'Big Bang Theory' star Jim Parsons talks animated film debut, co-star Rihanna and his hometown
Emmy-winning Big Bang Theory lead Jim Parsons makes his CGI debut as a toothy purple alien named Oh in Home, which hits theaters March 27. EW asked the sitcom star, 42, about screen time as a sci-fi alien and bonding with costar Rihanna.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Had you ever been approached about doing an animated movie before?
JIM PARSONS: No, I hadn’t, and I always wanted to. The way this one worked out was crazy. Someone who was a fan of The Big Bang Theory early on approached me—of all people, Marilyn Katzenberg, [DreamWorks Animation CEO] Jeffrey Katzenberg’s wife. Through her, I developed a relationship with both of them. Of course I thought, “What a wonderful opportunity doing a film for DreamWorks could be.” They don’t say, “We like you, here’s one.” The right thing had to come along, and when it did, seven and a half years later, the first thing they did was send me a drawing of Oh.
How did you feel when you saw the first sketch?
It was scary.
When I first saw the rendering of Oh, I could see just how cute and appealing he is, and I didn’t know if I had a cute-enough voice to bring that to life. I had so much self-doubt the first time I saw him. And in fact, the first time I saw a few playbacks in early animation, I still felt very uncomfortable with it. I guess I’ve grown used to seeing and hearing myself in general, but to have my voice disembodied like that and put in this little creature just seemed so very, very wrong.
What about Oh—whether it’s a mole, a certain tic, or even his dance moves—do you think the animators got right in making him look like you?
I’m so not a dancer! They actually brought somebody else to do the dance moves, which they taped and then animated. I will say that it became apparent that there was a perfect fit between me and this purple creature when I saw the way his mouth moves when he talks. He talks out of the side of his mouth, like I do sometimes. It’s crazy. But as freaky as it is to see, that was the thing that made me think “They’ve made this work.”
Oh is such an oddball—did you find any similarities between him and Sheldon Cooper?
Oh is an alien on Earth, a stranger in a strange land, and so is Sheldon. Sheldon is fun to play, but he’s more of a “Don’t touch me, I’m good alone” type, and Oh has this wide-eyed, open-armed embrace of the strangeness around him. It was a joy to give that enthusiasm for three or four hours at a time. But oh my God, it’s exhausting.
Your character in Home becomes best buds with Tip, voiced by Rihanna. Do you have a real-life friendship?
I wouldn’t say we’re BFFs, but it has been the easiest and most organic time spent together. She’s such a joy to be around. I will say, I think I have been maybe a little irritating. When I’m with her, her songs go through my head a lot of the time.
What’s your favorite Rihanna song?
My very favorite is “What’s My Name?” [Sings] Ohh nah nah. I also find myself thinking of “We Found Love” because that’s a fitting song for our two characters. Yesterday it was all “S&M.” I keep busting out certain verses to her, and I thought, “What would I say if she sat next to me for three days straight going, ‘Bazinga, bazinga’ ”? I’d be like, “Could somebody get rid of her, please?” She said at one point that it gives her chills when she hears me sing her songs. And not in a good way. You should see the look on her face when I take my tone-deaf ass to her music.
There’s a cute scene where your character really gets into a song that’s being played on the radio in the car. What’s one song you absolutely have to hear through to the end, no matter what?
Some of the most important songs for me to hear all the way through are songs by Joni Mitchell. I’m crazy about her and she does a very even job with both the music and the words. She tells an important story in every song. I love “Down To You.” It’s a very old song, off her album Court and Spark, and it’s like a little movie every time I listen to it. I find it very moving.
In Home your character is introduced to the concept of humor by way of a knock-knock joke. Do you remember your intro to comedy?
In third or fifth grade, I had a teacher named Mrs. Brown. She was the first real user of sarcasm that I had come across, and I didn’t understand it. I remember going home and thinking, “She hates me.” Then my mother explained sarcasm to me. Once I got it, I found Mrs. Brown a delight and I began to use sarcasm myself. To put it mildly, humor can be a funny thing.
This film redefines the traditional meanings of home and family. What’s one thing about life in your hometown of Houston, Texas that you miss most?
I certainly miss having a more easy, close proximity to being with my immediate family. But beyond that, I really, really, miss the theater group I worked with there and the work that we were doing. Not that I don’t have complete satisfaction and certainly gratitude for the work I’m getting to do now, but it was such an experimental part of my early 20s, when we were all working together and doing plays from Beckett to musicals like Guys and Dolls. We were in warehouses and in parking lots, and not making any money—we made enough for beer [laughs]. I don’t look back, like I need to pack up and get back to that lifestyle again—but at the same time, it was a very important time for me and it was a very visceral experience.
On the subject of theater, you have a homecoming of sorts lined up with your return to Broadway in Act of God this May. What’s on your mind as your prepare to play the part of God—besides wearing leather thong sandals and doing the Mediterranean diet?
[Laughs] Well, I hate sandals. If they put me in sandals, I’ll be furious. I’ll make them put me in socks with Birkenstocks, if that’s what their plan is. But you know, the whole thing is very funny. Number one, it is a tremendous amount of dialogue. God has a lot to say and rightfully so. It’s his world and we’re just living in it. So, I’m trying to memorize all my lines since I’ve never played anything like this. The premise is that I’m God. And if I were just me, you couldn’t see or hear me, so I had to get a person to speak through and I happen to have picked Jim Parsons because he’s likeable and I think his offbeat charm will help tell my message. I love this premise because there is a certain freedom I feel every time I get to that part. It’s like, “You ready to hear this? This is God talking.” It ain’t me.