A chat with Johnny Galecki, Johnny Galecki interview, the Big Bang Theory, Leonard Hofstadter
Johnny Galecki

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See where "The Big Bang Theory" placed in our latest TV Power Rankings!

There was a time when Johnny Galecki might’ve been remembered predominantly for his work as David, Darlene’s boyfriend on “Roseanne,” but it’s fair to say that he’s settling into such a groove on “The Big Bang Theory” that we’re approaching a time when the average TV viewer will see him and say, “Hey, that’s Leonard Hofstadter!” Or, at least, that’s what we’re hoping. “The Big Bang Theory” has steadily risen up the ranks of Bullz-Eye’s TV Power Rankings since its premiere, and it stands proud at #12 in the first Rankings of 2009, its highest position to date. Galecki seemed pleased at this news, granting Bullz-Eye an interview to discuss the show’s sophomore season, including the progression of Penny as a character, Summer Glau’s guest spot, and having Christine Baranski play his mother.

Johnny Galecki: Hey, Will, how are you?

Bullz-Eye: I’m doing good, man. How are you doing?

JG: Very well, thank you.

BE: So I don’t know if they told you why we wanted to talk to you, but Bullz-Eye is doing its TV Power Rankings, and “Big Bang Theory” has its highest ranking to date.

JG: Oh, very cool. Yeah, I heard we’re at number 12 or something…?

BE: Yeah, exactly.

JG: (With mock belligerence) Well, what the hell is before us?

BE: Um…

JG: (Laughs) I’m kidding.

BE: Would it help the interview if I said, “A bunch of crap”?

JG: Oh, okay, so it’s really just obligatory numbers. No, that’s very, very cool. Thank you very much.

BE: Yeah, absolutely. You know, I can’t think of too many series that came roaring out of the gate quite as successfully for their sophomore season as you guys did.

"Penny stands up to Sheldon in ways that us other fellows, his best friends, can’t, because we understand the wrath that would follow. She can go back into her apartment; we know that it’s easier to just go along with whatever plan he has because, if you don’t, it makes the next month miserable."

JG: Yeah. This show has been…there have been so many obstacles. I mean, I’m sure to an outside perspective it seems like it just kind of easily shot up the charts…I really can’t think of a better term…but we did one pilot – you were at the TCA tour, so you’ve heard this story – and it failed, and for some reason, they gave us another shot at doing it again, which never happens. You either hear yes or no, you never hear, “Give it another shot.” So that was CBS standing behind us. But there was the initial casting, and then a lot of re-casting, and then we lost Simon Helberg for awhile. For awhile, I didn’t even know if I could do it. I mean, it was just all over the place. And, still, our ground was not all that stable even during the first half of the first season. So we’ve gotten over a lot of hurdles, or eked by a few disasters, and it seems to all be settling. I think the show is genuinely getting better.

BE: Oh, absolutely. For as awful as the writer’s strike was, did it end up proving somewhat reinvigorating for the show?

JG: I don’t know if it did creatively. I think it did for everyone personally, just because we really missed it. We loved it to begin with, but we were just so grateful to get back to work…and we were the first show to go back into production. We were all just gnawing at the bit to do so. I think we realized that we love it there and we love working together. If we were only putting 99% in to it before the writers strike, I think definitely everyone was putting 100% into it afterwards.

BE: You guys seemed to have a solid chemistry from the get go, but I think what I’ve enjoyed most about Season 2 is that it seems much easier for Penny to give Sheldon a smackdown when he needs it.

JG: Yeah, I love the stuff in general that they are doing with Penny this season. It really feels like…it just feels like a much more well rounded, young female character in a lot of ways. She has her flaws as well, and there are things that she’s emotionally incapable of at this point in the character’s life. I just love it. Yeah, one of those things is that Penny stands up to Sheldon in ways that us other fellows, his best friends, can’t, because we understand the wrath that would follow. She can go back into her apartment; we know that it’s easier to just go along with whatever plan he has because, if you don’t, it makes the next month miserable.

