March 4, 2005
When Brad Gerstenfeld was 13, he already stood 6 feet tall, and junior high basketball coaches in Woodland Hills, Calif., salivated whenever he walked into a gym.
"They thought I was the Great White Hope," he says. "But I was neither great nor a hope. I was just white."
OK, so coaches hated him. But he had other talents, like making students laugh at his impressions of teachers. The teachers were so impressed that they let him perform in the school auditorium.
By 18, he was appearing professionally (as Brad Garrett) in local comedy clubs ("I was 6-8 and looked 30"), and at 23, made his first appearance on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson." A short time later, he became the first $100,000 grand-prize winner on "Star Search."
The transition to acting went smoothly, and for the past nine years on "Everybody Loves Raymond," he has played Ray Romano’s frustrated older brother, Robert Barone, winning two Emmys in the process. The series ends this year.
Meanwhile, he has a busy movie schedule, particularly in animated films ("Finding Nemo"), where his booming voice is a perfect fit.
In the live-action comedy "The Pacifier," which opens today, he plays a bumbling vice principal trying to do battle with Vin Diesel, a special ops soldier protecting children.
Q: Is it a relief knowing that you will no longer have to carry Ray Romano on the TV series?
A: Ray is so humble. To hit the stardom he hit and never change is amazing. I mean, the guy has the same neuroses he had before the success. It’s charming.
Q: You said that Ray didn’t change in the nine-year run. How have you changed?
A: I hope I haven’t changed. I still hang out with the same people I hung out with 25 years ago when I worked at TGI Friday’s. I hope I’m a better actor. I hope I’m more confident. I hope I’m better at comedy. All I know is that I’m very lucky.
Q: Do you understand what the people at "Mary Tyler Moore" and "Seinfeld" must have felt like leaving at the top of their games?
A: I do. We wanted to go out strong, but the writers were out of ideas. We did 16 shows this year because they didn’t feel they could write a 17th that would be up to par. We did 210 shows, and we are proud of every one. In none of them do we feel like we were stretching or pushing it.
Q: So there was no temptation to do one more year just for the money?
A: No, no. As everybody in the world knows, I renegotiated my contract. I’m fine. The money they threw at Ray to do a 10th season was astronomical, but that wasn’t the point. None of us wanted to see a lessening of the quality. It’s great to know that in 10 years, I won’t see a rerun of the show that makes me cringe.
Q: And making movies is where you’re headed?
A: No, not necessarily. I love television. I’m not the TV guy looking to make the leap. If the leap happens, great, but I hate the road and want to be with my family. I have a motto, "I am picky, but not in demand."
Q: That’s quite the life philosophy.
A: It’s a brutal combination. I’m literally turning down movie roles I’m not even offered. I’ll call a studio and say, "I’m not interested in your spy movie," and they’ll say, "Great."