When he removes his physicist character Leonard’s trademark thick-framed glasses and hoodie/jacket combo, actor Johnny Galecki, TV’s highest-paid geek at $1 million an episode, is a slightly edgier fellow.
The Chicago native left school at 14 to pursue a career in Hollywood and owns a log cabin on a vineyard north of Los Angeles. That’s where he rides his Harley when he’s not working on America’s no. 1 sitcom, The Big Bang Theory, which begins its eighth season this week (Mondays, 8/7c on CBS).
Galecki, 39, has earned Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for his work on the series. As the new season begins, we asked him about scientists, the show and getting away.
“I’ve always felt Leonard and Sheldon are two halves of the same brain. As exasperating as Sheldon can be, I don’t know if either of them could really function as the best version of himself without the other.”
“To geek out” is now a verb. Playing an always slightly vulnerable character, what’s your take on being a geek?
I researched the definition when we first started, and it’s really about being especially passionate about something, like I’m “geeking out” over the new Jon Krakauer book. It’s become part of the lexicon for being immersed in something you enjoy. The characters we play are into their science, math and their sci-fi. Personally, I’m still a huge Star Wars fan, which has such a wonderful mythology.
We hear you and Jim Parsons visited some UCLA science guys to get a feel for what they’re really like.
We hung out with the physicists, and there were a lot of opinions on tech choices. We walked away with a lot, trying to steal as much as we could, any sort of mannerism, to the shoes they wore. First and foremost was how much coffee they all drink! Second, they had a lot of stickers in the offices with a circle and line drawn through Apple. And we reported that back to the prop master on our set.
Are you into high tech gadgets?
I’m basically so inept at major tech things, I go for the most user-friendly devices possible. If I could have a Mac with training wheels on it, I’d buy it. I have all Apple products, iPhone, MacBook, iPad. I press the “on” button, it turns on and does what I ask it to, I’m happy.
Let’s talk about modern love and Leonard’s on-off-now-on-again relationship with Penny.
Our characters got engaged at the end of Season Seven but the time before that, there were a lot of insecurities about commitment between them. Now that they’ve committed, there’s a whole other world of insecurities that come into play. What are we committed to? How should we behave, like our parents behaved? But what if we didn’t like that? And then finances and all that other stuff comes into play, just like in real life.
If Leonard moves in with Penny, will he have to tear up Sheldon’s “roommate agreement” first?
I suppose that they’d need to, at some point, if they carry on with their respective relationships. At the same time, I’ve always felt Leonard and Sheldon are two halves of the same brain. As exasperating as Sheldon can be, I don’t know if either of them could really function as the best version of himself without the other. Fortunately, if Leonard ever moves in with Penny, he’s only right across the hall from Sheldon. And that would make it easy on Sheldon, who still can’t drive!
Whatever they are looking at, it is probably far beyond what any average human brain can comprehend.
You’ll have done more than 180 episodes by this season’s end. Does Johnny ever bleed into Leonard, or visa versa?
It’s a wonderful gift to be with the same character for years and help build his growth. And, it may sound absurd to say this about a fictional character, but you find yourself feeling protective of him. And, as much as I try to leave my work at the office, when you’re behaving a certain way for 12 or more hours a day, five days a week, that’s going to seep into your disposition. And so yeah, I hear Leonard in my voice sometimes…unfortunately.
You’re a huge music fan. How was it playing music promoter Terry Ork in last year’s underrated CBGB?
My musical tastes are all over the place. My mom worked for Motown, so the majority of albums at home were Motown. So I go from that to Foo Fighters and Jack White. To work on CBGB, which is just universally synonymous with cool, was very appealing. Then, it was an ambitious attempt at trying to capture the energy of the emerging underground scene. The venue was a place to nurture whatever you were trying to express at the time, and I’m a big fan of many performers depicted in the film, from The Talking Heads to Patty Smith and Iggy Pop.
Tell us about your upcoming horror-comedy, The Master Cleanse, which you produce and star in.
I was blown away by the script, which is a fantastic allegory for self-loathing and dealing with our inner demons, put in a very digestible way. That’s why I’ve always loved horror—it’s much easier to illustrate a subtext without trying to spoon-feed your audience. When you watch The Shining, you’re affected personally by something you may not be able to put your finger on. And that’s all in the allegory.
What do you do when you escape to your vineyard?
I have a whole lot to be grateful for. I thought that if and when I could, I’d try to find a nice place in New York City. But when that time came, I thought a little hideout would be a better idea, so I drove till I found an area that I liked up north of LA. I like to kick back and grill outdoors. I’ve got a lot to learn about working the land—right now I’m just selling my grapes, not producing any wine—but I’m learning to drive a tractor. Someone smarter than me once said, ‘If you want to learn how to do something then fucking do it!’
When did you get the bug for riding motorcycles?
I’ve had bikes since I moved out to LA. I keep my Harley Softail Deluxe and some off-road bikes up at my cabin because I ride infrequently during TV production. But once you get bit by that riding bug it’s hard to get away from it. So when I have time off, there’s barely anyone on the roads up there, and you’re just riding among pastures and vineyards. It’s oddly meditative, while I find city riding totally stressful. You have to be hyper aware, especially as nobody else is paying much attention, except maybe to their phones!