Interview date: 7/18/2008
Run date: 9/02/2008
“The Big Bang Theory” was one of the breakout sitcoms of the 2007 – 2008 season, offering no small amount of geek humor but delivered with impeccable timing by a cast led by sitcom veteran Johnny Galecki (“Roseanne”) and relative newcomer Jim Parsons (“Judging Amy”). During CBS’s party at the TCA Press Tour, I had an opportunity to speak with both Galecki and Parsons about the first season of the show, the chemistry between the two of them and the rest of the cast, and where they hope Season 2 will take them.
Johnny Galecki (Leonard)
Bullz-Eye: Before I dive into the “Big Bang” love, I just wanted to start by saying that your role on “My Boys” is one of the funniest guest-starring roles I’ve seen on a sitcom this year.
Johnny Galecki: Oh, thanks very much! It was a blast to do, as you could probably tell!
BE: How did that come to pass?
JG: I’m friends with Betsy Thomas, who runs the show, from back in Chicago, and my friend Eric Gilliland, who was on “Roseanne” with me, also writes on the show. Who else? A bunch of people. As you may have noticed that there are a whole lot of Chicagoans over there. They asked me to do a role, and I called Betsy, and I said, “Can I do whatever I want?” She said, “Yeah, sure.” I said, “Can I say whatever I want?” She said, “Yeah, sure.” Then she called me back about five minutes later and asked, “What do you have in mind?” (Laughs) I said, “You’ll see, you’ll see…and if you don’t like it, you can cut it out.” So they just kind of let me run around and be a fool, and no two takes were the same. We had a blast doing it.
BE: Well, you were, indeed, quite a fool.
JG: Oh, yeah!
BE: Okay, so, on to “Big Bang.” Are you enjoying doing the show?
JG: Very much. I mean, we’re constantly laughing. We have a really good time. And it’s also extremely professional, and it’s a very dedicated, committed group. Nobody’s waiting on everyone else. Everybody brings it, and it’s a great feeling.
BE: When you went into the show, was there any unspoken agreement that you would not end up the girl by the end of the first season?
JG: Between who?
BE: Between you and the producers. I mean, so that it wouldn’t be too easy. Like, okay, tension’s over, they’re together!
JG: No, I just let them do their thing and trust them, and they trust us. Everyone once in awhile, we’ll tweak each other, but, no, it was one of the reasons that I wanted to play the role, because I’m so often cast as the romantic lead’s assistant or best friend or little brother or something like that. And I knew that there was going to be this dynamic to explore at some point. Whether it was actually romantic or not is beside the point. I just like the dance of it all. And I’m curious to know…I don’t even know how they’re go into handle it come the first episode of Season 2.
BE: So how geeky is the cast? Certainly you’re not on the level of your characters, but…
JG: Well, we’re geeky about our work. That’s what I learned when being asked about geeks and nerds, and having to define that for the first time in my life, what that meant. I found that it’s all about anyone who’s passionate about anything, and anyone who loves immersing themselves in anything. A lot of rock musicians are nerds, you know? The big, brawny jocks who paint themselves in team colors on their chests and show up shirtless in 20-degree weather for a football game are just as big a nerd as these characters are. They just happen to be nerdy about science and numbers and puzzle and all that. But that’s where all of us can relate: we’re all theater geeks. We’re all theater nerds, you know, and growing up in Chicago where I did, that wasn’t looked on as a cool thing, where sports was the thing. I didn’t do it to be a rock star. The musicians in Chicago don’t play music to be rock stars; it’s the athletes who are the rock stars in the Midwest. So that wasn’t easy in the school yard. In other words, we all related very much! And we find a lot of the gadgets fun, too. When we’re playing video games in the school, generally, we’re playing video games! I built a game room on the stage, and we have all of the video game consoles up on the monitors. Silly stuff like that. The paraphernalia has seeped into our interests, definitely.
BE: What was your favorite episode of the first season?
JG: They all kind of melt together after awhile! I mean, I loved what was the second episode…or, in other words, the first episode after the pilot. The pilot felt great, and I definitely felt like there was a chemistry between Jim and I in the pilot, but you never know if stuff like that is a fluke. So the second episode, we were getting a giant box up the stairs, and it was a very physical scene, and we kept getting laughs from the crew, which is pretty rare…not necessarily for our show, because these guys aren’t necessarily invested in the rehearsal process. But when Jim and I caught eyes at one point, we realized, “Okay, the pilot wasn’t a fluke, this feels right.” I guess it’s more of a personal memory, but I remember the second episode fondly as the moment where we went, “Okay, maybe we are onto something here.” Because of working in the theater, I always go by the audience reaction. I don’t trust anything until it’s bounced off real people.
BE: What’s surprised you the most about the way the show has been received?
