A dramatic turn for Raymond's 'mother'

Associated Press

Doris Roberts is so good on "Everybody Loves Raymond," and the sitcom is so good at mining laughs from the quarrelsome Barones (whose queen bee, of course, is played by Roberts), that viewers may forget she can play anyone else.

"A Time to Remember" is a vivid reminder.

Airing Sunday at 8 p.m. on the Hallmark Channel, this dramatic film finds Roberts as a different kind of matriarch from comic meddler Marie Barone. Here, playing Maggie Calhoun, she is cool and imperious -- and in an early stage of Alzheimer's.

"This is not a disease-of-the-week film," Roberts says. "It's all about family, and how we hold onto silly and stupid resentments and anger and all that nonsense."

Especially Maggie.

"She's not necessarily a very nice woman," Roberts says. "She's very uptight, very WASPy, and I played it that way. People won't necessarily like my character, but I think they'll be moved by her."

To prepare for the role, Roberts says she studied the disease. And she allows that, despite her being vigorous and razor sharp at age 74, it's a threat she doesn't take lightly.

"I have a friend whose husband is in the late stages now, but early on, I remember sitting with him at dinner and he'd have this troubled stare and he'd say, 'I'm not here.' It would break your heart."

The role gives Roberts some stirring moments, such as a scene when Maggie, in her bathroom, is struck clueless: She doesn't know what her toothpaste and toothbrush are for.

"No one thinks I can do dramatic work anymore," Roberts says with a rueful chuckle. "I did 20 years on Broadway before I ever went out to California! I won an Emmy for playing a bag lady on 'St. Elsewhere'! But once you get into a comedy bag, they pigeonhole you. So when this kind of opportunity comes along, I grab it."

Not that Roberts -- with half a century's worth of credits in theater, films and television (including her four-season run on "Remington Steele") -- draws much of a distinction between going for laughs and going for tears.

"You don't use different muscles playing comedy and playing drama," she explains. "You just make different choices.

"When I play Marie, I don't use this voice," she says, displaying her naturally deep timbre. Instead, she endows Marie with a hopped-up, nasally lilt: "I say things like, 'Ah yuh hungry, dee-uh?' I talk way up hee-uh. Because if I used my own voice for Marie, you wouldn't laugh at her. You'd find her quite unpleasant."

Thanks to Roberts' choices, Marie Barone isn't unpleasant. Just impossible. And, like "Raymond" (airing Mondays at 9 p.m. on CBS), still hugely popular.

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