December 16, 2002 12:00 PM

You might say Monica Horan’s life is like something out of an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond. And you’d be right. In 1997, her first season on the hit sitcom as Amy, the on-and-off-again girlfriend of Raymond’s phlegmatic big brother Robert (Brad Garrett), the actress was in the makeup trailer when she saw one of her most personal travails being played out on the studio monitor. “It was the PMS episode,” she says. “I’m hearing lines from conversations I had with my husband. Ray was telling Debra to take medication, and she was telling him she needed a hug. I was like, ‘Whoa.’ I was crying, then laughing, then crying. It was surreal.”

Still, it’s what Horan, 39, has come to expect: Her husband of 12 years, Phil Rosenthal, 42, happens to be Raymond‘s creator and an executive producer. “Ninety percent of everything you hear on the show has been said to me or [producer-star] Ray Romano or one of the writers,” says Rosenthal. “Nothing is safe, but Monica’s a good sport and laughs with us.”

Well, not always. Says Rosenthal: “Monica and I once had a fight over a can opener” in the kitchen of their Mediterranean-style house in Los Angeles. “I spilled the tuna everywhere and got mad, and things were said.” Such as? “Why am I making tuna fish when I just got home from work?” A classic Ray Barone gaffe was born—except that Ray quickly apologizes to wife Debra (Patricia Heaton). Says Horan: “My favorite line to Phil is, ‘You can say the right thing on TV, but why can’t you do it in real life?’ ”

Calling Dr. Phil? Nah. “The show has been great therapy,” says Rosenthal. So have two years of therapy for Horan. As a result, she says, “Phil and I aren’t like” the bickering Barones. “We communicate now, and that is profound.” They’re communicating a lot more on the set too, now that Amy has returned as Robert’s squeeze.

Her castmates are happy to see her back after 11 months. “She’s too nice,” cracks Romano. “She’s always got an upbeat take on whatever we’re talking about.”

“I consider myself a glass-half-full kind of girl,” says Horan. “Amy’s like that—cheery yet vulnerable. And there’s a lot of my mother in her.”

Her mother, Selma, 66, a retired clerk for the registrar of wills in Aldan, Pa., the Philadelphia suburb where Horan grew up, and her father, Robert, 62, a courthouse officer, had mixed feelings in 1984 when the middle of their three children, armed with a B.F.A. in theater from Hofstra University, announced she was moving to New York City to become an actress.

Two years later, while Horan was costarring in an Off-Broadway comedy, Rosenthal, then a struggling actor, conveyed a message backstage: “Tell that girl she’s really funny.”

“It took him two weeks to ask me out,” she says, and a year before they moved in together. In 1990 the Catholic-raised Horan converted to Judaism, both Rosenthal’s and her father’s faith. “Phil is a child of Holocaust survivors. It was my decision,” says Horan (who had a bat mitzvah last May). They wed in April 1990.

As her spouse gained clout writing for and producing ABC’s Coach, Horan enjoyed guest shots on his show and others, including L.A. Law and a 13-episode stint on General Hospital. She says she hesitated, though, before taking on Amy in Raymond’s second season: “I was settling in as a full-time mom” to Lily, now 5, and Ben, now 8. Joining an established cast didn’t faze her. “She can hold her own,” says Romano. “If your husband is one of the bosses, it’s natural to feel self-conscious. But she’s been welcomed and accepted, and the audience loves her.”

So how long will her latest stint last? “Phil doesn’t tell me, and I don’t want to know,” she says. Even when not on the show, “I feel a part of it, watching my husband the genius be a genius. So when he does something annoying, I can forgive him much more easily.”

Michael A. Lipton

Lorenzo Benet in Los Angeles

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