JG: You know, I’m really excited that this show has struck a chord. What’s surprised me is that the people who’ve approached me about it – on the street, at the grocery store, in the gym, whatever – want to relate to these characters. Guys who are obviously these big, handsome surfer guys or these gorgeous women will come up and tell me that they’re just like our characters…and I’m thinking, “You are so much cooler than our characters!” But whether they can relate or not, they want to…and I would’ve thought that those kinds of people would be laughing at the characters and not with the characters. That’s become really touching to learn: that they want relationships with these people. They’re not belittling them with their laughter; they can actually relate to them. And that’s really cool.
Jim Parsons (Sheldon)
BE: You pretty much came out of nowhere to star in this show, didn’t you? I wasn’t really familiar with you before the series premiered last year.
Jim Parsons: Yeah, well, I’d done things, but nothing that had garnered a whole lot of recognition.
BE: How did you get involved in “Big Bang Theory”? Was it just a cattle-call kind of audition?
JP: Yeah, my agents just called up and said, “We have an audition for you for this,” and they sent me the script, and I went in. It was just a very run-of-the-mill audition. Nothing special about it.
BE: I asked Johnny about the amount of geekdom that you guys have in real life, and he said that it’s there in a way, if not quite on the level of the characters.
JP: Oh, no. If nothing else, we’re not nearly as smart as they are. But…I don’t want to say we’re not a cool cast, but we’re definitely not the most raucous. We’re not a big partying cast, you know?
BE: He said you do play games on the set.
JP: We do have a game room, yes. We have a Wii, which I like very much. I don’t play it all that much, because I’m just not into it all, but I do love the bowling on the Wii.
BE: So what was your favorite episode of the first season?
JP: Hmmm. I’m probably going to regret saying one episode, but I will say the one where I was sick. I really loved doing that episode. The only thing that bothered me about it was having to have that nasally sick voice the whole time. Every once in awhile, it would just make you go nuts. But I really loved the set-ups and stuff in there, and…I don’t know, I just thought it was a very well balanced episode, with the guys going to the movie to try and avoid me. And I always enjoy it when they have Sheldon and Penny spend time together. I just love it.
BE: My wife is a big fan of the episode where Leonard tells a lie to Penny to get out of going to her play, and Sheldon keeps making the lie bigger and more outrageous.
JP: Oh, yes! That one was very fun to do, because those scenes where I’m trying to explain the lie, and Johnny and I are trying to work it out…I loved to do that. I really enjoyed that one, too. See, I knew it: as soon as I picked one, I’d regret it.
BE: Johnny picked the second episode because it was when he realized the pilot wasn’t a fluke, that the chemistry was really there. But was the chemistry really that evident in the pilot?
JP: Pretty much. Yeah, it really was. I guess you really never know all the reasons for something like that, but the whole cast really gets along well…and that sounds so stupid and pat, but I don’t mean it that way. It’s just that, literally, everybody works together well, and everybody has their own distinct rhythm so much, not only as human beings but as characters and actors when they’re on stage. And it allows you to really take life fully with what you’re doing and what you’re bringing to the character. Everyone’s so strong with what they’re doing that you’re able to just…play together. And it’s just a joy when you’re out there.
BE: Are there any specific geek references that had to be explained to you in the scripts, so you’d be able to appreciate why they’re funny?
JP: You know, I don’t know if this one qualifies, but Sheldon went looking for Leonard’s birthday present: a 311-N wireless router. And I didn’t know what it was until they explained that it’s something in an airport, basically, and I said, “Oh, okay.” But what I didn’t understand…and things like this are just key to any these characters...was how to say it. Was it three-eleven-N or three-point-one-one-N or what? The rest of the problems have just been, like, pronunciation or what the hell is this theory and what the hell are we talking about? But that one specifically had me going, “I’m lost.” If I had to go to a store and ask for this, I…I just wouldn’t. I’d just show them the piece of paper.
BE: When you guys have theorems or equations on blackboards or whatever, I presume they’re authentic.
JP: Oh, yeah, they’re authentic! We have David Salsberg, our consultant from UCLA, and he comes around and checks everything and suggests things. And the good thing about that is that if there’s ever a complaint, I can just say, “It’s not me, it’s that physics guy from UCLA! He did it wrong!” I will never, ever take the fall for that.
BE: Is there anything you’d like to see Sheldon do this season?JP: You know, I hate to be boring and say, “No,” but I have such a good time whenever we get a new episode and I see what they’ve written for Sheldon to say or for Sheldon to do. I never guess where it’s going, and I never have any idea what’s going to happen next. I couldn’t write one episode, and they’re gonna write twenty-something this year. My God! Everyone always asks me if I think Sheldon will ever fall in love, and I do, but I think that’s probably a long way off still…and that sounds like a really rocky road to get down, anyway! How in the hell is that gonna happen? He’s so clueless in that regard! Not only not knowing what to do, but just not seeing it! He’s so singularly focuses on his tasks at hand that I think someone wouldn’t just have to flirt with him, they’d literally have to hit him!