On Sept. 24, 2007, four geeks and a girl began a friendship that would span 12 seasons and 279 episodes. Through the years their ranks would grow as they welcomed a neurobiologist and a microbiologist and even a kid or two. They would date and debate and dabble in Dungeons & Dragons and in the process make television history: When The Big Bang Theory airs its final episode on May 16, it will hold the title of longest-running multicamera series ever. Not bad for a show whose first season received mixed reviews and was interrupted by the writers’ strike.
Through it all, the core group have remained close friends — not just on-camera but off as well. And after working together for a dozen years, they have more than a few stories to share. So we gathered The Big Bang Theory’s seven stars — Jim Parsons, Kaley Cuoco, Johnny Galecki, Simon Helberg, Kunal Nayyar, Melissa Rauch, and Mayim Bialik — on the Warner Bros. Studio soundstage in Burbank for a raucous roundtable discussion with Entertainment Weekly writer Lynette Rice, in which they reflect on their favorite (and some maybe not so favorite) memories. From first impressions to spin-off talk (NCIS: Raj, anyone?), they reveal all.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What were your first impressions of one another when you met?
KALEY CUOCO: At the audition I saw Jim sitting there by himself, and we were the only two there. He was very quiet and had a BlackBerry in his hand, playing with it. He looks at me and said, “You don’t know how to work this thing, do you? I just got it.” He was very cute how he said it. I thought he could totally play Sheldon. Charming and innocent.
JIM PARSONS: I already knew who Johnny was from Roseanne. That was weird because I don’t think I’ve ever auditioned alongside someone I had seen act before. I read with other people, but it was very clear that no one else was making the part their own more than Johnny did. He knew what he was doing and was doing it in a strong way. I didn’t feel like he needed my help. I didn’t feel like he was bleeding into my work. He was his own distinct thing.
JOHNNY GALECKI: We all thought Kaley was the coolest person in the cast. As soon as we were done with rehearsals or the live audience, she was like taillights. We all assumed she had much better social plans than we did. Maybe a year in, she started spending more time with us offstage and confessed she had nowhere to go. She was maybe going to ride her horses, probably.
PARSONS: For Mayim, it was not dissimilar to when I had first met Johnny and Kaley, because I knew who they were already. They had done things.
SIMON HELBERG: We had done things too!
PARSONS: Yeah, but I didn’t watch your crap. No, really, I didn’t know Simon Helberg at all when I signed up. I had recently seen Mayim on her episode of What Not to Wear on TLC. They had dressed her. It was some of her best work.
GALECKI: Obviously it didn’t take.
PARSONS: I know. Look what she’s wearing.
HELBERG: What is that show?
CUOCO: It’s the best show ever.
MAYIM BIALIK: They cut off nine inches of my hair. That’s the first thing I did after 12 years away.
Simon, what did you think of Melissa?
HELBERG: Am I allowed to swear? [He looks at Rauch] It almost seems like you played a different character. You were very different.
MELISSA RAUCH: I was super-religious. For the first couple of seasons [my character] wore a crucifix.
CUOCO: You don’t wear the cross anymore?
RAUCH: They changed it to a star. I also used to wear cross earrings.
PARSONS: Who knew that our Lord and savior Jesus Christ was so important to your character?
HELBERG: The thing I remember most is our dinner scene, and I did magic in the car. There had been many women in Howard’s life, but I knew it was special because we clicked. I had a real strong sense she’d be back, just not this long.
RAUCH: Simon was so kind and sweet and funny. I wish he was still like that.
Johnny, what do you remember about Kunal?
GALECKI: Jim and I had a different frame of reference when we started. Not necessarily better by any means, because we had done a pilot for the show beforehand, and so when I met Kunal and Simon and Kaley, when we did that first table read, I’ll never forget that. It felt like a band you had been playing with for years. It felt very rhythmic, very musical. Comedy always is, I suppose. I remember Kunal doing something I hadn’t predicted at the table read. It changed just by a minute degree. But it just worked better. That seemed to be the case with everybody around the table. Then Kunal asked to borrow money. I thought that was odd. I only remember that because he hasn’t paid me back.
