The Big Bang Theory star Mayim Bialik on Her Career, Downtime and Being Anti-BingeTV Features The Big Bang Theory
We know she’s brilliant, both in character, as Amy Farrah Fowler on The Big Bang Theory and in her actual PHD-accredited life. We know that she’s proudly Jewish, as she’s often written about on websites like Kveller. And we also know that she’s very passionate about parenting, as she’s discussed in many interviews and her own book, Beyond the Sling. With so much going on outside of her acting career, it can be easy for some to forget that Mayim Bialik is also a hilarious comedic performer and one of TV’s most enduring stars. Paste caught up the actor to talk The Big Bang Theory, her upcoming movie and why she just can’t get into binge watching.
Paste Magazine: You recently wrote about your upcoming Lifetime Christmas movie, The Flight Before Christmas, and how it’s the first project you’ve done that you can let your kids watch. Do you have plans to let them watch more of your work, like Blossom, when they get older?
Mayim Bialik: Yeah. My feeling is that Blossom was a show that was geared toward teenagers, and a lot of the content that we discussed was dealing with more teenage themes. I happened to be more socially conservative than pretty much everybody I know, so my ex and I are both pretty… I don’t want to say strict, but we have a lot of boundaries around what we let our kids watch. If my children have interest in seeing me in Blossom, that would probably be something post-Bar Mitzvah age that they could do. I think I need to be prepared to have conversations about what condoms are, and what safe sex is, and what drugs and drinking is like, because that’s the kind of stuff that we dealt with on the show. One of the reasons they don’t watch The Big Bang Theory is because, in my opinion, there’s a lot of things on our show that are not made for small eyes and small ears yet.
Paste: The ‘90s nostalgia is heavy right now, and everyone is going back to the ‘90s pool for reboots and reunions. Has there ever been any talk of doing something to bring back Blossom?
Bialik: Only when I do press interviews and they ask me (laughs). Our show was never in syndication, and it hasn’t even been released on DVD in full. I’m told that, because we had a lot of musicians, there’s a lot of rights issues on our show and that might be one of the reasons that we never easily went into that rotation. It’s more of a legal question, honestly, because I’m contracted to Warner Brothers. We did a little reunion for press purposes a little while ago.
Paste:So, let’s talk about The Big Bang Theory. Obviously, you are now a staple on the show, but there was a point where you were a newcomer. Was it tough to walk into an existing cast and establish the chemistry that you have now?
Bialik: Sure. I like to say that coming in the fourth season of a show and being made a regular is like entering high school midway through the senior year. Everybody’s got their vibe, and everybody knows each other, and everybody knows where their locker is and that sort of thing. It honestly didn’t take long. We have a very welcoming cast. Melissa [Rauch] and I made fast and good friends with everybody. Now that we’re in Season Nine, it’s like I hardly remember what it was like to come in, because we’ve all just been here so long.
Paste: Prior to you joining the show, there was an episode with a line that mentioned the real-life you.
Bialik: Right, I had heard about that. Someone had told me that I was mentioned on the The Big Bang Theory, but I thought it was a game show. I had a baby and a toddler, and I was not watching TV or anything like that. Our group of writers is really the heart of this show. They are the true geeks, and the true experts on all things that all these characters mean to people. It’s all those fun little facts about the world that they incorporate into our show, and I’m glad I was one of them.
Paste: Over the seasons, did you think at any point that Amy was going to settle into a permanent role as Sheldon’s long-suffering girlfriend?
Bialik: I don’t know. There was a lot of concern by some hardcore fans as to how I might change Sheldon—that it might be bad. I think our writers did it very gradually. There are still people who don’t appreciate it. There’s going to be fans that don’t appreciate something at any given time about a show. But I think they were careful to not change Sheldon too much. Last season was a really big shift for our characters. It’s really a testament to the creativity of our writers that they’ve been able to keep all of these plots, I think, so fresh and interesting.
Paste: Speaking of the show’s fans, how was the reaction to the actual breakup, especially since it happened at the end of last season?
Bialik: Jim and I talked a lot about it, about how we felt about this relationship. There wasn’t a specific fight, per se. There was a build-up of a lot of different things, and Season Nine is really trying to handle that. There was a big episode recently where Stephen Merchant was seen kissing me, so we’re going to continue this plot and really explore what it does for Sheldon.
I think there are people who are really unhappy with Season Eight and Nine because of the Sheldon and Amy stuff—they want a resolution, they want us back together, but a show has to shift and grow. Our writers know what they’re doing.
Paste: Your interviews tend to focus on your thoughts about science, or parenting, or religion—a lot of heavier issues. Do you ever feel like it’d be nice if people just focused more on your work?
Bialik: I think that’s the just the nature of people. It’s the nature of our culture and our media interests. I started a website called GrokNation just a handful of months ago, honestly, because I wanted to have people focus more on issues. If I’m a voice that can bring them to the forefront, I’m happy to do that. I’m not an actor who loves to talk about my craft a ton—meaning that’s not what I like to write about. I’m happy to talk about it in interviews, and I am an actor who does appreciate my craft, but there are a lot of other things. The fact that I’m a public person gives me a certain kind of platform. People are interested in the things that they’re interested in, and that’s probably not going to change.
