BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Patricia Heaton understands what it's like to be Paula McFadden, aka "The Goodbye Girl."
Heaton, the Emmy-winning star of "Everybody Loves Raymond" and a mother of four sons, "lived a lot of what Paula was living" for many years.
McFadden is the no-longer-ingenue, unlucky-in-love Broadway dancer whose struggle to find romance and security is the subject of Neil Simon's "The Goodbye Girl."
In TNT's new version of the heartfelt comedy, which premieres 8 p.m. Friday, Heaton plays McFadden and Jeff Daniels co-stars as struggling actor Elliot Garfield, with whom McFadden is forced to share an apartment. Hallie Kate Eisenberg is McFadden's wise-beyond-her-years daughter, Lucy, and Richard Benjamin directs.
Heaton saw the original 1977 movie, starring Marsha Mason and Richard Dreyfuss, who won an Academy Award for his performance.
"I mean I was 3 at the time, but I remember it clearly," jokes the 45-year-old star.
But Heaton believes the romantic tale has a timeless quality because "the theme is extremely universal - people looking to having some loving relationship and a satisfying career."
Only very minor updates were necessary, such as giving Garfield a cell phone, but having it dropped and broken so as to not lose the important scene when he calls McFadden from a pay phone..
Otherwise Heaton notes New York is still "a tough place" to live, especially for those in the arts. "Actors are still struggling and doing bad off-, off-, off-Broadway things, and women are still getting together with completely inappropriate men!
"I had eight sublets in nine years," says Heaton, recalling "points in my life in New York where I just didn't think I was going to make it as an actor and didn't know how I was going to make a living."
She took what work she could, including dancing in an industrial shoe show, and eventually landed a role on Broadway in the musical "Don't Get Started."
Now living in Los Angeles with actor-producer husband David Hunt and their sons, Heaton retains empathy for any struggling actor.
"I was driving my kids home from school and we went by a sandwich store and there's a great big sponge rubber sandwich waving. I told the boys, 'Wave ... because there's an actor inside that costume. That could be you, and it could have been me, too!"'
Over the last eight years, of course, she's become famous and won two Emmys for her role as Debra Barone, the sane wife who's driven half-crazy by husband Ray and his family in "Everybody Loves Raymond."
Will the top-rated CBS sitcom be back for a ninth season?
"I guess I hear at the end of January," she says, noting she's trying to be prepared - "just for my own mental health" - for the possibility it might end.
But she doesn't think even the show's star, Ray Romano, and creator, Phil Rosenthal, know yet whether it will be back or not.
"Ray's got other projects on the burner. Phil has other projects on the burner. On the other hand, a show like this only comes around one time, so you need to be really sure that you are completely finished with it," Heaton says. "To get another show that comes anywhere near this would be like getting lightning in a bottle - twice. It's not very likely to happen."
But she also understands the quality must remain high. "We don't want to do a ninth year where the alien spaceship lands in the Barones' backyard because they've run out of things to talk about!"
Benjamin, who directing credits include "My Favorite Year," "Milk Money," "Marci X" and the made-for-TV "Laughter on the 23rd Floor," says Heaton was cast as McFadden after Simon told him to watch "Everybody Loves Raymond" because "this girl is great, this girl is fearless, not afraid of anything and doesn't care whether you like her or don't like her, which means you really do like her."
Benjamin watched and agreed.
"There are funny people and not funny people," he says. "She knows where the jokes are without letting you catch her at it."
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