Interview: Jim Parsons

The Big Bang Theory star and his imaginary rabbit friend take over the Great White Way in Harvey.

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  • Photograph: Celeste Canino

  • Photograph: Celeste Canino and New York Daily News Archive

    New York Yankees' Derek Jeter pays tribute to owner George Steinbrenner and...

    Jim Parsons

  • Photograph: Celeste Canino

    Jim Parsons

  • Photograph: Celeste Canino

  • Photograph: Celeste Canino

  • Photograph: Celeste Canino

  • Photograph: Celeste Canino

  • Photograph: Celeste Canino

  • Photograph: Celeste Canino

  • Photograph: Celeste Canino

  • Photograph: Celeste Canino

Photograph: Celeste Canino

Jim Parsons is a hard-core geek—when it comes to theater, that is. The Emmy-winning star admits he needs to google many of the scientific and pop-culture references he spouts off as Sheldon Cooper on the CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory, but the stage has always been second nature. Parsons studied acting at San Diego's Old Globe theater and initially got his start working the Off Broadway circuit in New York. He made his Broadway debut last year in the Tony Award--winning revival of The Normal Heart, and he'll return to his roots this May with a starring role in Roundabout Theatre's revival of Mary Chase's 1944 comedy, Harvey. Parsons will play Elwood P. Dowd, a grown man with an unusual imaginary friend. TONY quizzed him about giant rabbits, tennis and donating his DNA to a fan.

The first time I saw you was in Manhattan Ensemble Theater's adaptation of Franz Kafka's The Castle in 2002. You were funny even back then.
Oh my God, that was the very first thing I did out of grad school! It was, like, the first audition I went on. It was the greatest thing in the world to get to New York City and start working right away. Not in terms of the money—I made very little money on that show. But I met people and started feeling part of the theater community.

Has your stage training come in handy on The Big Bang Theory?
I think in any form of acting, you're always well served if you've done theater. Especially in the multicamera [sitcom] format, where you're literally putting together a little 40-page play in five days, and then taping it before a live studio audience. There's a core similarity that's undeniable.

How did you decide you wanted to return to the stage?
I've had this hankering for a while now. A little over a year ago, [my reps] and I were talking about what was going to happen over hiatus, and I said I really wanted to do theater. I said I'd even work for free! A couple of days later, they called and asked if I wanted to do The Normal Heart. I nearly fell out of my chair. It was a reiteration of that old lesson: Let the universe know what you want, and you just may get it.

Did working on The Normal Heart have a special resonance for you? Or did you take the part just because it came along?
It was the latter, but everything else was an added bonus. I feel so flippant saying that, because everything else in this case was so life changing. I've done so much theater, and yet I never had an experience like The Normal Heart. We could feel the reaction of the audience every night. It was visceral. It affected me very deeply as an actor. I'll never forget, as long as I live, the night New York's State Assembly passed the bill giving gays the right to marry. After the show, one of the producers went to the microphone and the house lights came up. We all came back onstage and he announced it. For this monumental thing to happen while we were doing this play about the inept and unjust ways the AIDS crisis affected the homosexual community...it was the cherry on top of the experience. It really walloped me.

It must have been quite significant to make your Broadway debut with a part in Larry Kramer's play about the early days of the AIDS epidemic in New York City.
That's why I can't shut up about it! I was roughly 12-ish when [the events in the play] took place, so it really gave me an education. And being in New York, being able to walk by the now-defunct Saint Vincent's Hospital or Stonewall down on Christopher Street, really magnified the experience.

Are you a fan of the 1944 stage version of Harvey, or the 1950 Jimmy Stewart film?
I actually know the play better than the movie, which I've never seen. I find the situation fascinating. Everybody thinks it's a story about a man and his imaginary friend, who happens to be a six-foot-tall pooka, essentially a big rabbit. But there's more depth to it. Why is Elwood doing this? It's a sweet, human tale, and there are several lessons to be taken from it.

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Users say

5 comments
rosie
rosie

i love the show The Big Bang Theory so much especially Jim Parson he is very funny and i love the shirts he wears a lot overall i love the show and its very hilarious i dont know why some people dont understand it and dont think its funny they just dont have good taste lol :)

Kristine
Kristine

i love The Big Bang Theory so much that I watch it almost religiously. There are times when I will actually catch myself talking like Sheldon or acting like Penny. with so much tragedy in the world, it is so nice having a show that you can laugh at to make you laugh. I find Jim Parsons to be quite charming, even when he plays "one lab accident away from becoming a super villain" Sheldon. and i have a lot of respect for actors who can make the transition from stage to TV and back.

alexandra swweet
alexandra swweet

j.p. love your show big bang. I have so much tragedy in my life and your show makes me laugh out loud.

bbtfan
bbtfan

Anonymous, I've read many people's experiences going to tapings and none of them has ever said he was bad-tempered etc., including in any of the tapings from early this year (all of them were written about by at least one person in attendance). It's often commented that he tries to stay extremely focused, pacing around and going over his lines when offstage and not joking or interacting with the audience as much as the others, and so not making as many mistakes as them despite his difficult lines, but that's it. He's often very apologetic about small mistakes he does make, as well. Others have been behind the scenes as extras or working briefly in production and have said he's very nice to the crew. Maybe you misinterpreted his sense of humour, which tends to be dry.

Alexandra Cruz
Alexandra Cruz

I want to thank you for your wonderful interview with Jim Parsons. He sounds like an enchanting and spirited performer and I look forward to seeing him on Broadway. The show opens on my bday so I am taking on extra work to fly up from Florida to my old hometown to see the show. For the coward that posted anonymously that she/he wishes the show would flop, have the cojones to post that with your real name. no one goes down to your office to watch you work and I am sure if they did, I am sure you have the right to have your days as well. If you want to see Sheldon in his real form then stay home, do not watch the process, because it is not always a pretty thing sometimes. People are quick to judge these actors, they are paid performers however that does not mean that they need to be "on' at all times. They have their right to privacy, the right to be a douche if they want to just the same way you and I do. So BRAVO Jim for a great interview, for continuing to bring joy and laughter to soo many of us every Thursday night (and every other night via re-runs) and I look forward to your fantastic performance in Harvey.