Paste: Based on people’s thoughts and perceptions, what’s one thing about you that people might find surprising?
Bialik: Oh, gosh. There’s a lot of things. I’m klutzy, kind of absent-minded. I’m very socially anxious. I’m kind of sloppy. I don’t have good table manners…
Paste: I know you’re a very, very busy person, is there any downtime for you? Bialik: I don’t have a lot of downtime. I spend a lot of time with my kids when I’m not working, so whatever they’re doing is what we do. As a parent, a lot of your downtime is just whatever your kids are doing—that’s what your downtime is. I try and combine things that I like with things that I want them to like, like camping, and being outdoors and things like that. I like being home. I like cooking. I’m very domestic. I like cleaning. I was raised with all those kind of traditional values of keeping a home. That’s a lot of what my downtime is, I’d say. Not very exciting, I know.
Paste: I’m a parent too, so my downtime is when I’ll steal an hour at night when everyone’s asleep or something like that. I don’t know if “guilty pleasure” is the right term, but is there something that you like to do that has nothing to do that’s just for you?
Bialik: I like puzzles. I like reading. I do some visual art. I try and draw.
Paste: You’ve been a part of the TV landscape for such a long time. What do you think about the continued trend towards binge-watching? Do you think that the pace at which a show is consumed can help or hurt it?
Bialik: I think it’s funny because my editor at GrokNation has been wanting me to write about this. I’m not really a TV watcher. I have a TV to watch movies on, but I don’t have cable, and I don’t use Netflix to watch things. I’m not a binge person. I’m not a binge eater. I’m not binge-y about sex, drugs, or rock ‘n’ roll. It’s just not my personality type. I couldn’t get all the things done in my life if I watched TV in any amount, and especially in any sort of binge volume. I feel like that’s something for the whippersnappers among us, and I am no longer a whippersnapper
I think what’s also interesting about The Big Bang Theory is this is one of the shows that people still do really want to watch in live time. We’re an old fashioned four-camera sitcom. We film in front of a live studio audience for a reason.
Paste: Do you think it’s a benefit to a character-driven show like yours that viewers get a week to absorb what they’ve seen and appreciate it?
Bialik: Yeah. Look, I’ve watched long movies in my life, so I understand that sometimes there are stories that are told in films that way. I’ve sat through Schindler’s List, and all the Lord of the Rings movies several times, so some stories do need to be told like that. For me, the TV format I like—I was raised on classic sitcoms and I’ve worked on two sitcoms now for many years—so, for me, I like a week in between. I used to watch soap operas with my mom, when I was home in the summers. I understood that that was an everyday thing. Honestly, I think there is a larger issue, which is that we’re living in a culture that’s a celebration of excess in a lot of ways, and I think that’s part of what we’re seeing with this binge-watching. I’ll save the rest of that for my own website to comment on it.
Paste: Are you looking at GrokNation as a business endeavor, or did it come about because you just wanted that creative outlet?
Bialik: I guess it’s both. I had been writing for Kveller for years. I mainly wrote about Jewish parenting. What we noticed is that a lot of the articles I wrote that weren’t about Jewish parenting were getting a lot of play, and so I wanted to start a platform where I had more freedom to write about a larger variety of things. If you look at our site, we actually have no advertising, so there’s no revenue. It’s not a lifestyle/celebrity website where we’re selling products and I’m getting a bit of everything that’s sold. We say we’re a website for people who collect thoughts, and not things. Eventually we will need to have advertising just to keep our business running. Also I’m working on having a large charity component to the website, because that was a lot of my interest, too—that other places were printing my articles and could make a lot of money off of them. I would honestly rather publish it myself, and have that money go to charity.
Paste: I want to return to your upcoming movie, Flight Before Christmas. This is something that you were a producer on and also starred in. How was this experience for you? Was it weird to be the face of a Christmas movie, of all things?
Bialik: I don’t necessarily call it a Christmas movie. It’s not a movie about Christmas. It’s a movie about two people who are getting on a flight at Christmastime. They could have both been Muslim, or both Jewish, or both Christmas celebrators. Obviously it’s a holiday-themed movie, because it’s about the holidays, but I don’t think of it like a Christmas movie. I mean, I’m a Jewish person who doesn’t celebrate Christmas, and I live with Christmas trees for the next two months solid. The movie opens with a lot of the travel conflict many of us find ourselves in, whether we celebrate Christmas or not, in traveling around the holidays. That’s the jumping-off point for the movie. But it’s very sweet.
Paste: Would you say that this is a movie that is appropriate for families, including parents and their present-day “whippersnappers”?
Bialik: Yeah. There’s no nudity. There’s no cursing. There’s none of that. There’s not even sexual innuendo. It’s a very, very sweet movie. And it’s got really good messages.