Big Bang Theory's Jim Parsons On Learning Lines, Emmy Nods and Cast Ping Pong Deathmatches

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The superlative "breakout star" gets thrown around a lot these days, and The Big Bang Theory's Jim Parsons has seen that appellation more than his fair share of times, especially since he received his first Emmy nomination in July. Movieline caught up with the lanky Texan at the Television Critics Association's CBS event last month, where he had just won the critics' award for "Individual Achievement in Comedy." Parsons was quick to share his memorization techniques for Sheldon's dialogue, his viciously competitive nature on set, and his constant fear for Chuck Lorre's life.

Congratulations on the Emmy nomination. I'm sure everyone is starting out their interviews that way.

Didn't you come to set?

I have not come to your set.

You look so familiar.

Well thanks. A couple quick questions. One, how do you memorize the dialogue because it's not only intricate but you do it to an extent where it almost seems like you actually know what you're talking about even though it was written by a team of guys who are probably constantly referencing textbooks.

I'll tell you. I try to find out what I'm talking about. When I first get the script, sometimes they define things in the script for me.

Literally, like a side bar?

Yep. A lot of the time, I'll go online. I'm very good friends with Dictionary.com and Wikipedia. And then as far as literally memorizing the words, I'll have note cards. I do note cards all week. And in longhand, I write out all my lines again and again and again. And on the weekends, I drill them. I walk around with my note cards for each scene and do one scene at a time. And I'll go to my computer, and I'll type the whole scene out on my word doc and then I'll go back and I'll do the second scene, and I'll type the whole scene out on a word doc. It's maddening. I will not lie to you. I literally want to kill myself sometimes.

What happens when a revision occurs and you get new pages? Do they put a whole new word in there like --

Yes, but it's pretty rare. They're really good about this. Our scripts come, more than anything I've seen or heard about, ready to roll, pretty much from the beginning. Every once in a while, something has to be reworded but normally it's such a minimal thing that it's not that bad. Sometimes it's bad. Most of the time it's really not.

While you've been on the show, have you gone over to Caltech?

I've been to Caltech.

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I mean, you guys must be legends there because you're literally espousing the name of the university during the show. You didn't invent a university for the show like University of California. It's a real school.

Maybe they're embarrassed by us.

But it could be their fantasy actualization though: 'Hey, we're going to get an apartment together and we're going to --

Aww. We do have a nice apartment, I feel. It's well-appointed, it's well taken care of.

I mean, it's a walk up but it's not that bad.

It is a walk up. You're right. Bad management. OK, that's fair.

You guys just started working again. Was there a morale boost when you came back to set? The show has Emmy nominations, you have a TCA award.

It is different. A lot of it's happened since we left work last, in April we finished. So there's been a lot of momentum shift and a time shift in the night. We come on after Two and a Half Men now, as opposed to starting the evening at 8 PM. There's this built in audience sitting there, that hopefully you can take advantage of. So yeah, I don't know. You're absolutely right. I was very excited to go back to work, I'll say that.

Really?

Part of that is to play ping pong and I'm not lying. We have four of them on the set. We have tournaments.

So, who's the best?

The people who win, like major wins, you wouldn't know necessarily. The on camera people that win, Kaley [Cuoco] does pretty well. Kaley does very well. She used to play professional tennis though, so that's not fair.

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She has inborn racquet skills.

Yes. Kunal [Nayyar] is very good. And Simon [Helberg] is pretty good. Johnny [Galecki] doesn't play at all. It's literally not his thing at all. I love it and I'm very competitive and I don't do very well. Sometimes, I have mad skills and get a couple of points. And then I'm screwed.

So after someone yells 'Cut,' you guys just sprint to the ping pong tables?

As soon as you see the stage manager start looking at his watch about the break, people start going, 'Dibs!' Literally. And there's running, you run. I'm not kidding at all. I'm not making any of this up.

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And are they just off camera? Just to the left?

It depends. Sometimes you have to run and find them. They fold up, so sometimes you're like, "Where the fuck is the table?! We only have five minutes!"

When did you guys start playing -- first season?

I didn't remember when it first happened. What happened for me was that there was a very Sheldon-light episode that I wasn't in that much. And I had these scenes off and I was like, 'Oh, what the hell!' I picked up a paddle and I mean, it's like heroin.

Not to get ahead of anyone here, let's say you win a major television award, or something like that. Monogrammed paddle cases are --

Oh, that should be given to me. If I win? They should give me things. [Joking] I'll expect some presents.

And your showrunner, Chuck Lorre, is also simultaneously running Two and a Half Men. I don't know what he drinks or takes but --

I know. I've often said this, and not in a bad way, but, "Please don't drop dead." ♦



Comments

  • Mikey says:

    An interview with Jim Parsons interview! And it's not even my birthday or anything.

  • Pauline says:

    I simply love this show! Mind you ...I actually work with some physicists - there are not many comparisons - and these guys are way funnier!! Australia loves BBT!

