The Big Bang Theory's Johnny Galecki Talks TV Physics, Fans and Cutthroat Ping Pong
In the early '90s, Johnny Galecki began his sitcom career on the Chuck Lorre-produced Roseanne as the intelligent, super-sensitive boyfriend of Darlene Conner, played by Sara Gilbert. Over a decade later, Galecki stars on the Chuck Lorre-created Big Bang Theory as an intelligent, socially unaware Caltech physicist, where once more he occasionally finds himself onscreen with Sara Gilbert. It could be luck, divine intervention or Chuck Lorre's loyalty that brought Galecki back into the fold of America's favorite sitcoms, but the Belgian-born actor credits his fans entirely.
Movieline shared a drink with Galecki a while back at the Television Critics Association event for CBS, where he discussed Big Bang's incredible viewer support, the learning curve of a TV physicist and why he still hasn't visited Caltech.
How does it feel to star in one of the most beloved sitcoms today?
It is really -- I can't even believe it but it's really thanks to our fans and the critics. They've just been so great for us. It's funny because actors always feel like the television critics are the enemies but they've been really behind us.
Do you get a lot of support from the physics community? Any science-related fan mail?
I think so? I try to read it but-- Everyone's really nice. This is a boring answer but maybe not. You know, I read the papers and I watch the news a lot. I watch Dateline and 48 Hours. And I think we have a tendency to become terrified of one another, thinking that there is a serial killer that is on either side of you. I feel like we're in a position now, as somewhat recognizable people where you meet a lot of people and you get to talk to them and you learn that they are just good people, at least 99.9 percent of the time. There's always a jackass in the crowd. I'm generally it. [Laughs] But it's a really privileged position to be in, to get to learn that every day.
I talked to Jim Parsons about his intense, seven step system he for memorizing lines. How do you remember all of that physics vocabulary?
I tried to establish early on that Jim is better with that stuff than I am. We just deal with it. It does help to write the lines out in longhand. I think both of us do that.
And when there's a line change and all of a sudden you have to learn new vocabulary in front of the audience?
Even with the audience there, I say, "Give me 30 seconds" and write it out in longhand.
I heard that in between takes on Big Bang, there is a vicious ongoing ping pong tournament.
Yeah, I'm not a part of that. Which they insist is because I'm bad at it. But that is not the case. I just have no interest. If you were to watch these games, you would understand how cutthroat they are. [The participating cast and crew] are so nasty towards one another. They're just terrible. They're awful. I don't want to be a part of it at all.
I'm usually napping upstairs when all of this happens. At least I'm trying to nap while they scream at one another. It gets really bloody. Why would I want to be a part of that? Knock a little ball around? I'd rather sleep. Come to set and you'll understand. Although you'll probably be fascinated by the violence in it all but then you'd get tired and want a nap too.
Your character and Jim Parsons's character work at Caltech. Have you ever visited the campus?
No, that would be a disaster. I would be terrified that they would ask for advice on some sort of equation. We went to UCLA, Jim [Parsons] and I, early on for the pilot. We got to hang out with those guys and some professors. We learned early on that there is no way to learn how to think like these people. Basically, the microcosm of it is that, let's read the biography on Einstein instead of what Einstein wrote. We're just not going to understand that.
I think the show is really about how passionate people get, and these characters happen to be passionate about science. I do hear that a lot. People come up to me and say, "My husband is just like that with baseball." It's that one thing that you're passionate about, that you end up developing tunnel vision for and everything else tends to fall by the wayside. Passion is appealing and universal.