I'm really getting tired of blowing up in front of millions of people," says Patricia Heaton. The actress, who plays harried homemaker Debra Barone on TV's Everybody Loves Raymond, isn't referring to Debra's snap-outs at Raymond (Ray Romano), her haplessly inept spouse, but rather to her own conspicuous expansion. She is seven months pregnant with her fourth child, which the hit show's producers have been doing their best to conceal with lots of close-ups. "In the ninth month, it may just get down to two eyes peering up from the bottom of the screen," jokes executive producer Philip Rosenthal.
As Heaton, 40, sits in the kitchen of the family's Mediterranean-style L.A. home, her 1-year-old son Joe is clambering onto her lap. He's the youngest of her sons with her husband, actor David Hunt, 44, who recently did a guest spot as a neighbor on Raymond. Meanwhile, brothers Sam, 5, and John, 3, are watching TV. It looks like domestic bliss, but Heaton is already dreading her next postpartum blues. "I nurse the boys, so I'm all sore, and you smell like the milk, and you're bloated," she says. "It's the most depressing time."
Otherwise, she's having a ball, costarring in a Top 20 series that's true enough to life to remind the cast of themselves. "My wife gets a kick out of watching Patty whenever she's annoyed at me," says Romano, whose character can't deal with laundry or a checkbook, among other things. "I get trashed at home. I come to work and I get the same thing."
Heaton's not surprised. Her real and TV spouses "share the same universal male idiotness," she says. "You'll tell them the plans you made. They'll be watching TV and saying, 'Uh-huh, uh-huh.' Then later they'll absolutely deny they ever agreed to anything you said."
Though he praises his wife's "healthy cynicism," Hunt insists, "I'm more organized than she is." Perhaps, but Hunt (now in Off-Broadway's The Memory of Water) is often out of town, so it's Heaton who runs the household. Even with a live-in nanny, "I'm up every night," she says. "With three children, someone's always waking up. It's very stressful." So why have a fourth? "One of the moms at Sam's school said to me, 'Four is pushing it. I don't think you can give proper attention.' I said, 'I'm the fourth of five, and I turned out okay. I just carved out my own place growing up.' "
Heaton's niche was showbiz. "She was a little actress from the get-go," says older brother Michael, a columnist with The Plain Dealer in Cleveland who carries the imposing title of Minister of Culture. "With sister Alice, Patty would perform plays for other kids in their Cleveland neighborhood. Then when she was 12, her mother, Pat, suddenly died of an aneurysm at 46. "I just kind of shut it out, because it was just too much," says Heaton. Her father, Chuck, a retired sports columnist, inspired her to major in journalism at Ohio State. But she switched to theater arts, graduated in 1980 and moved to New York City to act.
There, after a three-year first marriage to another actor, and numerous odd jobs, including a stint as a PEOPLE copy clerk in the mid-'80s ("It was torture to copy and distribute all those stories about up-and-coming actors," says Heaton, whose acting career was then going nowhere), she helped found an Off-Broadway troupe called Stage Three. Its second play, 1989's The Johnstown Vindicator, won rave reviews. That same year she wed Hunt, whom she had met in '88 while subletting his apartment. The couple soon moved to L.A., where Heaton landed her first TV role—as a gynecologist on thirtysomething. That led to stints on short-lived sitcoms such as 1995's Women of the House. In '96 she beat out 200 other actresses vying to play house with Ray Romano. Says producer Rosenthal: "No one comes across as real as her."
Or as maternal. "I used to use birth control," says Heaton, "but then once I started having kids, I thought, 'I don't want to stop this.' Souls are eternal. A TV show may go on for nine years and then it's over. I don't think they'll be watching reruns in heaven."
Michael A. Lipton
Tom Cunneff in Los Angeles
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