BE: The writers kind of teased the fans by kinda sorta putting Leonard and Penny together in the season finale, only to have them totally apart by the end of the season premiere.

Johnny GaleckiJG: Yeah, well, that’s always a tricky thing. But I think that plays into kind of what I was saying earlier. It’s not necessarily…like, you would assume that it would be Leonard’s fault, but young women such as Penny are very, very complicated. Like I said, they have inabilities as well in that world, certainly. I think that this year, in a very slow manner, their friendship has grown because of it, and that’s the real foundation to any significant relationship down the road.

BE: It was certainly obvious with Penny being jealous over the new neighbor, Alicia.

JG: Yeah, I know. When I first heard about that storyline, I thought it was going to be more Penny and Leonard, but I love the fact that she was jealous of all the boys. She missed her friends, and she wanted to stick up for each and every one of them.

BE: Are there plans for the character of Alicia to become a semi-regular?

JG: I don’t know about that. They keep us very much in the dark about that stuff. We kind of prefer it that way; it keeps every week fresh.

BE: Sara Gilbert started out the season as a full-fledged regular and then shifted off that status. Was that her decision, or did the show just start moving in a direction that didn’t lend itself to having her in every episode?

Johnny GaleckiJG: It wasn’t full-fledged to begin with. I think it was seven out of the first 13 episodes. I don’t know how many of those were fulfilled. I’m not really sure. I mean, I think it’s definitely…what’s the word? Amicable. I mean, Sara comes to our parties and stuff like that, even when she’s not in the episode. And we love her, and we love having her there. It’s just a situation of, when is it right to bring her back? You don’t want to waste an actress like Sara Gilbert. Fortunately, she doesn’t need the work and would rather wait for it to be a good reason for the character to come back. Having guest stars and having recurring characters has been a tricky fight with this ensemble. Maybe it always is with an ensemble cast. But we’ve been lucky enough to have some really, really good actors and actresses visit.

BE: Yeah, actually I was going to ask about a couple of them, like            
Christine Baranski coming on as your mom for an episode.

JG: That was really very cool and flattering, because you hear something like that, that Christine Baranski is going to come on the show, and I just kept saying, “Well, she doesn’t want to come do our show.” You know, I’m so modest about our new little show, and I’m, like, “She’s probably just coming to do Chuck Lorre a favor, but who cares, because it’s Christine Baranski and that’s so exciting.” But then she gets there, and she knows every episode and she’s spending her lunch hours going over her lines. You know, not phoning anything in whatsoever. And it’s always great, also, to be around someone of her caliber or Laurie Metcalf’s talent and see that they never, ever are necessarily comfortable. They never, ever lay back and phone it in. They really always put the work in. That’s kind of how we do things over there, too. We have a lot of fun.

“We love (Sara Gilbert), and we love having her there. It’s just a situation of, when is it right to bring her back? You don’t want to waste an actress like Sara Gilbert. Fortunately, she doesn’t need the work and would rather wait for it to be a good reason for the character to come back.”

BE: Yeah, actually, I was going to ask you if Christine Baranski appearing was going to lead to discussions of having Laurie Metcalf pop back up (as Sheldon’s mother).

JG: I hope so. I would love that. I would love to see those two characters together. We’ve talked about that since Laurie was on the show, meeting Sheldon’s mother. We didn’t know it would be Christine at the time, but getting them together…I hope there is some holiday episode one year where, you know, Christmas at the Coopers or something like that would be pretty amazing. It’s also great even when we’re just riffing on sets to talk about who each character’s parents would be. There’s really no better insight into your character than meeting your character’s parent. Just as it is in life. There’s no better insight to your friend or spouse than spending time with one of their parents.

BE: Has there been any talk of trying to bring on anyone’s father? I know we’ve met Raj’s dad, but…

JG: Sheldon’s father, I believe, is dead. There was a scene in the Christine Baranski episode that filmed where it talked about my parents being divorced, but that scene was cut out. After the episode aired, that was the first thing that Chuck said to me: “They’re not divorced anymore, we can get them together. We can meet your dad now.” We haven’t done that yet. It would be very interesting, I think, especially to meet Howard’s father, his long-lost father that literally went out to buy a carton of milk or something and never came home. Maybe we’ll hear him on the phone, like we do Howard’s mother.

