Los Angeles Brad Garrett learned to love Jackie Gleason in "The Honeymooners" when he caught late-night reruns after working on the standup comedy circuit.
He identified with the flamboyant performer known as "The Great One" and most fondly remembered as bus driver Ralph Kramden. And he says others noted similarities in "my eyes and my expression."
|"Gleason" airs at 8 p.m. CDT Sunday on CBS, Sunflower Broadband Channels 5 and 13.|
"I've always had a kind of louder-than-life bravado and kind of over-the-top delivery," says the deep-voiced Garrett, who won the supporting actor Emmy last month for playing Ray Romano's goofy brother in the CBS sitcom "Everybody Loves Raymond."
"I also got cast in the 'Poor Soul' type of roles," he adds, referring to one of Gleason's characters. "Robert (in 'Raymond') is really the 'Poor Soul' the down-and-out loser that Kramden was."
Garrett's 3-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter play with their mother, Jill, in the back yard of the family home in suburban Woodland Hills while Garrett talks about playing the legendary Gleason in the two-hour CBS biopic "Gleason."
"I felt a huge responsibility because Gleason's one of these characters who was loved in the industry and outside," he says.
The 42-year-old Garrett was determined to pay homage to the "force" that was Gleason and not settle for just a sugarcoated impression, said "Gleason" director Howard Deutch.
"I have rarely been involved with anyone who burned for every single minute of a movie as Brad did," Deutch said. "He scratched and clawed, groveled and scuffled, fought to the death even with me."
A screen test using foam prosthetics to make Garrett resemble the jowly Gleason made the actor look like 'The Nutty Professor,' says Deutch.
"It was a disaster," says Garrett. "Gleason was known for his (facial) expression."
The star and director ponied up their own money to pay for the expertise of makeup and prosthetics artists Greg Cannom and Wesley Wofford, who work with silicone rather than the cheaper foam.
When silicone was used, "we didn't know where my chin stopped. It was my eyes, my nose, my upper lip, but their chin, their cheeks, their neck," says Garrett, describing the daily three-hour process to transform his oblong face into Gleason's full moon.
Although a big man who claims he's only "a burrito away" from being chubby, Garrett wore a bodysuit to depict Gleason's expansive girth.
Another challenge was Garrett's 6-foot-8-inch height. Gleason was a squat 5-foot-10.
"We knew we had to take care of what I call 'the giant factor,"' Garrett says, laughing.
If Kramden were to tower over wife Alice as he waves his fist in one of those classic "One of these days" routines, Garrett felt he'd seem "like a bully" to today's audiences. "It was borderline funny when he did it ... It would never fly today."
To level the playing field, fellow cast members wore 7-inch boots, doorways were 8 feet high, furniture was built up, some actors stood on boxes, and specially rolled giant cigarettes were used to make Garrett's huge hands seem smaller.
Garrett depicts the adult Gleason over 40 years, leading up to just before his death from cancer in 1987.
The actor wanted to include Gleason's last years, feeling that "seeing the regret" in Gleason's eyes would reveal "he was a legend, but he knew he didn't nail it."
Garrett loves and respects Gleason, but insisted on the importance of showing "that weathered look, the bourbon rasp, the cigarette still going a guy who had the fire but knew that it was over."