2016-06-30
Doris RobertsDoris Roberts is probably best known as Marie Barone, Ray's hilariously judgmental mother on the long-running sitcom "Everybody Loves Raymond," which ended its nine-season run last year. While "Raymond" can still be seen in syndication at virtually all times of the day, Roberts, 76, has moved onto new projects. She's starring this weekend in "Our House," a Hallmark Channel movie in which she plays a lonely, depressed widow who's given up on life--until she meets Bobby, a homeless woman, played by Judy Reyes ("Scrubs"), who helps Roberts's character find a new purpose: offering shelter in her home to homeless people.
 
Roberts spoke with Beliefnet about  homelessness, the discrimination faced by older people, moving on after a loss, and her "Our House" and "Raymond" characters.
 
In "Our House" you play a very different type of mother than you played in "Everybody Loves Raymond." What do you think of these two different models?
 
Two Mother Characters
Both of them are different women, but they both need the same thing. Marie Barone, as crazy as she might have been at times, or as hard on her daughter-in-law as she was, it all came from love. She just wanted her sons to be in a household that was cleaner, a household where there was better food, and the grandchildren had the opportunity to have the luxury of a cleaner home and better food. That's what it stemmed from. It's not that she disliked the woman [her daughter-in-law, Deborah, played by Patricia Heaton], she just wanted her to be better for her boys. That's not an evil thing at all. She wasn't clever enough to do it with subtlety, but she did it from love, and that's how I played her. I never played her as being evil or resentful or mean-spirited. Not at all. I loved them, and I wanted it to better for them.
 
Now this woman [in "Our House"] has been pampered by money and has a great home, and it's empty. Absolutely empty. Useless. Empty rooms, when these people who are on the street, she brings them in and gives them a chance, just one step up. They need a second chance in life. They all do.

 

Marie Barone's character really seems to have resonated with people.
 
That show, "Everybody Loves Raymond," is now in 171 countries in the world. The United States government thought the Iraqi people should see an American family, so it was shown in Iraq--which was foolish, because we were so dysfunctional. It was shown twice, then taken off the air, because the mother was too strong.
 
Was your mother like her at all?
 
Not at all. My mother was a working mother. Those women who were taught to get married at an early age and have babies and take care of their babies and their husbands. They may have been obsessive about it, but they did good jobs, or they tried to.
 
Why were you attracted to this new movie, "Our House"?
 
The Problem of Homelessness
I live in California, in Los Angeles, and in Los Angeles alone, in the county, there are 90,000 people who are homeless. Twenty-five percent of those are women and children. We tend to be prejudiced about homeless people. We think that they're drunks or drug addicts or crazy or whatever the case may be.
 
It's not a behavioral thing. It's a question of having a place to live. And for them to be able to rent a place, it would take them 90 hours of work a week at $5 an hour. They're not going to make that. You know that. No one's making that. So we need to do something about that. We need our government to help them with affordable apartments or rooms and running water. It's very simple. It costs them more money to have them on the street than it would if they built affordable buildings for them. So that's what made me connect with that movie.

What responsibility do we as individuals have toward homeless people and addressing the problem?
 
To begin with, I think we're prejudiced. I know for myself that I will stop at a red light and there'll be someone there with a sign saying, "I'm homeless, I need help," and I find myself changing the radio station or looking like I'm busy. I choose not to make contact with that person. And I think that's so wrong.
 
My late husband was a wonderful writer. His name was William Goyen, and he wrote something that I have never forgotten. He said that "when we see homeless people or infirmed people, we look away and we shun them, and we take away their light." Which I think is a wonderful way of putting it. They are people who need help. And we as people tend to be prejudiced against them and look away and not give them any help.
 
But more importantly, I think our government must do something about them. A lot of those people were thrown out of hospitals, and they are mentally disturbed and need help. A lot of them just can't make the paycheck, don't have enough money to rent an apartment or a room, and they're out on the street. So I think we need to open our hearts and our pocketbooks a little more than we do.

 

Another issue that comes up in "Our House" is aging, which is also something you've spoken out about.
 
