Recently, we caught up with actor Johnny Galecki to ask about life since Roseanne and to find out how exactly the Belgium-born Oak Park native became an L.A. actor in the first place. He’s starring in The Big Bang Theory, the CBS sitcom whose sophomore-season finale airs Monday 11 at 7pm.
Time Out Chicago: In The Big Bang Theory, you play a big geek with a Ph.D. What’s the highest degree you received?
Johnny Galecki: Uh, I’m… [Laughs] I quit school in the middle of eighth grade. I went to high school one day. It was a half day. Just really didn’t think it was for me.
TOC: You decided that after four hours?
Johnny Galecki: Four and a half hours, yeah. In Chicago Public Schools, I could hide in the back of the class all day long in a class of 40-some kids. Once long division came up in third grade, I’d go to the bathroom for 45 minutes and nobody raised an eyebrow—every single day at the same time of day, just to escape that.
TOC: What are you inferring about the quality of Chicago Public Schools?
Johnny Galecki: Well, I think they’re fantas— I mean, I’m not… [Laughs] But compared to one-on-one tutoring, even if it’s only for three hours a day in a mobile home on a set, you can’t hide in the back of the class. Going back to the public schools: I’m not saying this because I feel like I verbally lambasted—
TOC: You wouldn’t be the first.
Johnny Galecki: Well, the kids there were so diverse. I remember on one side of me was Katie Mead, who was the heiress to the Mead fortune, and on the other side of me was this kid from Cabrini-Green who would use his dad’s mailing address so he could go to the schools there. We grew up around all types, all class levels.
TOC: So what took you from Oak Park to California?
Johnny Galecki: The whole family moved to Long Beach, and about nine months later, everybody missed Chicago so much that we started to move back. I stuck around. I had gotten a job. It was supposed to be for three weeks, and that was 19 years ago.
TOC: You stayed by yourself? What—you were 13, 14 years old?
Johnny Galecki: I was 14, yeah. I lived in a furnished studio apartment in Burbank.
TOC: On your own.
Johnny Galecki: On my own, yeah. It made sense at the time. In hindsight, it feels a little twisted. I was working at Paramount, which was about a 20-minute drive, and I was 14 and looked like I was nine, so I knew I couldn’t drive a car ’cause I’d just get pulled over all the time. So I bought a motorcycle and a mirrored helmet so I could get to work and back, and [Laughs] it was good times.
TOC: Who hired you at age 14?
Johnny Galecki: A sitcom called American Dreamer.
TOC: Can’t say I remember that one.
Johnny Galecki: No, it was on about 18 episodes. After that, I moved into a two-bedroom apartment with five other guys. You were lucky if you scored the futon mat on the floor at night. When I was 15 or 16, I did a television movie with Roseanne. She took a liking to me and had me on her show.
TOC: What’s your strongest memory from that show? Besides Roseanne Barr’s grating voice.
Johnny Galecki: [Laughs] Don’t put that—that was you, that was not me. I did not say that. [Laughs] It was my college. Even though I started at seven, I don’t know if there’s such a thing as a child actor. Kids who are sensitive and have some accessibility to their emotions, they just get moved around like a prop. But as far as really authoring a character, I had never known anything like that until I worked with John [Goodman] and Rose and Laurie [Metcalf].
TOC: You’ve played your fair share of gay roles: The Opposite of Sex, Bounce, The Little Dog Laughed. Has that presented a problem in your own love life?
Johnny Galecki: [Laughs] Do people assume that I’m gay? Mm-hm. Well, you look online, and it’s pretty much there. There’s a lot of assumption there, but I’ve never really addressed it because why defend yourself against something that’s not offensive?
TOC: I read you were out as straight. So you’re not out as anything?
Johnny Galecki: No, I happen to love women, so I guess that would make me straight—I don’t know. I don’t mean to be so enigmatic, but I’m trying to keep from offending people.
TOC: But you love women. We can put that on the record.
Johnny Galecki: Yeah, that you can quote me on.
TOC: Love them…sexually.
Johnny Galecki: Now you said that—in the grating voice of Roseanne Barr. [Laughs]
TOC: So, Big Bang Theory—what do you think about its nerd stereotypes: the really smart, socially inept guys?
Johnny Galecki: I think a nerd or geek or dork or dweeb is just someone who’s passionate about something. The word geek is now a verb. People say, “Oh, I totally geek out on this.” Post fifth grade, it’s cool. People wear their geekdom like a badge of courage. Everyone claims they’re a geek—especially hot women: “I’m such a nerd!” No, you’re not.
TOC: Hot women in whom you may or may not be sexually interested.
Johnny Galecki: [Laughs] Oh, boy.
The Big Bang Theory airs on CBS Monday 11 at 7pm.