Jim Parsons who plays Sheldon Cooper on CBS’ The Big Bang Theory says biggest impact of his success is on his mum Judy. He’s the star of a global ratings hit and pockets a cool $250,000 for each 30-minute episode of his show. But it’s neither fame nor fortune that are the most enjoyable by-products of Jim Parsons role in The Big Bang Theory.
Parsons, who has won two Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe for his scene-stealing portrayal of neurotic nerd Sheldon Cooper, says he gets the biggest kick from the impact his success has had on his mum, Judy, a first-grade teacher.
“It is the most glorious by-product of what’s gone on here,” Parsons, 39, says.
“As an actor the goal is to work and for 90 per cent of actors, work does not necessarily lead to people knowing who you are.”
“It’s rare, a situation like this. And when it (recognition) started happening, it was (my mother’s) mini moment of celebrity … People cannot believe she is really Sheldon’s mother! And I know it’s lovely for her.”
“She is much less shy than me. She is much more gregarious, much more of a people person. I think it’s a really nice way for her to start conversations. I’m just glad that something I’m doing has accidentally added joy to my mother’s life.”
Parsons is more solemn when talk turns to his dad, who was the president of a plumbing company and an ardent supporter of his son’s artistic endeavours until he was killed in a 2001 car accident.
Raised in Texas, an introverted Parsons made his first stage appearance in a school play at the age of six. It was Rudyard Kipling’s The Elephant’s Child and Parsons donned a pair of yellow tights and a feathered breastplate.
A love of performing was born and Parsons eventually went on to study theatre at the University of Houston and won a place in a two-year Masters course in classical theatre. He graduated the year of his father’s death.
Asked if he has thoughts on how his father would feel about his success, Parsons says: “I do think about it, actually. I’d be a fool trying to guess what he would think of everything … I’m sure he’d be enjoying it, at least as much as my mother.”
“He was always very supportive. She was certainly the worrier of the two. Embarking upon this life, I know he was certainly a bigger pusher of wanting me to try it and give it a go. I do wonder what it would be like for him now … I do know he’d be pleased.”
“I still don’t know all the ways that affected me, but there’s no way it didn’t,” he says of losing his father.
“It changed the whole family dynamic. When I went home after that I still hadn’t graduated. I had a final project and they (university) told me, ‘You don’t have to come back right away’. It was very interesting that I knew I had to go back and do that because whether or not you could be of use at home I realised in the end I could only be of use to the family fully if I did what I needed to do and then went on.”
“What’s funny is I then moved to New York and had a terrible sense of direction. My dad was very good at it and I understood the city and how to get around so quickly that it boggled my mind. And still, to this day, I think it had something to do with that (his death).”
Before striking it rich with The Big Bang Theory in 2007, Parsons had a recurring role in Judging Amy. He appeared in the series Ed and had bit parts in movies Garden State and School for Scoundrels.
He estimates he auditioned for between 15 and 30 TV pilots. When The Big Bang Theory came up, Parsons was cautiously optimistic.
Two and a Half Men was doing well at the time, but the general feeling in Hollywood was that the sitcom genre was on life support.
Parsons was certain of just one thing – The Big Bang Theory was a well written and executed piece of work.
“I was thinking, ‘This is good work being done’. The problem in banking on that is there have been a lot of TV shows that were really good, but didn’t catch on and if you don’t catch on, you don’t get to keep doing them,” Parsons says.
“As opposed to being a big hit out of the gate, it was slow and we as a group working on the show had our footing under us. We knew what we were doing and felt good about it by the time it started catching on.”
Some are seduced by fame to the point where their careers are derailed and their private lives fall into disarray. Parsons, however, seems to have taken huge popularity in his stride. He likes parties, but is equally happy at home.
He’s one of the most recognisable TV faces in the world, but insists his privacy is rarely invaded.
Some may have jumped to conclusions about his private life when he thanked friend Todd Spiewak in one of his Emmy acceptance speeches.
Parsons politely declines the opportunity to talk in detail about his life away from work, but says: “I don’t have any marriage plans or anything like that. I don’t really have anything to talk about as far as all that goes.”
“I have been really fortunate. Extraneous stories or more prying stories have been pretty minimal with me. And they’ve never been negative for the most part.”
“I feel I’ve always been pretty fairly treated by the media. It’s a lot harder for young women, anyone who’s extremely popular in movies. Snapping a picture of me is fine, but I don’t have the (paparazzi) chases that go on. I don’t have to deal with that.”
CHEMISTRY IS RIGHT IN THEORY
Jim Parsons comes across as a stress-free kind of guy. So it’s no surprise he sees it as “critical” that the The Big Bang Theory is a happy workplace.
“Everybody has ups and downs, but from day one there was a really high respect for work and for others,” Parsons says of the sitcom.
“It’s a funny thing, the mysterious thing called chemistry you can see on the screen. That’s the one wild card. I think you can have people who get on better than family, but (the show is) not that great of a product. It’s given me respect for that lottery we hit with this, where things are working chemically, if you will, on screen, and off. It’s peaceful.”
A supportive work environment, Parsons says, is crucial when you’re trying to deal with difficult issues in your life away from the job.
“It’s not a job you get to do in a vacuum,” he said.
“The very essence of what we’re doing as actors is communicating with and relating to each other. Thank God, on your worst day, it’s not your own words and it’s not your own situation you’re relating to. But as a human being, on certain days and depending on how you feel, you’d rather not talk to anybody.”
“You’d rather if you could shut a door and deal with everything over email then just go home. We absolutely can’t do that.”
“Some days just don’t go as smooth as others. But this is like other jobs in that if you hire professionals, they know they have to get the damned thing done. As much as they’d like not to be there that day, they know they have to get through it.”
“You have the rare flare-up. I remember one day I had gotten some news from home that upset me and I went through the scene (many times) we were doing and finally I just broke into tears. We took five minutes and I sat there and I cried for a minute and I got back up and we started again … Maybe I’m just a big baby,” he says with a laugh.