A chat with Jim Parsons, Jim Parsons interview, the Big Bang Theory
Jim Parsons

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We’re going to go on record right now and say that Jim Parsons got the shaft at this year’s Emmy Awards. Not that Alec Baldwin isn’t great as Jack Donaghy on “30 Rock,” but in the end, he’s just another guy in a suit. As Dr. Sheldon Cooper, however, Parsons has taken a character that could’ve been just another comic book nerd and transformed him into a comedic force to be reckoned with, and he and his co-stars – Johnny Galecki, Kaley Cuouo, Simon Helberg and Kunal Nayyar – have made “The Big Bang Theory” one of the funniest shows on television. Bullz-Eye’s Will Harris chatted with Parsons back in 2008, then crossed paths with him again this summer during the Television Critics Association Awards and floated the idea of doing a phoner once Season Three of “The Big Bang Theory” had kicked off in earnest, which Parsons assured him would be no problem whatsoever. Still, when the time came to set up the interview, Will decided to refresh Parsons’ memory of the evening by sending him a picture from that night. Fortunately, it worked like a charm.

Jim Parsons: Hi, Will!

Bullz-Eye: Hey, Jim, how’s it going?

JP: Very well. How are you doing? Good to talk to you again -- and that was a nice picture you sent over! It would’ve been better without me in it (laughs) but it was still nice.

BE: (laughs) Well, it pleases my wife to no end that she’s got a photo of you and her.

JP: Awwwwwww. Say hello to her.

BE: I certainly will. So it sounds like you’ve been working hard on the set.

JP: Yes, it’s a good time, but it does produce sweat, I’ll say that.

BE: So what episode are you guys working on now?

On bringing guest stars to “The Big Bang Theory”: "It’s fun to inject new life into this show, anyway, but when you’re able to get someone who is so talented as an actor in general, it’s not only a coup for the show and the audience members, but for you as an actor, to get to work with them. It’s always a different dance when strong actors come in like that, because they bring their own thing, and you're, like, ‘Wooooooo!’"

JP: We are -- number-wise, we’re on number 12, and if I understand correctly, we’re going to do 24, so I guess that means we’re literally at the halfway point. Christine Baranski will be in this week’s episode, which is wonderful. Although she isn’t here right now, I think because she’s moonlighting with us. She’s having to finish out her day job, which I guess is “The Good Wife” right now, so we’ll see her a little bit later. But I think she can handle a slightly abbreviated rehearsal schedule. She knows her way around the block. (laughs)

BE: Well, I’m actually glad that I’m getting to talk to you this week, as opposed to when we were originally supposed to speak, because now Sheldon has officially gotten to second base with Penny.

JP: Oh, my God! You’re absolutely right!

BE: And congratulations on that, by the way.

JP: Oh, thank you, thank you. You know, unwittingly, without actually looking at it, Sheldon grabbed Penny’s boob. You’re right: second base. Wasn’t that a wonderful moment they thought of? I just thought it was absolutely fantastic. I mean, of all the way you can get a man hand’s on a woman’s flesh -- that man’s hand on a woman’s flesh -- they just never cease to amaze me, the writers, with the way they twist and turn him. (laughs)

BE: And the look on your face was classic.

JP: (laughs) With the eyes closed and all?

BE: My wife and I also particularly enjoyed the episode because of the joke about the check engine light in Penny’s car, because ours has been on for about six months now.

JP: You’re kidding me!

BE: I am not.

JP: You know, my car -- the power locks have all quit working, so I can manually get in with a key, but only my door. So I can’t open any other door, and I’ve had to take a couple of friends a couple of places, and they’ve all had to crawl over the console. So I’m no better than Penny when it comes to that, though I guess it’s less unsafe, as long as I’m not driving over bridges.

BE: You know, I didn’t want to be the one to have to tell to tell you this, but -- you’re kind of a big time TV star. You can probably afford to hire someone to get that fixed.

JP: I know, I probably could. It really is a time issue. And probably an intelligence issue. I’ll bet there’s a way I could get it taken care of. Like, I bet someone would pick it up. I’ll bet that, in this ideal world, I could probably even get a loaner car for that process. But I simply haven’t executed any of that.

BE: Well, I’m sorry that you didn’t pick up the Emmy, but I do understand that you’re up for a People’s Choice Award.

JP: I am! That’s very exciting.

BE: Given that everyone I’ve talked to was excited that I was talking to you, I’m hoping that bodes well for you.

