FUNNY BUSINESS. Though some may think comedic actors have it easy, Simon Helberg talks to Charlie Binder about his upcoming semi-auto biographical film “We’ll Never Have Paris”
Simon Helberg is undoubtedly a very funny man, but after speaking with him, what remains most striking is the standard he sets for himself: to be the hardest worker in the room. Having shot to fame playing uber-nerd Howard Wolowitz on the wildly popular TV sitcom “The Big Bang Theory,” Helberg has now achieved a platform to build on and is off to a flying start. In “We’ll Never Have Paris,” a semi-autobiographical film that Helberg wrote and co-directed with his wife, he plays a younger version of himself who flies to Paris in a hopelessly romantic endeavor to put his relationship back together with the love of his life. It’s a romantic comedy with a suitably happy ending and is as honest as they come. And as for Helberg, whose growing pains are now well and truly over, we can’t wait to see what he’s going to do next.
Charlie Binder: Simon, you’re best known for playing Howard Wolowitz on the brilliantly funny TV show “The Big Bang Theory.” After playing him for so long, do you ever find yourself acting like Howard in real life?
Simon Helberg: Thankfully, not too much! But there are definitely occasions when I find myself engaging in some “Howardisms.” Like when I’m sitting around playing board games, eating takeout and making sarcastic comments … And then I’m like, “Hey, this isn’t meant to be happening, I’m meant to be cooler than that guy!” [Laughs]
CB: The show has gained a real cult following over the years. Is there a secret to its longevity?
SH: Yes, the writing. We have some fantastic writers on the show that we are very grateful for and who definitely know our strengths as actors. There is also a chicken-and-egg thing going on. For example, when Howard was getting married to Bernadette on the show, my actual wife Jocelyn was pregnant, so there have been a few things like that, which just seemed to fit.
CB: You’re now well into the eighth season, how do you keep it fresh as actors?
SH: Well, I think the most crucial factor is that we have no idea what is going to happen with our characters until the night before, when we sit down and have a table-read together. For example, I had no idea my character Howard was going to space until just before we shot the episode! So in this sense, we really are in it with the audience, which keeps things really dynamic and exciting.
CB: Howard has some pretty eccentric outfits on the show. How would you describe his style?
SH: Well, mostly it’s just intensely wrong! [Laughs] I used to describe it as Mick Jagger-meets-Mr. Furley and I think that’s still pretty much true today, though perhaps he has toned it down a bit. This is definitely a characteristic of Howard that I’m keen to keep firmly within the confines of the show—I’m not a fan of tight leather pants!
CB: You’ve gained quite a reputation for imitating famous actors and public figures, such as Nicholas Cage, Al Pacino and Stephen Hawking. Do these ever get you into trouble?
SH: Not yet. As they say, imitation is the highest form of flattery and I’m only able to impersonate these people because I’ve studied their work intensely over the years. I even hear their voices in my head, just like a crazy person! [Laughs] As for the Stephen Hawking impression, this was perhaps a little risky but we knew he was a fan and he actually came on the show afterwards.
Outfit by Louis Vuitton
“As they say, imitation is the highest form of flattery and I’m only able to impersonate these people because I’ve studied their work intensely over the years”
CB: You wrote, co-directed, and starred in upcoming movie “We’ll Never Have Paris.” How did this project come about?
SH: It all started when I wrote this script about my relationship with my wife, which I then ended up giving to her. Fortunately, she found it funny and agreed that we should make it into a film. It’s basically an epic story about our tragic breakup and my hopeless but somehow successful adventure to Paris to win her back. In theory, it’s probably the dumbest idea I’ve ever had—writing a script poking fun at my relationship with wife, telling her about it and then getting it onto a big screen which my in-laws are going to see—but that’s just how it happened. Though it’s a romantic comedy, the film is also about that quarter-life crisis. It’s something that so many people face and which I think is an important thing to highlight, even when it may not be that easy.
CB: The movie is obviously very personal. Were you nervous about letting the world in on your relationship?
SH: Yes, of course. There is always that moment when you realize that everybody is actually going to see it. This happened recently at the end of this grand dinner at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, where everyone was in dinner suits and ball gowns. The lights went down before the start of the film screening and in my head I was thinking, “What are all these people still doing here?” I didn’t imagine they would all be staying to watch a film about me and my wife.
CB: Speaking of relationships, how do you feel about the city of Paris now?
SH: Honestly, Paris has bittersweet memories for me. I first visited when backpacking across Europe, sleeping in bus shelters as you do, and then the next time I was there running around trying to win my wife back. The city looked lovely during my last visit, but it was all pretty intense still as we were shooting at busy and iconic locations. Luckily though, we had an incredible French film crew who weren’t afraid of using guerrilla-style shooting tactics to ensure that we got everything done. They were so efficient that I think everyone should drink wine with lunch!
CB: Last year you starred in the movie “I Am I,” which was financed by crowd-funding website Kickstarter. Is this the future of filmmaking?
SH: I think it’s too difficult to say what the future of filmmaking is, but Kickstarter was an amazing tool to get the project started and one that is still going. At the time, I think “I Am I” broke the record for Kickstarter funding for a movie with over $110,000 but now movies are getting like $8 million dollars, so it’s already come a very long way. There are also many projects now happening through ondemand media websites such as Netflix and Spotify, so it will be intriguing to see where that goes.
“I used to describe Howard’s style as Mick Jagger-meets-Mr. Furley and I think that’s still pretty much true today, though perhaps he has toned it down a bit”
CB: What inspired you to become an actor?
SH: When I was younger, music was pretty much all I wanted to do, while I also grew up around Hollywood as my parents were in the business. So, I think I always had a desire to get up on stage and eventually it all clicked in 11th grade when I decided that by getting up on stage and playing a nerd, who I could then make fun out of, I’d get more girls! More seriously though, I just fell in love with it and went for it on the basis that it was something I could practice and get better at, just like the piano.
CB: How steep was the learning curve after you started taking acting seriously?
SH: Well, I’m still learning a great deal but what I definitely didn’t grasp at first was how irrational the business is. I thought that if I worked the hardest out of everyone else before an audition, then I would automatically get the part. But that’s simply not the case! There are so many factors at play, sometimes you’re not right for the part, and other times there are politics at work. However, at the time a friend reminded me of a line from “The Godfather: Part II,” “This is the business we’ve chosen.” It’s brutal but you just have to deal with it and learn as much as possible along the way.
Outfit by Lacoste
CB: Did you ever receive any useful career advice along the way?
SH: At acting school, Frances McDormand came in one day and the first thing she said to my class was, “I’m not any better at acting that any of you in this room, I’ve just been doing it longer.” I think there’s a really nice sentiment in that because there are so many times as an actor when you’re on set with more experienced professionals, it’s easy to become intimidated. Now, I also see that there is a depth that one can only achieve through experience and personal growth. When you’re younger, it can be a frustrating thing to wait for but experience is invaluable in this business.
CB: Finally, what do you do to take your mind off work?
SH: Well, I still play the piano a lot, plus I have kids now, which has certainly changed things! I do try and read. However, I usually only get through about a sentence and a half before I get interrupted, or fall asleep. It’s like a neverending cycle! [Laughs] Otherwise, I just try and stay as present as possible when I’m with my kids, as I do with all things, so that I can always give my best performance.
Photography Mitchell Nguyen McCormack
Styling Alexa Rangroummith Green
Subscribe to the magazine or click here to find out where to pick up the December 2014/January 2015 issue of DA MAN.
SHARE THIS ARTICLE