BE: That would be perfect. I toured the set back in January, and, y’know, you just don’t realize how detailed the decor is until you get to see it up close and personal.

JG: Yeah, the set decorators are amazing.

BE: Is there anything you have been tempted to swipe for yourself, or that you have placed dibs on for the far off future when the show ends?

JG: Oh, I would never want to jinx anything by saying that. Yeah, well, there’s a few things…they generally have doubles of a lot of that stuff. There are those things called Big Heads, which are just really giant decals, and I’ve taken a couple of the doubles of those and put them up in my dressing room. I have one of Chewbacca and one of Batman. Yeah, for me, it’s generally the action figures that I really like, because that’s what I played with when I was a kid. I liked stories and characters, so I had no interest in building Legos or racing radio control cars. I wanted to sit with my figurines and create these epics…or they were in my mind, anyway.

Johnny Galecki

BE: I had the Death Star, so I know where you are coming from.

JG: Yeah, exactly. So I would get Legos or Lincoln Logs, and then I would put them all together so I could play with them, and I would make a story out of it, you know.

BE: I told Chuck Lorre that, given how great the “Lizard-Spock Expansion” episode was, it seemed like a Leonard Nimoy guest appearance was a given. But he said he thought he was pretty well retired now.

JG: Yeah, he really did sign one of those napkins, though. I believe we raffled it off for charity, I think. Don’t quote me on that.

BE: No it was. I actually did a piece about it.

JG: But, yeah, we would love that. It’s funny, because there’s camps both on the stage and in the writer’s room, especially, of certain sci-fi expertise. I land more in the “Star Wars” camp than the “Star Trek” camp, for better or worse. So I would love to see anybody from “Star Wars” around.

BE: Who was the first person to pitch the Summer Glau appearance?

JG: I don’t know. It’s very funny, because Chuck had a few interviews that week, and we were very excited to have George Smoot on. And he would tell the press conferences, “Oh, we have George Smoot on. It was like the big teaser, where he would see 100 blank faces staring back at him. “You know, George Smoot. Nobel Prize winner George Smoot.” Blank expression. “And we also have Summer Glau.” “Oh, Summer Glau!” And the pencils start whirring. I’m not sure whose idea that was, but it seemed like a good tie-in. She’s obviously someone that the guys would be somewhat obsessed over.

BE: And the mere fact that the adventure took place on a train was kind of unique, because you just never see trains anymore.

JG: Yeah, I know. Now, see, I love train travel.

BE: Yeah so do I. My dad worked for the railroad.

"That credit tag at the end of the Christmas episode was really touching. You grow very close to these characters and even protective of them, and we’re five hypersensitive actors. That was something that even we had a tough one with; there were a couple of misty eyes during the first take or two with that one."

JG: One of the reasons that I really like the second season is because it seems like it’s a more personal season. It kind of gets more into the idiosyncrasies of the characters as opposed to…I feel like a lot of shows, when they hit a second season, they throw them on these crazy, wild adventures. But even the train episode was really about the tedious boredom of train travel. There was nothing dynamic about it. There was no spectacle to it. It was just making a mobile out of your coffee cup and stirrer. All that silly stuff you do to pass that time, and those silly arguments that you have.

BE: You guys often seem like you are having way too much fun on the show, but it seemed particularly obvious during the killer robot battle.

JG: Those guys were intense, man. Those guys that built those things and came in and controlled them…that’s one intense subculture, those killer robots. Engineers, I suppose you would call them. But, yeah, that was fun, although a little bit intimidating. I mean, we did some tests with some of them and just watched them tear a prop cart to shreds. It was somewhat nightmarish, but we have a good crew, thank God.

BE: So what has been your favorite episode of the second season thus far?

