Simon Helberg gets serious on 'The Big Bang Theory'

Simon Helberg gets serious on 'The Big Bang Theory'
by: Tyrone Warner
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Last year, this actor took a break from math problems to ponder more spiritual questions.

While still doing his regular gig on as Howard Wolowitz on “The Big Bang Theory,” Helberg appeared in the Coen brothers’ Oscar nominated film “A Serious Man” as Rabbi Scott Ginzler.

When Helberg first got the call to audition for the role, he remembers “I almost had a heart attack. I was through the moon.  They're my heroes.”

“So I auditioned for them, and nine months later I got the part.  And three months after that, I shot the movie.  So it was a year process, nine months of not knowing, then getting word that, you know, they liked me.  They were editing ‘No Country for Old Men’ and they were in preproduction for ‘Burn After Reading.’  So they weren't even positive they were going to make it. So it was a nail-biting experience.”

According to Helberg, the Coen brothers had never seen any of “The Big Bang Theory.”

“They don't watch TV, and I think they are sincere about it.  I don't think it's a pretentious thing.  I won't name names, but I've heard stories about huge, huge TV stars going in for them and them kind of being like, ‘Oh, he was pretty good.’  And then the casting director is like, ‘Yeah, but you didn't want to use a name for that part.’  And they'll say, ‘Who was that?,’” says Helberg.

“At one point I was actually nervous that they might not want me because of this.  But this was the second season of our show, the beginning of it.  So it wasn't as big, I guess. They intentionally didn't want names or recognizable faces, although Richard Kind was in the movie, and he's been on a ton of sitcoms. But he's not at the moment.  So I just thought, ‘Oh, God, what if they, you know, see an advertisement for our show and they think, 'Oh, he's on a show.  We want someone who no one's ever seen'?’  But thank God they hadn't seen the show, and I got to play that part.”

Despite playing a Rabbi, Helberg says he’s not a religious person, and doesn’t really see Wolowitz that way either.

“I was raised Jewish and had a bar mitzvah, and I'm definitely more reformed and confused maybe. It's something that I would try not to even associate the character on the show being the Jewish guy because I think they've added so many wonderful layers to him.  And of course, you are what you are. I think they've done a good job kind of shining a lot of light on sort of the humanity of these eccentric characters.”

When it comes to Wolowitz’s eccentric wardrobe, some of his fashion choices are inspired by Helberg’s own personal style.

“It's funny because I used to sort of like have shaggy, Beatlesy hair.  And that was cool, I thought.  And then I went into the audition, and they were like, ‘Oh, my God, and your hair, it was perfect. It was so nerdy.  Like, keep it like that.’ That's happened quite a bit to me where I'll be playing a nerd, and they're like, ‘What about those pants you wore to the audition?’  When I would leave the studio and just look the same, I started to feel like… I didn't look quite as drastic. They flat-iron it, and it looks more like Moe Howard as opposed to John Lennon, hopefully.  So I've embraced it.  I enjoy looking kind of as bad as I possibly can,” says Helberg.

Helberg also credits his appearance on a successful sitcom like “The Big Bang Theory” as a dream come true. He remembers growing up and rushing through his homework in order to watch programs like “Family Ties,” “Growing Pains,” “Who’s the Boss,” “Golden Girls” and “Rosanne.”

The actors says because of his “Rosanne” fandom, it was intimidating first meeting his co-star, Johnny Galecki, who previously appeared on the sitcom.

“I always remember thinking he was really cool on ‘Roseanne.’ I related a lot to his character… I always thought he had such cool hair.  It was always, like, curly, in his face. And I was like, ‘Man, I wish I had that curly, cool hair.’ I was a vain kid.  But yeah, no, so that was -- it was really exciting.  And I recently – like right after I met him, I found this thing from when I was, like, 11 that I had to list my five favorite shows. And
‘Roseanne’ was number one. So it is surreal,” says Helberg.

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