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