Dani breaks his heart weeks later, Sticks falls into depression and risks fumbling his chance at a college basketball scholarship. So Leo takes extreme, somewhat shady measures to get his son back on track, but gradually starts to question who he's really doing it for.
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"Queens" was greeted with warm reviews, along with hearty laughter and applause at Friday's premiere in Lower Manhattan. The enthusiastic reception was surely a relief for Romano, 64, who had extreme anxiety about stepping behind the camera for the first time.
"Leading up to it, it was the hardest thing ever," Romano told USA TODAY on the red carpet. Two days after coming to New York to start preproduction, "I had to go for a stress test because I was realizing, 'I'm gonna have a crew, I'm gonna have to go on location, I'm gonna have to make decisions.' It was too much for me. I told my agent on Day 3, 'I can't do it.' He talked me down and somehow I got through it, I don't even know how."
At some point, "you just have to go – there's no time for anything else and then you thrive on (the stress)," Romano continued. "That's what surprised me: that I actually enjoyed it."
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Romano received directing advice from his "Get Shorty" collaborator Davey Holmes, as well as late-night host James Corden, who recommended a book titled "My First Movie: Twenty Celebrated Directors Talk about Their First Film."
"One of the themes of this movie is that we're not alone: All the fears you have, somebody else has," Romano said. "It's good to know that other people are going through some of the things you are and get through it. So it was cool to see some of these directors talk about how scared they were and knew nothing, and how they would cry every night thinking the crew hated them. I don't know why, that was just a little comforting."
Romano's fears were ultimately unfounded, as he earned high praise from Metcalf, 66, who returns to the big screen for her first live-action film role since her Oscar-nominated turn in 2017's "Lady Bird."
"Directors that you are in sync with as an actor are few and far between, at least in my experience," Metcalf said on the carpet. "I have a handful in all the years that I've done it and he's one of them."
"Queens" also gave Romano, who lives in Los Angeles, the opportunity to work with his daughter Ally, 32, a co-producer on the movie. The two shared an apartment in the city and went to work together each day.
"It was good to have somebody there to make sure I was on time and tell me to shut up when I was complaining too much or being too neurotic," Romano recalled. "She learned all the tricks from my wife on how to keep me focused."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ray Romano says directing his first movie was 'the hardest thing ever'