Interview: Simon Helberg talks ‘The Big Bang Theory’

A scene from The Big Bang Theory. Courtesy CTV.

Simon Helberg calls Howard Wolowitz, the nerd he plays on The Big Bang Theory, the James Bond of the show (and we totally believe him). Wolowitz has the smooth confidence and 80’s era wardrobe to live and let die for. As The Big Bang Theory heads to its Season Six finale, Wolowitz is married, he’s been to space and is about to conquer a new frontier. Let’s start at the beginning.

The Big Bang Theory is a phenomenally successful show about nerds. It defied the odds and won. What gives it the juice?

Simon Helberg: Some constants are the writing, then the characters and the cast bringing the story to life, connecting and having a real chemistry, which is a nebulous word to me. But something really special happened and continues to happen. When we’re out there saying the lines, we work really hard. It is hard work in some ways. They do an amazing job writing-wise and being honest, and as actors we try do it justice. They are very human stories with fun colours and taste that people in Argentina or Sao Paolo or Moscow can relate to as much as anyone in the States.

So you travelled to space and got married. You’ve had some terrific story lines. What’s at stake for you in the season finale?

SH: Before the season finale, I play the dungeon master which is usually Sheldon’s job and Sheldon is very nervous with the change and it turns out Howard is fantastic at doing voices and impressions, which he does shamelessly in that episode. It’s cool. The finale finds us leaving these guys. Howard gets the job with the Stephen Hawking guy to go to sea and do experiments. Leonard takes a job. There’s a going away party and it’s a great episode and they do an amazing job of having us leave and setting up a lot of major developments.

Howard is a unique guy, what sets him apart?

SH: Howard is definitely the wiseass, he’ll speak up. Sheldon’s got the biggest ego, but he’s not tied into any social cues so Howard trumps him and he’s married, he feels very worldly. He always did too. When he was on the prowl he had every answer, he was the James Bond of the group. Except for the money. With that hair, and with his languages and his pick up lines, he can get any woman in any land. He’s always had a healthy ego and put out a tremendous amount of confidence.

Do you start to think like him? Does he bleed into your life?

SH: Definitely. I didn’t realize it until a few years into the show. I’m not like this guy. I’m not into comics or hunting for ladies in fluorescent jeans. But then, I turned into him. I was sitting around with my wife playing a board game, almost role playing and we were eating takeout Chinese food. There’s no turning back! It bled into my life a little bit. Generally I do manage to keep my distance. Unlike Daniel Day-Lewis, I didn’t go to Italy to make shoes and get out of this character.

You must know Howard better than the writers. Do you “correct” them if they step outside of who you think he is?

SH: We’re fortunate and I’m not being diplomatic, I generally feel a lot of trust in the writers and I always feel that my job as an actor is to make it work, make it fit. Especially when the playwright is dead and you can’t go call and ask why your character lit a candle in this scene. It’s just in there. However, having said that, there are occasional moments. Usually we’ll address it to the director and show it to the writers if we have an issue. They have a rhythm. It’s very clear who they are and where they’re coming from. We have a fair shot, and if it doesn’t work, it’s obvious, and we don’t even have to say anything.

Are you content to stay with the show for the next few years if the chance is there?

SH: Yes! Hopefully everything will be as lovely as it is now and we’ll just keep going. We’re all very excited about the show and the direction it’s gone this year. It’s really special and stands out in our heads. It’s been a layered season with depth and we’re happy. We’re picked up for next year. I have no plans of running. We’ll ride it out.

Your life must have changed drastically with success. What would you say about fame?

SH: It’s very challenging to describe objectively because being in the middle makes it challenging to see what it is or remember what things were like before this. It all bleeds into each other. I grew up in LA around famous people and getting their autographs as a kid and being in awe and it feels like it’s not really happening. When someone wants a picture it feels like I hired them to do it as a joke. It feels like someone is pulling a prank on my publicity guy or that people take pity on me and think “Ugh, here we go” and saying “We’re really fans…” It’s still an ever evolving feeling because it has become more and more intense. It’s tough to wrap my head around it. It’s also nice I got my car pulled around first at a crowded event. I try not to buy into it. It is a condition, a benign condition but it is strange to think of it at all. See? I’m sweating.

The Season Six finale of The Big Bang Theory airs on CTV Thursday, May 16 at 8 p.m. ET.

Anne Brodie

About Anne Brodie

Anne Brodie is a freelance film reporter and critic.