Mayim Bialik didn’t begin her tenure as Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler on The Big Bang Theory until the end of season three, but her character has become so integral to the show that it’s hard to believe she wasn’t present since day one. A whip-smart neuroscientist with a penchant for playing the harp and conducting unusual scientific experiments, Amy was initially written in as a female-counterpart-love-interest hybrid for Sheldon — she was cold, awkward, and condescending to those around her, and not well-liked in return. But with each season, Amy’s personality grew for the better, and she’s now a confident, bold woman who enjoys knocking back glasses of merlot and exchanging hot gossip with Penny and Bernadette.
At the end of last season, Amy became fed up with her now-ex-boyfriend Sheldon’s lack of physical intimacy (and lots of other signature Sheldon quirks), and “terminated” the relationship as a result. She goes back on the dating scene, though not before it’s revealed to the audience that Sheldon was going to propose. But don’t fret, “Shamy” enthusiasts. Not only are they back together, they’ll finally be having sex for the very first time in tonight’s episode.
Bialik, who holds a PhD in neuroscience herself, has received four consecutive Emmy nominations for her supporting role on the massively popular show, and she feels grateful for the career renaissance that it provided. “I’ve had a second opportunity to be on a successful sitcom, and it’s an unbelievable blessing,” she says, referencing her tenure as the lead child actress on Blossom in the 1990s. “I had it once when I was a teenager and left the industry, never thinking I would work like this again. To be a regularly employed actor is unbelievable.”
Bialik recently spoke with Vulture to discuss Amy and Sheldon’s big night, being typecast in Hollywood, and the biggest misconception about The Big Bang Theory.
Do you recall how Amy was initially pitched to you?
It wasn’t “pitched” to me exactly. I was an actress looking to audition for anything and everything that I could. I had left the industry for 12 years, I had gotten my undergraduate and graduate degrees, I had two kids. I didn’t have the Hollywood industry at my disposal to have things pitched to me. [Laughs] So the audition came in, and it said they needed a female Jim Parsons. I had no idea who that was because I had never seen the show. After my manager was done being annoyed with me, I googled it and looked at about ten seconds of Jim Parsons doing what he does, and I was like, oh, I know people like that. And then I just did my best female impression of him. That was the end of season three, and they made me a regular in season four.
Were there any difficulties you faced early on to make Amy a distinctive character, as opposed to being strictly labeled as a “female Sheldon”?
Yeah, honestly, in the first episode I was in, I only had maybe three lines. When I came back in season four, [show co-creators] Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady said, “We can definitely flesh this out a little more,” because there really wasn’t much to her in that first episode. We had to be very careful because people are very protective over Sheldon and that character. People were very worried about this; they didn’t want him to change. There were two versions of Amy that I first presented. One, she did not make eye contact at all, and we actually recorded a version of that. Then they decided to have her make eye contact, and that’s what we ended up going with. I have my own physicality and way about me, but it’s really the writers that would decide what would come out of her mouth.
Amy has certainly turned into a more confident, social woman as the seasons have progressed. When did you first notice this shift taking place?
When she started having more scenes with Penny and Bernadette, we started to see that. We always knew she could stand her own against Sheldon intellectually, but it was really in the social arena where she got to explore more of the features of her personality. That’s certainly true when people are late bloomers and find a new social group.
I want to talk about the dynamics of Sheldon and Amy’s relationship. It’s certainly abnormal, but do you think it’s overall a healthy one?
The fact is the most notable feature of their relationship is that they’re not sexual, which I don’t inherently think is a problem [Laughs]. Other people report that Sheldon is rough on everybody around him, but I think we’ve presented a couple who has a lot of mutual respect for each other and appreciate all of the quirky things about each other. Even if they’re unhappy about it at times, it’s something they tolerate and work through, and obviously the breakup at the end of last season was an affront to that. People will be happy to know that we obviously get back together, and the week after we have this sex episode.
What was more surprising for you at the end of last season — that Amy broke up with Sheldon, or that Sheldon was going to propose?
That’s a good question. The breakup was pretty surprising. I didn’t really feel like I necessarily had a handle on why they wanted to do that. Actually, at the end of the season we don’t officially know that he’s going to propose. He takes out a ring and says, “What should I do with this?” It still could’ve meant a lot of things. But yeah, the breakup was very surprising to me.
Like Amy, you have a PhD in neuroscience yourself. Do you ever assist in writing the show’s more scientific dialogue?
