On The Big Bang Theory, he’s the nerdy everyman who scored with the hot girl next door. In real life, he’s the nerdy everyman who scored with a 20-year career in Hollywood.
Johnny Galecki might actually be proof that nice guys finish first.
Hollywood is littered with so-called celebrities desperate to seem more famous than they are and who takes up more column inches than they deserve — the Jon Gosselings, the Snookies, the Balloon-Boy Dads. At the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s Johnny Galecki. It’s safe to say Galecki is famous — like, really famous. As a child star, he played Chevy Chase’s son in the Christmas Vacation installment of the National Lampoon franchise, then spent six years as Roseanne’s soft-spoken David Healy — who ended up knocking up younger daughter Darlene. After the show ended in 1997, Galecki took small toles in some huge projects, like I Know What You Did Last Summer, Bean, Vanilla Sky, and Hancock. Now he stars on the improbable hit The Big Bang Theory, which somehow has convinced millions of viewers to fall in love with a quartet of socially inept physics geeks.
But despite Galecki’s success, he’s uniquely uninterested in the trappings of fame. He stays out of the tabloids, save for the occasional rumor that he’s dating costar Kaley Cuoco. He’s more likely to catch up on TiVo than commandeer a private booth at a nightclub. And he probably does not have the paparazzi on speed dial. With Big Bang wrapping up its third season this May, we talked to Johnny Galecki about nerd love, the fame game, and why he prefers to fly under the radar.
Who first approached you about the role in Big Bang Theory?
I was in New York doing a play. I was just loving being onstage and working with a live audience. But it’s hard to do that and eat well at the same time. That was about the time that Chuck [Lorre] called me.
How do you convince an actor that he’s perfect for the role of a physics nerd with no game?
“I would do my best to dispel the rumors [that I’m dating Kaley Cuoco] if they didn’t make me look so damn good”
First he talked to me about the role of Sheldon, but it just didn’t strike a chord with me at all. So I told him I was more interested in Leonard and the romantic dynamic, which is something I don’t generally get the opportunity to explore. Honestly, I thought he’d tell me to go fuck myself. But he said, “Well, then play that role.” As far as convincing me that I’d be perfect for the role of a nerd, when you’re Chuck, you don’t really need to do a lot of convincing. I knew he was too smart to just do a Halloween-costume version of these nerds. That’s a sight gag that might work for one joke, but Chuck’s shows last a decade.
Scientists aren’t usually the most popular bunch, but so many people love the characters on BBT. Why do you think people relate to them?
Unlike how people might look up to other characters on other shows because they’re cool or they have it all together, they relate to these characters on a much more available and intimate level. They can relate to that horrible date, or that horrible manner in which you shove your foot in your mouth. It’s a very even playing field.
The first pilot actually failed. Did you assume the show was doomed?
I’ve done enough pilots that I don’t have high hopes for any of them. You generally hear, “Yes, the show’s picked up,” or you don’t hear anything. But you never hear, “The show’s not picked up, but we’re going to give you another shot.” And that’s what CBS, in their infinite wisdom, did. It was shocking. But it was a great lesson, too, because when that first pilot didn’t work, it kind of created a bible for us to stick to. We had no idea how protective an audience was going to feel toward these guys. I think the [pilot] kind of rode the fence of a show that made fun of intelligent people. Once we understood how protective an audience felt, it changed the tone of the show, and it became a show that defended intelligent people.
The American Film Institute named it one of the ten best shows last year. Any shows you’d put in the Top 10?
My TiVo is boring. It’s literally Dateline, 60 Minutes, 60 Minutes II, some porn. It’s really pretty dull. I’m re-watching my DVDs of The Sopranos right now. I haven’t been too adventurous lately.
Do you think a guy like Leonard could get a girl like Penny in real life?
Yeah, I do. I was talking to Bill Prady, the cocreator of the show, about this.
We share a certain spinelessness about approaching women, because we assume that she couldn’t be interested. Then you see a photo of her in the paper two years later with someone very much like Leonard. Like, what the hell was I beating myself up for? Why was I so out of her league?
There’s a theory that it’s easier to hit on the tens than the sevens, because you have less competition.
I’d like to believe that’s why I’m not approached so often. It’s tough to go for the tens.
Before Leonard and Penny got together, your character hooked up a few times with a character played by your former Roseanne costar Sara Gilbert. Was that kind of like getting back with an ex-wife?
It felt a little incestuous, yeah. That was good fun. I’ve never had so many makeout scenes as playing this role.