Jim ParsonsJP: Oh, thank you! Yeah, well, I hope so. I voted myself, and I voted for myself, but I only voted once. I know that you can do it repeated times, but it kind of felt like bad karma to vote for myself more than once. But by the same token, I wasn’t going to vote for Alec Baldwin, so, y’know (trails off)

BE: That’s admirable restraint on your part.

JP: (laughs) Thank you.

BE: So I always enjoy the episodes where you team up with Penny, and I understand that, in addition to this week’s, there’s another one coming up where you teach her physics, or try to, anyway.

JP: (sighs) Yes. Oh, my God. What a valiant effort. That being said, I completely agree with you, as far as I have as much fun as humanly possible, I think, on this show when they have a heavy Penny and Sheldon episode. And that one -- I think I enjoyed the teaching her science more than the hospital one that just aired, actually, although I enjoyed them both. But it was so fun to get to (pauses) Sheldon’s not a great teacher, as you can imagine. He doesn’t have the patience of Job, and he takes on the airs of being a teacher, but it just doesn’t come naturally, I don’t think, even though the information does. And to couple with that, as you can imagine, she’s just not a good student. She comes unprepared, she can’t stay on track, it flies over her head within the first two sentences. But it was so fun, in an “Educating Rita” kind of way.

BE: I understand Kaley Cuoco refers to those episodes as being full of “Shenny moments.”

JP: Yes, she does. She’s a quack. (laughs)

BE: I think my favorite episode this season was the one with Wil Wheaton.

JP: Oh! How great was it to have him? That was so fun.

BE: Many of my friends have taken to screaming “Wheaton!” at the top of their lungs, in an attempt to emulate you.

JP: No! (laughs) He seemed to be completely okay with the fact that his entire name became a mantra of vengeful hate. That didn’t seem to bother him. He was so fun to have on the set, and he was such a good guy, just in general, but what a wonderful foil for Sheldon. And it makes such sense, because as a person and as an actor -- he was playing himself, though slightly different, obviously -- of course Sheldon’s the angriest at this human who is so unhurtful. There’s nothing wrong with Wil Wheaton!

BE: I can only hope that they signed him up for a sequel episode the second the reactions started coming in for that one.

JP: I hope so, too, although they wouldn’t tell me if they did.

BE: Yes, I’ve read that you always feel that you’re the last to know anything on the set.

JP: We are the last to know! The entire cast! I mean, honest to God, if you didn’t have other actor friends telling you, “I went in to audition for somebody on your show,” it’d be a matter of waiting for a script and saying, “Oh, look who’s in this episode!”

"(Wil Wheaton) was so fun to have on the set, and he was such a good guy, just in general. He seemed to be completely okay with the fact that his entire name became a mantra of vengeful hate. That didn’t seem to bother him."

BE: So who’s been your favorite guest star to work with? Not to belittle any of them, of course.

JP: Oh, no, I know, I know. I’m not afraid to answer the question as much as it really is hard. I mean, we have so many talented people, and it’s just (hesitates) Immediately, for me, I do -- oh, God, they’re all so good, but this is a somewhat easier call: the grouping of three previous sitcom women who knew just the ropes so well, Sara Rue, Christine Baranski and Laurie Metcalf. They just took to it, and obviously they would. But they’re just so funny, too, and they’re just such good actors. They’re just so real, and they listen and they respond. But I guess I’ll have to be biased, and I’m going to go ahead and have to say Laurie, because she played my mother. I would never want -- hopefully, Christine and Sara will never read your article.

BE: I will do my best to keep it under wraps.

JP: Yes, please do. Maybe you could set it up so that you have to enter a secret code to hear my answer. (laughs) But, no, it really is hard, and I only give her that favoritism because she literally is playing my mother, so I guess that wins. I’ve said it before, though: the class of guest star we get on this show at times is so -- it’s such a rewarding thing, you know? It just makes life so fun. It’s fun to inject new life into this show, anyway, but when you’re able to get someone who is so talented as an actor in general, it’s not only a coup for the show and the audience members, but for you as an actor, to get to work with them. It’s always a different dance when strong actors come in like that, because they bring their own thing, and you’re, like, “Wooooooo!” There’s nothing more fun than getting to respond to that, especially with a character that you’ve gotten to know more and more and more that you’re playing. You go, “Oh, this changes things.” Sheldon’s feelings for Christine Baranski’s character, I just love! He loves her! He thinks that is the best mother in the world, you know, that untouching, unfeeling, clinical -- oh, my God, he is just tickled by her. And that’s so fun, because so few people do I get to respond that way to through him. He’s normally -- maybe he’s been in amazement, like with George Smoot and people like that were on, but for the most part, he considers himself pretty much -- I don’t want to say above other people, because I don’t think he’s a snooty man in that way, but he doesn’t have time for most people. So to have somebody like that character come on that he feels compels to engage with, that he can’t resist but to engage with, is very fun.