HELBERG: Not considering interest.
GALECKI: We all thought Kaley was so social and must have had so many friends. You just beelined out of here. We used to hang out afterward. Then you finally came and said, “I don’t have any friends. Can I hang out with you?”
CUOCO: Well, you never invited me to hang out after!
GALECKI: Because we thought you were hipper than you are!
PARSONS: She was so young.
CUOCO: There were a couple of years we stayed after a lot. There were Ping-Pong tournaments. Dinners.
GALECKI: We’d go on vacations together.
CUOCO: Yeah, we don’t do any of that s— anymore.
GALECKI: I changed my number.
KUNAL NAYYAR: I think everyone did, because I brought my parents once.
PARSONS: Oh, I forgot about that! Where were we?
NAYYAR: San Ysidro Ranch.
HELBERG: Now we just go on vacation with your parents.
How were you that first season? Were you unfailingly polite to one another?
HELBERG: The writers’ strike was then. It was 100 days. I went to dinner almost every night with Jim. It wasn’t a plan. We lived 10 minutes from each other. We kept thinking they were going to call us back to work. Let’s just go have Mexican food. We’ll get that call. I gained 200 lbs. from the molé.
GALECKI: Oh, the molé! That reminds me of Mexico City. We couldn’t find anything that didn’t have molé on it.
HELBERG: They flew us to Mexico City at the end of season 2.
NAYYAR: That was so much fun.
PARSONS: It was for publicity for Warner Bros. I really thought they were trying to be nice by saying, “Oh, you are the No. 1 show in Mexico.” But when we got to the plane and into the airport, it was a little bit like the Beatles had arrived. We hadn’t experienced that before, the rush of people and photographers. Then we got into the van for the long trip to our hotel, and there were these huge billboards, and sure enough they said, “Numero uno sitcom!” The next day we were on the cover of the paper.
HELBERG: I remember it said “nerdo.” I don’t speak Spanish, but I’m pretty sure [I know] what it meant.
Was the show misunderstood at first? Was it oversimplified to a fault?
CUOCO: Critics didn’t like it.
NAYYAR: But before watching it, though. It was just the name. They were like, “Oh, what is this show?”
GALECKI: I remember them likening us to Three’s Company. First of all, your math is off. And based on what? That Kaley is blonde? It went from those absurd similarities to the new Friends. Oh, that was quick! But we’ll take it.
How has the studio audience changed over the years?
CUOCO: These audiences are insane. Their energy is high. I don’t know how it works [to get them here]. It’s like Hunger Games. They wait a long time to come. I’ll read comments on my social, and I’ll come across one that says, “I have tickets for a 2019 episode.” They’ve had them for years. I don’t think there will be anything like a Big Bang audience taping ever again. Our audience is unbelievable.
NAYYAR: It’s like a concert.
CUOCO: You see them in Bazinga T-shirts. Johnny and I talk to the audience at every show as well. They are just so happy to be there.
Is there anything that is still hard to do on this show?
GALECKI: Some of the science jargon is hard. They are like tongue twisters. They aren’t words you use every day.
PARSONS: You never don’t get nervous.
NAYYAR: Because we all care so much. We want to get it right.
PARSONS: The group scenes are a technical pain in the ass to do.
CUOCO: We complain about them. The dinner scenes. We say they’re gonna take all day, but we end up laughing really hard and eating the food and laughing at who is eating the food. Those are my favorite photos.
Can you recall an aha moment when you made a positive impact on a fan?
CUOCO: Oh my God. Two weeks ago. It was a Make-a-Wish [event]. Her name was Grace. It’s her favorite show. She came to visit and ended up staying longer than they normally stay. She knew everything about the show. She called us by our character names. Her mom was crying the whole time.
