Galecki Talks Acting, Sitcoms, Las Cruces Film Fest
Since age 3, Johnny Galecki has wanted to act.
Galecki, who will be in town this week for the Las Cruces International Film Festival, is best known for his roles as Darlene’s love interest, David Healy, in “Roseanne,” and as Leonard Hofstadter in the CBS sitcom “The Big Bang Theory.” He grew up in Oak Park, Illinois, and spent much of his childhood in the theaters in and around Chicago.
“I talked about becoming an actor when I was 3 years old,” Galecki told the Sun-News last week. “How that was even part of my vocabulary, I have no idea. No one in my immediate family was an actor, and we didn’t have a neighbor who was an actor. We certainly didn’t have the money to go and see a movie, nevermind the theater. My parents weren’t unsupportive — they just had no idea what to do with this strange ambition from this strange toddler.”
They tried to dissuade him with several years of “soccer and T-ball, and other epic failures of my childhood,” he said with a laugh. Then, when he was 7, his parents discovered open auditions for a community theater production of “Fiddler on the Roof,” just down the street from his house.
“The explained to me that we were going to watch people audition — that it’s how actors get roles,” he recalled. “We did. I ended up jumping onstage and singing something, terribly, with a bunch of gum in my mouth. They thought I was precocious enough to put in the chorus of the production. I was the only kid.”
He’d spend the next several years, after earning the interest and support of the Chicago theater community, learning the ropes.
“I did a lot of theater growing up,” he said. “I didn’t do a lot of commercials or industrials, because I didn’t enjoy doing them, if there wasn’t a character to play or a story to tell. Thankfully, my parents let me get away with not doing many of those — even though it would’ve been helpful for the economics of our family.”
Around age 13, he got what would turn out to be his first big break, when he was cast as Rusty in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”
“I made a tape for that in my agent’s office in Chicago, and the next thing I knew I was on a plane to Los Angeles to read with Chevy Chase,” he said. “It was mind-boggling.”
He had already acted in a handful of smaller film roles, but nothing that was career-launching.
“There have probably been two dozen jobs I thought were going to be my ‘big break,’” he said. “And they may have, for a moment. But sometimes people never see them, they come and go real fast. If you’ve been doing it for a while, you kind of stop thinking that way, because you never know what will resonate with an audience.”
Galecki said Chase was the first to try to teach him the art of comedy.
“He really took the time and attempted to teach me about comedy timing,” he said. “He was incredibly patient with me, and very generous with his time — because I hadn’t really done comedy before.”
Galecki was later cast by Roseanne Barr to play her son in the made-for-TV movie “Backfield in Motion.” She was so impressed with him, she asked him to appear on her sitcom, “Roseanne.” It was intended to be a one-time appearance, but she ended up writing him into the recurring role of David Healy.
“It was the No. 1 show in the country at the time,” Galecki said. “More than anything, that was a real learning process for me. It put 40 million new pairs of eyes on me, many of whom had never seen me before. Fortunately, I was in good hands with that cast.”
The cast of “Roseanne” was very close, and Galecki said he had “a trio of incredible professors” — in Barr, John Goodman and Laurie Metcalf.
“I hadn’t really co-authored a character before — a character’s backstory,” he said. “The cast of Roseanne was extremely helpful in showing me how to craft that.”
Those lessons he learned while working on the show have served him well in his current role on “The Big Bang Theory.” When asked how much he is like his character, Leonard, Galecki responds, “Not at all. Not one iota.”
“Which is good,” he added. “Because I feel the more a character is similar to you, the more uncomfortable it can be to play that character. It’s probably the No. 1 reason I’ve enjoyed playing Leonard for 10 years. Jim Parsons (who plays Sheldon) once said that Leonard and I have a similar degree of sensitivity — which might not be completely untrue — but that’s it. As far as likenesses or intelligence or common interests — ZERO.”
He said he doesn’t worry much about getting typecast because of his role as Leonard.
“I’ve just kind of come to terms with the fact that that’s always going to be the case,” he said. “I accepted that years ago — not with Leonard, in particular, but with any role that one has done even an OK job at. That’s what they want you to do next. Ironically, the first time I ever heard anyone say that I had ‘range’ was after I played myself on three episodes of ‘Entourage.’”
Off the set, Galecki is committed to a number of philanthropic causes.
“Environmental issues are extremely important to me,” he said. “My father was a teacher of blind veterans at a VA hospital outside of Chicago, and that occupies a big piece of real estate in my heart. And ‘Big Bang’ is the first TV show to ever band together and start a foundation of any sort. But ours is for scholarships for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) students.”
The Big Bang Theory Scholarship Endowment at the University of California, Los Angeles, began in 2015, with an initial donation of more than $4 million from the Chuck Lorre Family Foundation and gifts from nearly 50 people associated with the show, including Galecki and his co-stars, Parsons, Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, Simon Helberg, Kunal Nayyar, Mayim Bialik and Melissa Rauch.
Five students receive the Big Bang Theory Scholarship each year, and will do so in perpetuity.
Film festival to draw 6,000-plus to Las Cruces
Galecki said he has never been to Las Cruces, and his visit to the Las Cruces International Film Festival will be his first.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “I’m really jazzed about it.”
Galecki will host a comedy workshop at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at the Rio Grande Theatre, 211 N. Main St. The workshop will also feature Don Foster, who has worked as a writer on a number of television sitcoms, including four seasons on “The Big Bang Theory.” The event is free and open to the public. Galecki is being honored with the film festival's "Outstanding Achievement in Comedy" award, to be presented during the Filmmaker Awards Reception at 9 p.m. Saturday at De La Vega's Pecan Grill and Brewery. The awards ceremony is open to sponsors, filmmakers and VIP Pass holders.
— Originally Published in the Las Cruces Sun-News, 03/07/17