Jim Parsons

BE: I’m still rooting for Leonard Nimoy to turn up on the show someday.

JP: You and me both! I couldn’t agree more.

BE: Your reaction when Penny gave Sheldon that Nimoy-autographed napkin…

JP: What a wonderful thing they wrote. It was just unbelievable.

BE: I think it’s still one of my favorite moments of all time. In fact, on a Spock-related note, I couldn’t help but notice that the goatee that you were sporting during the season premiere…

JP: (cheerily) There you go.

BE: …looked suspiciously like the one worn by Spock’s counterpart in “Mirror, Mirror.”

JP: Yes, suspicious, indeed! (laughs) No, you nailed it on the head: that’s exactly what it was.

BE: I know that the other guys had some of their own facial hair working when they came back from the between-season hiatus, but you did not. Are you not a fan of the facial hair?

JP: I’ll be honest: no, I’m not. Not for myself, I should say. It doesn’t bother me at all on other people. But I will say this: if I had a very dark, heavier beard that came in and could get some sort of five-o’clock shadow type thing, I’d actually be pro-facial hair for me, just because it’d be something new and different. But I don’t really get that. I just kind of look dirty. There’s no definitive “oh, look at that nice five-o’clock shadow.” It’s more “oh, he forgot to shave.” It just makes me look lazy. There’s nothing debonair about it. Did you watch the baseball playoffs at all?

BE: Here and there.

On the Leonard / Penny relationship: "I really like that they decided to play this kind of true to life. Two friends get together, and you’re, like, ‘Oh, that’s not going to work,’ but then six months into it, one Friday night, you suddenly go, ‘Oh, my God, I’m completely used to them being together! I’m still not sure that it’s going to last, but I’m not thinking about it anymore.’"

JP: Speaking of five-o’clock shadows, Andy Pettitte has the most sculpted five-o’clock shadow. I didn’t even think about it until I was talking to Simon (Helberg) when one of the games was on, but I said, “Andy Pettitte has the most definitive line on his five-o’clock shadow.” He said, “Yeah, I think that’s sculpted.”

BE: Yeah, even baseball players need stylists.

JP: I mean, of course they do, but it’s just so stupid. It’s amazing the level of things that come across my TV that don’t occur to me. Like, I still buy into commercials. I know realistically that they’re actors, but for some reason, as opposed to a movie or a TV show, where I go, “Whatever,” and I can kind of separate myself from them, commercials just suck me in so hard. I’ll be, like, “I’ll bet you’re right: I’ll bet that cereal is wonderful!”

BE: Yeah, but they’re just not as sentimental as they used to be. In the ‘70s, you’d be watching a commercial, and you’d be, like, “Aw, look at that: his grandma is so happy that he called her!”

JP: You’re right. I remember they used to have -- well, Kodak had some very tear-jerking commercials.

BE: I think I asked you this question before, but it’s been a season since then: what’s your favorite of Sheldon’s quirks?

JP: Hmmm. I don’t remember what I said before -- which is good. (long pause) Oh, God, I guess -- I like his cleanliness. It just came up again in a recent episode -- well, it hasn’t aired yet, but I mention disinfecting the kitchen and bathroom in a very casual way, like, “That’s what I did then,” and just whatever. And it reminded me of that. I really like that, because… -- I understand whereof that comes, you know, but I can’t do it. I’m a little too lazy myself. (laughs) So I really admire his ability to go through on that quirk and actually disinfect the kitchen and disinfect the bathroom. How wonderful. I would love to have a Sheldon around the house to do that!

BE: So when you heard that they were actually going to get Leonard and Penny together, were you skeptical, or did you just leave it the writers’ hands, since they’ve done such good work thus far?

