December 02, 2002 12:00 PM

>It’s been two months since Ray Romano picked up his first lead-actor Emmy, but he’s still basking. “I went to my favorite sushi place,” says Romano, “and when I went to pay the check, this Japanese master chef—who I could swear didn’t have a clue who I was—said, ‘No, no, congratulations from us.’ It blew me away.”

Free fish aside, not much else has changed for the Everybody Loves Raymond star. “I’m still as neurotic as I was,” says Romano, 44, who lives in L.A. with his wife, Anna, 39, and their four children (Alexandra, 12, Matthew and Gregory, 9, and Joe, 4). “Just the situations have changed. Before, I used to think my cab driver hated me. Now it’s my limo driver.”

The actor continues to share that paranoia with his small-screen alter ego, Ray Barone. “The character has taken on a life of his own,” says Romano. “He’s a little stupider than me. The writers have a contest: Who’s dumber, Ray Romano or Ray Barone, and he’s starting to win.” Fortunately fewer people compare him to the grumpy woolly mammoth he gave voice to in last March’s animated Ice Age (released on DVD Nov. 26). “I just pictured myself as a lumbering misanthrope with, believe it or not, a bigger nose,” he says.

Although times are good, Romano admits that Raymond‘s eighth season could be its last. “We don’t want to overstay our welcome,” he says. “We want to go out on top. You don’t want to say it’s our big finale and nobody’s even TiVo-ing it.” Amy Bonawitz

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