JG: I think the Christmas episode. That credit tag at the end of the Christmas episode, I think, was really touching. They did such a great job in physicalizing that, and I really liked it. You know, you grow very close to these characters and even protective of them, and we’re five hypersensitive actors. That was something that even we had a tough one with, a couple of misty eyes during the first take or two with that one. I thought that was really touching and really kind of out of character for not only the characters themselves but the show and even for the writers to write.

BE: But you’re right, it was just incredibly sweet.

JG: Right. Hopefully without becoming saccharine.

BE: No, I definitely think it managed to straddle the line successfully.

JG: Good.

BE: Can you give us any hints on what to expect for the next couple of episodes that won’t get you killed for telling us?

JG: Yeah, let’s see…God, they all melt together, Will. I don’t even remember what we shot Tuesday!

BE: I know the one that is going to air on Monday is where one of your comic book friends goes on a date with Penny. I’ve seen that description, anyway.

=JG: I think in many ways, unconsciously, Penny’s character is slowly trying to mold Leonard into the man of her dreams. And she ends up dating the guy that owns his favorite comic book store, which just throws him into a tizzy. When she brings home these giant, toned surfboards of men that she generally does, you know, there is every excuse in the world for what they have that he doesn’t. But when she dates someone who is very similar to him, it gets under his skin quite a bit. But I think she is sending him a not so subtle message at the same time. Those subtleties are really, really fun to play. And we’re shooting the season finale now, this week, out of order by a week. There’s some really great stuff in it.

Johnny Galecki

BE: Will it be a cliffhanger?

JG: Would I call it a cliffhanger? It leaves some doors open, I suppose. I don’t know if I would call it a cliffhanger. But it puts the boys on ice definitely for the summer.

BE: Okay.

JG: I’ll put it that way. Use an allegory.

BE: Can we presume that if the elevator is ever fixed, it will only be in the series finale? Because I can see the fans of this show calling it a jump the shark moment if it ever gets fixed before that.

JG: Yeah, you know, I’m so naive still in many ways, in that I didn’t even see that as the device that it actually is for a long, long time. That it just keeps us up those stairs. But at the same time, we have a great craft service, so with all the snacking that I do, I’m very, very happy to have those stairs to go up and down every episode. Hopefully, it all evens out. Yeah, I certainly don’t…these guys, our writers, are very consistent. Early on, I had the worry that even with the…you know, Sheldon having a specific spot to fit in, or the little OCD idiosyncrasies that these characters have, I thought, “Boy, we might be painting ourselves into some corners here.” But they are clever enough writers that it never really limits these guys. Even Raj’s inabilities and selective mutism around women.

BE: I wasn’t sure if that was going to get old, but they managed to not bring it up often enough to wear thin.

JG: Yeah, they don’t use it too much. No, they have a great, great barometer for that stuff.

BE: And I know you’ve got to get going, but for my last question…well, this is an odd one, but when I put on my Facebook status that I was going to be talking to you today, one friend brought up “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” and another suggested that I ask you about “A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon.”

JG: Oh, wow. Um, well, “Jimmy Reardon” I actually remember more vividly than “I Know What You Did Last Summer” because it was my first movie. That had a pretty amazing cast for such a weird little independent film, with River (Phoenix) and Matthew Perry and Ione Skye, who were all…I was much younger than them at the time, but they were all still young enough to be in the same school trailer with me. They were just amazing. I have incredible memories of River. He couldn’t have been nicer to me, and he became very much an early role model, even before I was familiar with his work. Yeah, wow, that is an odd one. That was also heartbreaking at the same time, because I was cut out of…I think I ended up with one scene in that movie, in which I had maybe one line, if that. Somewhere, on some cutting room floor, there are some really good long heated scenes with River and I. Hopefully they’ll come out on DVD one day.

BE: Alright, man, it’s been a pleasure talking to you again. By the way, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Trouty shows up in season three of “My Boys.”

JG: (Laughs) We’ll see, we’ll see. That’s always a fun one to play, and a great group to play with. Those guys are hilarious.

BE: Cool, man. Well, again, pleasure talking to you.

JG: Thanks for #12, buddy. We’ll try to break the Top 10 next year for you!

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