Jim ParsonsJP: I wasn’t skeptical, and there was a level of -- well, of course, I did honestly feel that I could leave it in their hands, because I always like what they do, or I’m always entertained by it and I enjoy getting to play it and be a part of it. But I also actually kind of liked it, because -- I guess the easy one to look at is that it’s like a Ross and Rachel. Or, for me, when I was younger, even like a “Moonlighting.” And that’s fantastic to have that kind of riding along with that tension, but -- I don’t think that was well suited for us, or even necessarily. And I was kind of excited that they were going to go ahead and say, “Let’s explore this.” And not in a date, and not in two dates, but -- I was just discussing this with a friend of mine, because I really don’t know, and I was, like, “I wonder if they’re going to be together for all of Season Three.” I mean, like, will Season Three be kind of, like, “the season where Penny and Leonard were together the whole time”? Or will it go on longer? I don’t know. Or will they be breaking up soon? I think for the first few episodes of the season, every episode that came down, I looked at and wondered, “Is this when they’re going to break up?” And I’m only realizing as I say this to you that I don’t wonder that at all anymore. I’ve become so adjusted to the idea of them together, which brings me back to my point about what made me happy: I really like that they decided to play this kind of true to life. Two friends get together, and you’re, like, “Oh, that’s not going to work,” but then six months into it, one Friday night, you suddenly go, “Oh, my God, I’m completely used to them being together! I’m still not sure that it’s going to last, but I’m not thinking about it anymore.” And never mind the fact that, completely selfishly, it was one more intimate way to get Penny into Sheldon’s life, to irritate him just by her mere existence. “Irritate” may not be the right word, but just to, y’know, push a button and force him to deal with her. That’s one of her things, I think. She’s a force that must be dealt with.

BE: You know, something in this past week’s episode that my wife noted: Sheldon peeked at Penny.

JP: Yeah.

BE: Should we take that as a hint that, possibly somewhere in the far future, Sheldon could have a girlfriend?

JP: I think you can take that as a hint, but I’m afraid that it’s frustratingly open to interpretation. (laughs) Looking at Sheldon’s sexuality is like trying to read into a Rothko painting. It’s just, like, “Do I see a line?” “No.” “No? Well, I see something.” You know? And I don’t know. Chuck (Lorre) always says -- well, not always, but I’ve heard him say more than once, and I didn’t think of it this way, but he says, “What is this desire to force Sheldon into something to normalize him?” And I don’t think everybody’s thinking that way, let me say that first off, but I just thought it was an interesting take on it. As opposed to, “Why don’t we see what happens to this guy who has opted out?” And what I think is interesting about that is that, number one, I don’t think that people are necessarily ravenous to see Sheldon normalized or brought down to a level or something. I think that it’s very sweet, and I agree with people who think it would be. I want Sheldon to feel love, you know? (laughs) I enjoy it in my life when I feel love, and I’d like him to. And I also think it will one day, fingers crossed, be a wonderful story arc. I would hope that, if that time ever comes, we’ll deal with it in the same way they’ve dealt with the Penny/Leonard thing. I mean, not the same exact relationship, obviously, but in that way of going where it’s not a big special episode or something. Or maybe there are a couple, but it’s more of finding a way getting through this, him finding his way into this. But as far as the thinking, I had the exact same thought you did, and that’s why I say it’s impossible to interpret, because I thought, “How interesting that he bothered to look!” But then I thought, “As a scientist, of course he’s going to look. It’s just one more body to see.”

BE: It seems like a relationship would cause him to be torn between wondering the curiosity of “What would this be like for me?” and treating it like a scientific experiment.

JP: I agree with you. I do. And I don’t -- I don’t know if there’s any way around that. If we look at Sheldon as a real person for a second and pretend, I just think that -- you know, I’ve always said he would have to be completely frying-pan-over-the-head-walloped to fall in love, and I stick by that, not so much in a comic value way, but -- he does seem to have that nature, but, like Chuck says, that’s not what he’s choosing to do right now. He’s choosing to devote himself and his life in other ways, and he finds that he doesn’t have the time for that. So I do think he’d have to be hit by a wave of emotion, if you will, or desire in other to be forced into making that choice. But then you have who he is and his nature to look at things through that scientific lens. So -- I don’t know. That’s the other exciting thing about it, because -- what a special person it would take to devote themselves to Sheldon, and to accept him for what he was. Not that he’s a leper or something (laughs) but he can be so trying to deal with, and if you were his intimate other, oh, my God, would you have to listen to more workings of his even deeper inner mind? Good criminey!

Jim Parsons

BE: I know that you guys and your characters don’t necessarily cross paths that often when it comes to your tastes, but is there anything that you’ve discovered as a result of Sheldon being a fan?