  • As an extremely sophisticated comedy viewer and critic, The Big Bang Theory is the cream rising to the top of a lineup of shows all up and down the TV/Cable/Satellite/YouTube spectrum that, as a rule, bite big time. A true breath of fresh air. Stay on the air a while, won't you?

  • Karen says:

    As the wife and mother of Caltech (please note correct spelling) grads, I have to say this is the funniest show ever, and my husband and son think so too. Having worked on campus for many years while my better half was getting his PhD, the characters are not that far off from the real thing. I also like the fact that when they mention streets and places, they really are describing Pasadena. Can't wait for the new season.

  • Veronica says:

    My son and I are great fans of the show. It's actually the only current sitcom I watch regularly, and I wouldn't miss a single episode for anything. The characters are perfectly balanced, and theri timing is impeccable. I hope it stays around a long time, and that the writers never run out of inspiration. I think it's by far and away the best sitcom around. Congratulations to Parsons on his nomination, and good luck.

  • Maria says:

    Absolutely love this show since in aired in New Zealand last year and I'm not even a science geek. The dialogue is hilarious. One of my favourite programmes along side our very own show, Outrageous Fortune.

  • MIchelle says:

    Speaking of something heroin-like, I spent my whole weekend watching seasons 1 and 2 to catch up, because I caught one episode randomly and started absolutely LOVING it.
    The new season comes out on the 15th and you bet your ass I'm buying it. Mostly because of SHELDON.

  • Diana Owen says:

    My whole family loves the show. We never miss it. I hope they stay on for a long time.We love you Sheldon

  • Mike says:

    The Characters they play are so right on. Ive been best friends with a group of guys like this for 20 years. I am the dumbest one and I have a 130IQ. One works for NASA, the other 2 work at FT MEADE. (if you get the Fort Meade reference you get extra credit!!) These guys act just like them. Jim is the best and truly a gifted actor.

  • Cinpaupau says:

    Love The BBT. Have heard about the show but never have time to watch. Just last Saturday, I watched from start, season 1! It was a madness marathon, couldn't stop till 3 am! Superior Comedy, fantabulous acting! Especially to Jim Parsons! Excellent, he really deserves an Emmy and many other awards! Love Leonard character.

  • missy says:

    Been watching 2 and a half men and wanted to knw what else Chuck Lorre has been working on after Men..and that explains the birth of my current obssesion!I love the show..it's so spot on!and the characters especially,Sheldon,Leonard,Penny,Raj,Howard..well I gez the whole lot is amazing!They make me wanna rush home daily.In my biased opinion,I like Sheldon the most.The guy's real good.He never disappoits.

  • A Kano says:

    Greetings,
    I've watched some episodes and found it funny, but a bit exagerated sometimes and almost always focuses on sex.
    Anyway, one day I arrived home and my wife was watching the first episode of season 1, then she looked at me and laughed. Then she explained me and told me "...I have one of those here with me..." - As a matter of fact, some of the nerdish jokes the guys tell are common among some of us :P
    After getting a bachelor in chemistry and a phd in materials science (which has to do a lot with physics) I think I should have studied more physics. Indeed, as Richard Feynman said "there's plenty of room at the bottom" - I would say there's plenty of subjects to study at physics.
    PD Old videogames are the best! I love The Legend of Zelda, and RPGs like Moria, Artic Adventures, Super Mario Brothers series and others.

  • Dotty Kurtz says:

    I've always liked unusual characters in a TV show. A decade or two ago, it was the late John Inman's character, Mr. Humphries, from Are You Being Served? that I looked forward to seeing. Nowadays, it's Dr. Sheldon Cooper from Big Bang Theory.

  • Rhonda says:

    I just love Leonard....he is absolutely amazing!!!! I live to watch this show in the evenings...makes my night. He is so "real", from his facial movements to all his quirks. He is the most entertaining person on nighttime TV! All the cast is awesome...just an amazing show!! Thanks for making my TV time so much fun!!!

  • Rhonda says:

    Whoops, I meant to say I love "SHELDON"!!! Leonard is great too but my love of the' show begins with Sheldon! He's just brilliant!!! And, of course, the rest of the cast is great too.....but Sheldon has my heart!!! You the man!

  • [...] Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons On Learning Lines, Emmy Nods and Cast Ping Pong Deathmatches [...]

  • precious says:

    I love the big bang theory to death like serious.I feel like a live with those guys. I watch it every day.sheldon cooper is the best tho..his talent makes me cry really<3

    • Abby says:

      If Jim Parsons was to no longer play Sheldon Cooper I would stop buying all the collectables and no longer be a fan!!!, The cast is a great formula don't mess with something that is not broken, Don't change a thing Pleased!!!!!!,

  • Con says:

    It's comedy, it's funny... but for someone like me (living in Australia for the last 23 years and still learning English) is much more than that: it's an excellent and handy way of improving my English...

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