No matter what character Patricia Heaton portrays from now on, she will always be remembered as Debra Barone, the long suffering and beleaguered wife of Ray Romano in “Everybody Loves Raymond” that won her two Emmys.

Women across America identified with the petite wife and her problems with her in-law and her husband, all while raising young kids.

In addition to her Emmy wins, Heaton also received a Screen Actors Guild, or SAG, award, three SAG nominations in the Best Actress category and the Best Comedy Actress award from the Viewers for Quality Television during the show’s nine-year run. Then, after a two-year absence from television, Heaton recently returned in FOX’s hit sitcom “Back To You,” opposite actor Kelsey Grammer.

The Bay Village, Ohio, native always knew she wanted to be in show biz. After graduating from Ohio State University with a bachelor’s in drama in 1980, Heaton headed east to Manhattan to continue her acting studies. It wasn’t until almost seven years later that she got a role in Broadway’s “Don’t Get God Started.” Earlier this year she returned to the stage, where she co-starred with Tony Shalhoub in the off-Broadway production of “The Scene.”

Heaton has also gone behind the cameras to produce various projects — 2006’s “Amazing Grace,” the documentary “The Bituminous Coal Queens of Pennsylvania,” and 2005’s “The Engagement Ring” — for her production company FourBoys Films, which she runs with her husband of 17 years, David Hunt.

But the busy working mom says that work affords her and her family of four boys — ages 13 through 8 — the luxuries she didn’t have growing up. Heaton and her family live in Los Angeles, but have a small cottage home in a village near Cambridge, England, where they spend time each summer.

Bankrate: So what’s the essence of Patricia Heaton?

Patricia Heaton: Oh my goodness. Patricia Heaton is so multi-faceted. I think it’s a combination of bravado mixed with constant regret and, not that I lack self-confidence, but it’s that situation where on the one hand you’re out there and extroverted and the other hand, you’re just hating yourself every minute and being self-deprecating about being out there and extroverted.

Bankrate: You were one of the first Hollywood stars to come out and say you had plastic surgery. Before that, it was a taboo subject. It’s no longer pass? in Hollywood, with more stars coming forward. Why do you think the attitude changed?

Patricia Heaton: I just read where Jane Seymour talked about her plastic surgery. I think because of tabloid journalism … these people are relentless. I was walking down to my neighborhood shopping area and there were two people perched with cameras filming someone from “Grey’s Anatomy” sitting outside a caf?. I just thought these poor people can’t go out and even have lunch.

I think there’s so much exposing everyone in their everyday life now, where it used to be that the studio protected images, and now it’s open season. It’s kind of ridiculous keeping up a front, not only because there’s too much evidence to the contrary, especially if you get to be a certain age and you’re still looking the same as your first headshot, it’s suspicious. But also, I think if you want to live a normal life and be out there, people are going to see what you really look like.

Bankrate: You met your husband when you were a struggling actress subletting his New York City apartment. And now you’ve been married for 17 years — an eternity in Hollywood terms. What’s the secret to your marriage?

Patricia Heaton: I think we’ve learned how to fight, that’s the thing. That’s an art. And I wouldn’t even call them fights anymore. It’s more like learning how to air your grievances or your differences or learning how to communicate. It’s being able to identify what the underlying issue of your feeling or your argument is. So that’s really it. And you really have to learn to appreciate the differences and the differences that a person brings to the relationship and how that benefits the family as a whole

Bankrate: Near the end of “Everybody Loves Raymond’s” successful run, there was a hold-out amongst the actors — excluding Ray Romano — for more money. Everyone was subsequently given profit-sharing and more of a piece of the action, which was quite a considerable package. Do you think you are financially set now?

Patricia Heaton: I might be if I didn’t live in California; then I could completely not have to work again, but I think if we stay here, with this high cost of living, I can’t retire.

My husband and I are trying to produce TV shows and movies, so we put a lot of money into our own production company and carry the overhead of our company with offices, development of projects, paying writers, buying scripts and all that. But if I completely retired from all of that and didn’t do any more of that, yeah, I would have peace of mind and could walk away from it all. But I don’t think I can say that if I keep wanting to accomplish what we are hoping to accomplish.

Bankrate: Is it difficult raising money for projects nowadays?

Patricia Heaton: It is a real challenge. I love developing projects, but I don’t love raising money. I love producing. Sometimes I just want to let go of all this — that’s another stress component in my life, but there is something in me that is a workaholic. I’ve always worked and paid my own way. I don’t know any other way of life.

Bankrate: Have you saved for a rainy day?

Patricia Heaton: Oh yeah. You have to in this business. Look at what the writers (went through) with the strike and the trickle-down effect of the strike.

Bankrate: You’ve got four boys to put through college, too.

Patricia Heaton: I’m hoping they don’t go to college (laughs). I would love to take the money we’ve set aside for their education and just take a nice long trip somewhere. We’ve put money away for them — their college funds are already set. But look, if one wants to be a hairdresser, a mechanic, a grip, and they don’t want to go to college, I’m not going to force them. I want them to be happy in whatever they’re doing.

Bankrate: Who is your hero or role model?

Patricia Heaton: I admire a lot of women in this industry who are moms and producers — those that can take care of their kids and home and yet raise millions of dollars for creative projects. Generally I’m so in awe of their abilities. It’s hard to say one person in particular, but I think generally women are really amazing.

I have five best friends who are terrific and we go away for my birthday every year. I take them away for three to four days someplace. This past year they all came to New York because I was doing a play. One year we went to a spa in Laguna (Calif.), another year was to the Biltmore in Santa Barbara, (Calif.) and another to Palm Desert (Calif.) to a spa. This year is my big 5-0 so we’re kind of plotting right now.

Bankrate: Does being with other women empower you?

Patricia Heaton: I think it’s more like an alcoholics group together, and we compare war stories. We have our marriages, our children and aging, so we get together and trade stories and tips — beauty tips, child rearing tips, marriage tips — things like that.

What’s that old saying: A burden shared is halved, or something like that. So when you have other people who are smart and funny and you all go through the same things, it gives you empathy for other people and makes your own situation not as dire. Or just enjoy one another. And that’s something I don’t do enough of, that I need to do more with my friends and my husband. He’s always saying we don’t do enough together and it’s true. But so much of what our social life is seems to be tied up with business that it’s hard to separate them.

Bankrate: What are some of your regrets?

Patricia Heaton: On the one hand, you look at where you are and I’m in such a good place that I think well, would I really change anything if it brought me to this place? But I think there could have been easier paths. I’ve always known what I wanted to do, but it was hard to commit to that as a means to making a living or studying acting or going after show business when nobody else in the family did it. So I had to define my own way. I would have gone to a college more suited to acting and focused much earlier on acting than I did.

Bonnie Siegler is a freelance writer in Los Angeles.

Photo supplied by retna.com

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