JP: Well, the problem is -- okay, well, no, I’m not more into science or anything, and I haven’t really gotten more into comic books or games or anything. But if I have to be sincere about it, though, I think I’ve grown a greater appreciation for letting myself enjoy time alone. Because he enjoys it so much, you know? He not only enjoys it, but I think he prefers it. It’s easier for him to get things done when he’s alone. Other people get in the way. And it’s one of the things that I do kind of admire about him. Some people think he’s somewhat cut off from society, and I guess that’s not always great, but that ability to be content alone like that -- I think that’s really nice. He’s really comfortable with himself in many ways, which is admirable.

BE: There’s something I’ve never asked you about, even though it’s a stock question, but, what’s your favorite project that you’ve worked on that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved? Because I’ve never really asked you about anything that you did prior to “Big Bang,” even though I know you obviously did do other things.

JP: That didn’t get the love it deserved? I’ve certainly been in things that I wish had never been seen. I feel like this going to be (hesitates) Hmmm. It’s a funny question, and I’ll say this. Because the first thing I think of -- I really thought it would be a play, first and foremost, but I had such a good time with almost every piece of theater that I’ve done that I have no regrets that things didn’t travel farther. They were what they were. So the first thing that I think of is a pilot that I did about a year or two -- maybe two years -- before I did “Big Bang.” It was for CBS, and it was with Jane Krakowski. It was kind of her vehicle, actually, and I enjoyed doing it so much. I played a supporting character – I was a bartender – and I just thought it went so well. Still, if I went back and looked at that pilot, I would think it was a successful pilot. And I think it actually came very close to getting picked up, from what I understand. We were, like, on the bubble ‘til up to the 12th hour. That, I thought, would’ve been a great series. It was about life in a restaurant, and -- I don’t know. But with that being said, the caveat is that, while I think my feelings are honest about it not getting the love it deserved, it’s the living definition of everything happening for a reason. (laughs) There it is, right there. So that’s why I don’t shed any tears for it: because I wouldn’t be here right now, with any likelihood, had it gotten picked up. And in many ways, this is the most exciting thing that I’ve ever gotten to be a part of. So anything that would’ve gotten in the way of this, I have to look back and say, “Well, I’m glad it didn’t!”

(Writer’s note: If you’re wondering, the pilot was called “Taste,” and it also co-starred Rufus Sewell, late of CBS’s “Eleventh Hour,” Richard Ruccalo of “Two Guys, A Girl, and a Pizza Place” and “Rita Rocks,” and Lola Glaudini of “Criminal Minds.”)

BE: How have you been enjoying the talk show circuit? Because I’ve seen you on Craig Ferguson’s show, but I know you did “The Tonight Show” recently.

Jim ParsonsJP: I just got to do “Conan,” and it was wonderful. I was scared to death of Conan, more than any of them, and I’m not kidding you. I’m always nervous going on any of them, because you never know what’s going to happen exactly -- although they’ve all been nice. It’s not a matter of that. I don’t feel like anybody’s out to get me when I go out there. But you just don’t know what’s going to happen! Like, Letterman’s really intimidating, because -- well, he’s Letterman! There’s this stoic, staid thing. But by the same token, you kind of know what to expect from him. And I don’t think this is as true for Conan as it was, because I think the format changed a little, and he’s on the new show now. It’s not the same show, it’s a different one, and I knew him mostly from when he was on later, and I just thought, “I don’t have a clue what to expect from him…and I mean physically! He may get up!” And Ferguson’s wont to do that, too, but it’s different. It’s different! And, oh, my God, I was just, like, “What if I get something on me? I might leave there slimed or something!” But he was so nice. They are all, they really are, but I just found it funny about midway through the interview, thinking, “I can’t believe I was worried about this.” He just couldn’t have been better.

BE: And last one: as you said, you guys are always the last to know, but is there anything about the upcoming episodes that you can speak to that we should be looking forward to?

JP: Are you kidding? (laughs) As far as I know, we’re going to make them. That’s about it. No, really, I don’t know anything. But we’re making a Christmas episode right now. And I thought we were too late. I thought that -- well, I don’t know what I thought. I just thought we would’ve done a Christmas one by now. I guess I just wasn’t adding up the time in my head well enough.

BE: All right, Jim, I think I’ve bent your ear long enough…

JP: Oh, I’m so glad we got to talk!

BE: As am I, absolutely. Good talking to you again, and if I don’t see you in January, then I’m sure I’ll see you in July.

JP: Gorgeous. Thanks again. Bye!

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