Honestly, when my character and Melissa Rauch’s character (Bernadette) were added, a lot of people remarked that the show was a lot more science-y and the plots more centered around science, and now we’re more relationship-y. For me, I think that we’re a comedy, so wherever we find the comedy is where the show will have its success. As a scientist, I like to see science-y things, and I happen to like those plots personally, but I think our writers are doing a really, really good job of navigating all aspects of the show.
Because of your scientific background, do you often find yourself typecast with the scripts you’re sent or the roles you’re offered?
Yeah, I think it’s more in terms of being a character actress and not a traditional-looking female. Meaning, of the women that are character actresses, there are different types among us, and the type like me will get secretary, doctor, and things like that. Sometimes quirky best friend, but it really depends.
Are there any roles you haven’t been offered yet that you’re particularly keen on playing?
Oh, sure. There are a lot of roles featuring strong, comedic females. We’re seeing a lot more of it, and we’re seeing a lot more of nontraditional females. I think Amy Schumer is a real heroine for a lot of us quirky and unusual comedian types. I just did a movie for Lifetime, and it’s the first time I’ve ever been cast as a lead. There’s certainly room to grow as an actor.
Do you have as much time as you’d like to still pursue your academic interests?
No, unfortunately. My full-time job is an actor, and I’m a mom of two kids. The thing with being an academic is that you need to pretty much constantly be immersed in not only a laboratory but a school or university setting or conferences. It’s all-consuming. I taught neuroscience for about five years after getting my degree, to junior-high and high-school students in our homeschool community here. I view the world as a scientist, and it’s in my existence and consciousness every day, but in terms of having time for formal neuroscience, no. Once you don’t do a post-doc after a PhD, you’re kind of old for your business.
To change topics ever so slightly, when were you and Jim informed that Amy and Sheldon would be doing the dirty?
Oh, we weren’t informed! We found out the night before we started rehearsing the script. We were taping the episode before that, and they emailed the scripts to us during the taping. I never read scripts during the taping, I’ll usually just read them later or the next morning. But I had a light night and I read this script. And as Jim and I were passing each other in the hall on the way to do another scene, I said, "Have you read next week’s script?" And he said, "No, do we do it?" And he was just kidding and he couldn’t believe it! We were really shocked.
How did the rest of the cast react?
We didn’t really talk about it, honestly. There’s a fantastic scene, I think it’s my favorite scene in that episode, between Penny, Bernadette, and Sheldon, where he tells them that he has this idea that he would like to give Amy coitus for her birthday. It’s a lot of heavy comedy stuff in that episode overall, but he and I really talked about it the most because it’s all of our scenes together.
What can you tell us about how the narrative of that episode is set up?
It’s Amy’s birthday and Sheldon decides to, with the help of Bob Newhart as Professor Proton in his dreams, skip the Star Wars premiere and spend Amy’s birthday with her. He decides on his own — this is not Amy-driven — that he thinks [having sex] would be an appropriate gift. He has three choices of gifts to give her that he runs through Penny and Bernadette, and fortunately they let Amy know this is happening so she could prepare. There’s a very sweet scene where he comes over and they talk about it, and then we have a bed scene before and a bed scene after.
So it’s not a dream sequence!
It’s not a dream! I’m just going to go ahead and say it right here! It ain’t no dream.
What do you credit as the main factor behind the show’s long run?
Our writers. There’s great chemistry we have on the cast, but we’re not funny standing there saying nothing. It’s totally our writers. They’re a really bright bunch; they seem much more like a group of intellectuals than a group of comedy writers like you might picture. They’re writing the stories that people are falling in love with. They’re writing these characters, and it’s all good, it’s all them. It has a good universal appeal, too.
How many more seasons do you see the show on the air for?
I have no idea, I’m the worst person to ask. We were asked this a couple of years ago, and they were like, “Oh, we’re going to go ten seasons.” And I was thinking, no way. There are statistics that they base it on, like, oh, if you’re still No. 1 it usually takes X number of years to not be No. 1. I have no clue!
What do you think the biggest misconception of The Big Bang Theory is?
A lot of people think we perpetuate negative stereotypes about nerds, but I don’t see it that way. That’s something I hear a lot, or that we have negative stereotypes of female nerds. But I actually think we show a lot of different kinds of female nerds and that we show a portion of the population that’s really underrepresented on television. Our writers love these characters very much, and I always feel that it’s done very tenderly.