BIALIK: She said, “Penny, you are my friend!”
CUOCO: I’ll never forget Grace. I was telling everyone, that’s the reason we are doing this show.
HELBERG: I met somebody who gave me a letter from his wife. His wife was too shy to express what the show meant, so she wrote a whole letter. She went through cancer, and in the hospital this was the show she watched the entire time. It was a beacon of light. Not to put too much importance on the show, ’cause for some it’s just what they watch when they go to bed. For others it’s comforting. That is pretty amazing.
PARSONS: Of all the things fans say to me, the most repetitive one is, “Your show got me through chemo or the hospital or maybe it’s just food poisoning.” That is the most common thread of fan comments. To your point of not putting too much importance on it, I don’t think any of us do by nature. It’s our job. We love it. We are grateful for it. But it’s impossible to put your feet in the shoes of someone who is really in love with it, who is using it to get through something in life. It’s just too profound.
GALECKI: It may seem self-important in print, but I promise you there is nothing more humbling than that.
Let’s go to the end of your life. Besides maybe “wonderful spouse” or “wonderful parent,” would you be okay with an atom being on your tombstone?
RAUCH: Our tombstone?
NAYYAR: I’m pretty sure I’m going to be cremated.
PARSONS: It will be engraved on your urn, then.
HELBERG: Spread your ashes over Warner Bros.
I mean, when they write your obit, The Big Bang Theory will be in the lede of the piece. Is that cool?
HELBERG: If there’s anything cool about an obit . . .
PARSONS: They can be really well-written sometimes.
HELBERG: They can be. I’m going to start now.
BIALIK: Can you write mine too, Simon?
GALECKI: No matter what any of us do after this, this will be a big part of it.
PARSONS: You could become president.
GALECKI: No, even then!
NAYYAR: The guy from The Big Bang Theory is president.
PARSONS: So is the guy from The Apprentice.
HELBERG: No, that’s not possible.
CUOCO: I’m going to owe all of my career to this show. No matter what I do after this. This is what made us who we are. We were here for 12 years. This is a big part of our career.
PARSONS: Whatever ends up happening to us, this is life-altering. You may be part of something else that is as life-altering as this, but that’s a high bar to hurdle.
GALECKI: It will never be fully eclipsed. We will always be associated with one another. It’s such an incredibly unique experience that only the seven of us can really understand having. You can talk about the cast of Friends, but this is di erent in its own way. There is no one else but this circle of seven that can even pretend to relate.
CUOCO: And we never expected any of this to happen. We didn’t wake up in season 3 and think this show is going on forever. We’ve never spoken that way. Even when we renegotiate and get new seasons, we can never believe it.
HELBERG: I remember talking to you, Kaley, during the pilot about whether you thought it would go. I remember you saying, “I don’t know, maybe? It’s hard to say.” And I remember Kunal saying, [imitating his voice] “Oh yes, absolutely.” I asked him how many pilots he’s done. He said none. [He looks at Nayyar] It’s the last time you were right about anything.
Warner Bros. just doesn’t have enough money. Why couldn’t there be a spin-off like Penny Loves Leonard? Or Dr. Amy or NCIS: Raj?
CUOCO: There will probably be an NCIS: Raj. Like 10 of them. Or Just Raj.
NAYYAR: I’ll be right back! I have to make a phone call.
PARSONS: That’s a very good idea. Lou Grant was a wonderful drama, and it was a spin-off of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
GALECKI: I’ve had weird dreams about a single-camera version of Big Bang. What do you do? Whose character? These characters are so a part of each other’s lives! Even a spin-off with two, you’d be like, what happened to the other five? Did they all die in the elevator?
CUOCO: They might be killing us all off. We don’t know what happens in the finale.
BIALIK: That’s the answer to your question. We can’t do a spin-off because we all die.
HELBERG: They don’t see us die. We get into the elevator, and then the cables snap. It cuts to Chuck’s vanity card. You hear an explosion. We all ended with a big bang!