Discrimination Against Older People
I spoke to the Senate about that [ageism], and my opening remark was, "Gentleman, if you were in my business, you'd be out of a job." We have a terrible situation in our country about ageism. I've been very lucky to be on television as long as I have and working as much as I do at my age. But you don't see anybody out there like me, or very few times to they choose to use a woman over the age of 45. There's no magazine that you can open that has a picture of a woman who's over 45 years of age. Not one magazine. It's as if we've been dismissed out of society or airbrushed out of society.
 
Why do you think that is?
 
Because it's a youth-oriented organization, and the magazines that are out there ignore the fact that women over the age of 45 exist. Don't we have judges, don't we have doctors, don't we have lawyers, don't we have teachers, don't we have top executives who are over 45? Of course we do. We're one of the few countries in the world that totally ignores our elders.
 
And I'd like the word "old" stricken from our vocabulary, and the word "older" put in, because the minute we're born we're getting older. So you can call me an older woman, but you can't call me an old woman. There's nothing old about me. My brain functions beautifully, my body's still good, I have no reason at all to throw in the towel. None. Nor do I intend to.
 
What responsibility does our society have toward older people?
 
In less than 12 years, I think, now, we will be the oldest society in the history of the world. And everybody is ignoring that. I think someone has to do something about it. I don't think AARP does anything about it. I don't know who else is out there doing anything about it, but I've got a big mouth, and I open it as often as I can about ageism.
 
There's no reason for me to be dismissed--or anybody in my age group to be dismissed--because we're older. If I were really infirm or I didn't have the use of my good brain, I understand that. But not now. I'm in great shape. I haven't even peaked yet, as far as I'm concerned, as an actor. There's no reason for us to be dismissed. We have an enormous power in this country, but we don't use it. No one has channeled all of that yet. They shall. They will. They're going to have to, because we can't be ignored this way.

I was struck, in the movie, by the theme of finding a purpose in life after a major loss--trying to mourn but also live.
 
Moving on After Loss
I've had that in my own life. I lost my husband in 1983. You move on or you die. You have that choice. You can lie down and die with that person, or you have a period of time that, I believe, you should mourn--maybe six months, no more--then get off the chair, put the coffee cup down, and go out back into the world and try to do something for someone else, if nothing else. And you're back into living. It won't be the same, but it's still life. It's still extraordinary. It's still exciting.

 

And that's what I did. I put the coffee cup down, went back into life. I was lucky, because I'm an actress, and I was able to get work. If you begin to think about someone else besides yourself, you begin to be back in life. And the self-pity doesn't help you. You will not bring that person back to life. And it's part of a living experience. I'm not being cold about this. I'm being very clear about this, because I've lived it, and continue to live it.
 
And obviously you're not forgetting the person you lost.
 
Not at all. My husband, as I said, wrote this beautiful thing about how we shun people, and it's in the movie. He said, "When we see infirm people or old people, homeless people, we look away and we shun them, and we take away their light." And it's what we do. And we mustn't do that anymore. And ageism, of course, is the last bastion of bigotry. Bigotry! Everything else is dealt with through new laws and stuff, but nobody seems to care about older people. No one that I know of, in any government I know. And that's so wrong. Because we still have power. We still are older and we're wiser, and we've lived a life, and continue to live a life, and they just don't seem to care about it.
 
Where does your passion about this issues, homelessness and ageism, come from?
 
I keep my eyes open and my ears open.
And I look and I see and I hear and I get involved. I personally have three charities that I deal with, and I deal with them fully. I've been a chairperson of Children Affected by AIDS Foundation for 14 years now. I've been involved with Puppies Behind Bars for several years. And now I've just gotten involved with L.A.'s Best, which is an organization for latch-key kids after school, and it's wonderful. They've done a research project on this and proven that these kids who go to this after-school program--first hour is a supervised hour of homework, and then they can choose between science or dance or music or painting or drill or whatever they love to do--and they have found that these people who have had the experience of L.A.;'s Best after school do not leave school but stay on and continue their education.

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