STRONG ATTRACTIVE FORCES. Johnny Galecki is best known for his role as geeky theoretical physicist Leonard Hofstadter on mega-hit sitcom The Big Bang Theory. But when he takes off the thick-frame glasses, this motorcycle-loving veteran actor takes on a whole different look. By Anand Mathai
At the tender age of four, Johnny Galecki declared to his parents that he wanted to be not just an actor, but an actor on TV specifically. While most of us give up on such early childhood dreams, Galecki pursued his goal with dogged passion. After scoring his first major role in the comedy film classic National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation at the age of 14, he moved to Los Angeles and away from his family in order to pursue his career.
After that, he scored a major supporting role on comedian Roseanne Barr’s eponymous sitcom as the boyfried of Roseanne’s character’s daughter. These days, he is internationally famous for his work on The Big Bang Theory, a comedy centering on four brainy but socially inept nerds which is currently one of the most critically and commercially successful sitcoms on TV.
DA MAN: Leonard and Penny’s relationship seems to have reached a new level this season. Do you think they’ve finally found some stability or are there more challenges ahead for them?
Johnny Galeki: They’ve certainly been evolving the past couple of seasons, but be assured there will be rocky waters, as there always are in relationships. Plus, there is little comedy to mine in “happily ever after.”
DA MAN: A lot of critics say this season has been one of Big Bang’s strongest thanks to the new dynamic the trio of ladies have brought to the show. Would you say the focus has switched from the friendship of the four guys to how they handle their relationships?
Johnny Galeki: I wouldn’t say the focus has shifted. I’d say the story lines have broadened. With more characters there are more possibilities. Yes, we’re now able to do much more female oriented plots with the addition of Melissa Ranch and Mayim Bialak, but we’ve also done storylines with the Raj and Bernadette characters and the Amy and Leonard characters. The wonderful thing about this ensemble is that the writers can put any combination of these characters together and it’s going to make for great scenes.
DA MAN: Critics have long predicted the death of the traditional three-camera sitcom, yet The Big Bang Theory remains one of the most popular shows on TV. What are the biggest merits of the format in your opinion?
Johnny Galeki: That’s a big question. For me personally, due to my background in theatre, it’s the live audience. Their filing into the sound stage every Tuesday night is what we work hard towards all week long. It’s our goal to put on a mini-play each week and without that live taping, without that immediate feedback and communication that we share with the live audience, I wouldn’t be half as happy in this gig as I am. Creatively, it’s priceless. We trust our audience and they often, if not always, govern each scene. If something doesn’t work with them, we rewrite on the spot, we tweak performances, until it does work. And, in turn, those 300 or so people become a strong part of the creative process and a census group who represent the millions watching at home.
DA MAN: Something a lot of people, including Roseanne, have praised about your performances is the vulnerability you convey in your characters. Is that purely good acting, or do you think that is a real part of yourself that you put into your roles?
Johnny Galeki: Well, it’s maybe a little bit of both – ha! As an actor, one needs to have a keen understanding of what you as a human carry with you innately when you walk into a room. So, if a character calls for vulnerability, to use your example, and I believe that is already an ingredient of my personality, to add to that trait or even lean into it might result in overkill. You really need to know yourself, which is often a complicated feat, and leave what you bring naturally alone.
DA MAN: You showed off some of your breakdancing skills in The Big Bang Theory flash mob video that recently showed up on Youtube. How did the idea for that come about?
Johnny Galeki: That was entirely Keley Cuoco idea. And, honestly, she’s the only one on that stage who could have pulled it off. I’ve done better backspins.
DA MAN: As a theoretical physicist, Leonard spouts a lot of scientific jargon. How do you remember the harder-to-swallow technical lines?
Johnny Galeki: I do a bit of research to understand (as much as I am capable) what the hell I’m saying but more than anything I learn them by rote. It’s not especially exciting but there’s no other way to do it. I just learn them backwards and forwards until I not only know them in my sleep but, more importantly, they sound extremely familiar and comfortable coming out of my mouth.
DA MAN: Can you tell us one interesting science fact or piece of nerd lore that has stuck with you from the show?
Johnny Galeki: It’s less the facts I’ve learned than the folks I’ve been thrilled to meet in the science community. We always have an interesting guest list backstage after tapings — astronauts, the JPL folks, Nobel prize winners, Stephen Hawking. Not your normal fanboys.
DA MAN: Although you are not a nerd in the conventional sense, you are a self-confessed “motorcycle nerd.” What is it about them that fascinates you?
Johnny Galeki: There’s a meditation-like mind frame to riding. Many think it would be nerve-wracking, but because one needs to keep so aware of everything happening on the road there’s not room in your mind for the trials of whatever else might be happening in your life at the time.
DA MAN: In interviews, your mom has said you expressed the desire to be an actor on TV when you were four years old. Do you have any idea where that feeling came from at such a young age?
Johnny Galeki: I have no clue. No one in my family was involved in any type of performing. It’s a mystery to me how the word “actor” was even part of my dictionary.
DA MAN: You were in the comedy classic National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation with the legendary Chevy Chase. What comedic tricks did you pick up from him?
Johnny Galeki: Yes, I was the unfunny Rusty Griswold. I’d never done any comedy before then. Chevy was incredibly kind, patient and generous. His support gave me a lot of confidence.
DA MAN: You were living by yourself in LA at the age of 14 to pursue your acting career. As a young successful actor without any parental supervision, was it hard to keep yourself out of trouble?
Johnny Galeki: Not especially. I’ve always had a very strict work ethic and, fortunately, I was always working. I may have gotten into more trouble at night had I not had early work calls in the morning.
DA MAN: In the past, you’ve said you’re happiest when you’re working and have trouble dealing with downtime between projects. How do you fill your free time these days?
Johnny Galeki: I simply keep myself busy. I travel, write, try to learn new musical instruments. I spend time with family and friends. I cook. I have a vineyard on the Central Coast that I pour a lot of my time and energy into. I’m a kid from Chicago — to own land is a very intimidating and exciting adventure in which I have a lot to learn.
Photographs: Eric Silverberg
Styling: Cari Nelson
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