Big Bang Theory isn’t exactly a show where you think of actors doing their own stunts.
Actually, the existence of Big Bang Theory is like the philosophical opposite of stunt work, and based on an anecdote shared today at San Diego Comic-Con, that is very much for the best.
A running theme established during the BBT Hall H panel on Friday is that Johnny Galecki really puts co-star Kaley Cuoco through the wringer. Sometimes he’s making her all emotional for nice reasons, like the time they both got weepy when Leonard proposed to Penny on the show. Sometimes it’s for not-nice reasons, like the time writer Steve Molaro walked up to both actors during their first Comic-Con weekend and saw Cuoco crying but didn’t know it was because they were secretly dating at the time and having a couple’s fight. Then, there are other times, still, where it all goes wrong — like when Cuoco was accidentally injured after a practical joke between the two went horribly off-course.
While preparing to film a fight between Penny and Leonard for the sixth season’s Valentine’s Day episode, Cuoco and Galecki decided to play a practical joke on everyone and stage a violent fight between their characters — you know, some good clean fun for the gag reel. Instead of just bickering, they agreed Galecki would pantomime punching Cuoco across the face, sending her onto the floor where he would continue whaling on her off-camera. Galecki even got the hair and makeup team to give him some hair extensions to make it look like he was ripping Cuoco’s tresses out after taking her down. But when it came time for the gag, Cuoco took her pratfall into a set piece and ended up legitimately injured.
“So we did it and I fell over, and the chair — and no one knew this and I didn’t either — clocked me in the head,” Cuoco explained. “I just thought ‘Oh, it’s a little bruise,’ but I’m still acting. I’m under [the table], and he’s still punching me and throwing the hair, and I come back up and I’m like ‘How did it look?’ And all I see is Simon’s face, and my blood is just gushing.”
The story came up in a fan question about on-set pranks, but the cast must have planned to talk about Cuoco’s head wound anyway, because they dug through that day’s footage in advance and brought the clip with them to Hall H. Watching the joke play out actually looks pretty savage, with Leonard knocking out Penny and then standing over her almost emotionless as he continues administering fake punches and stomps while tossing blond extensions around. The scene is set at a restaurant, so Cuoco is on the floor out of frame and the beating looks pretty convincing. Precisely no one else on camera is laughing, and when Cuoco sits up from the floor — still out of frame so you can’t see the blood — her co-star Simon Helberg stands straight up and looks flat-out scared for her. You can faintly hear Cuoco being the one to reassure the people around her, “It’s okay. It’s not bad, everyone. Just get me a napkin.” Before the clip ends you can even hear her lament, “It all went awry!”
Although Cuoco did need a hospital trip and a few stitches to close the wound, she returned to filming the next day where they adjusted her blocking to hide the fresh stitching from the camera. But since she and Galecki sufficiently scared the hell out of anyone filming that day (and probably anyone in charge of signing those massive checks over to the Big Bang Theory stars), Cuoco said, “We’re not allowed to do those jokes anymore.” Chuck Lorre surely hopes they do not.