Bigbang fame game

Im­pres­sively ur­bane and end­lessly po­lite, Jim Par­sons isn’t a bit wor­ried about be­ing con­fused with a cer­tain bazinga physi­cist, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM - DON­ALD CLARKE

Worse things can hap­pen to a chap than be­com­ing part of a hit TV show. But that sort of ex­po­sure can cre­ate an im­age that can be hard to shift. When pun­ters wel­comed JR into their own homes for more than a decade, for ex­am­ple, it be­came hard to ac­com­mo­date the no­tion of a be­nign Larry Hag­man.

Jim Par­sons, a 41-year-old Texan in a neat suit, is not re­ally Shel­don Cooper, the anal young physi­cist he plays in hit sit­com The Big

Bang The­ory, but I’m will­ing to bet fans oc­ca­sion­ally make just that er­ror. Am I be­ing un­fair to the en­thu­si­asts?

“It’s hard to say. I never feel that they think I’m go­ing to be a ge­nius or a sci­en­tist,” he says. “But I do think that they are un­cer­tain how un­ap­proach­able I am go­ing to be. I am quite the op­po­site of un­ap­proach­able. When I moved to New York I had to steel my­self to be a lit­tle less wel­com­ing. But how could they know that?”

Par­sons is, in­deed, a friendly fel­low, though not in a back-slap­ping, deep-chor­tle sort of fash­ion. Im­pres­sively ur­bane, end­lessly well-man­nered, sur­pris­ingly se­ri­ous, Par­sons comes across like a bet­ter-dressed cre­ative writ­ing teacher at an Ivy League uni­ver­sity. Who bet­ter to voice a de­ranged alien op­po­site Ri­hanna’s perky hero­ine in this week’s charm­ing an­i­ma­tion Home?

“Oh, I found that heaven,” he says. “I re­ally did. It was kind of the ul­ti­mate in cre­ativ­ity in a way I didn’t see com­ing. There is a level of play­time I hadn’t en­joyed since I was a child.”

Par­sons is a keen an­a­lyst of the dy­nam­ics of fame. We meet at Clar­idge’s Ho­tel in Lon­don on a crisp late-win­ter af­ter­noon. Such is the pop­u­lar­ity of The Big Bang

The­ory – which finds Shel­don living with Johnny Galecki’s more so­cially adroit sci­en­tist – that there is barely a street where he’s not recog­nised. In Lon­don or New York, how­ever, it is, ap­par­ently, usu­ally tourists who shout catch-phrases at him; the na­tives are too cool. Th­ese in­cur­sions on pri­vacy must be frus­trat­ing.

“I was very for­tu­nate be­cause I was in my early 30s when all this started,” he says. “I had a life out­side this. I got to do so much living. So, when I was young, I was able to fig­ure out all the usual things in peace. I fig­ured out I was gay. I am so glad I wasn’t a child star and then had to fig­ure out my sex­u­al­ity in front of the world. It’s a lit­tle dif­fer­ent now. But that would still be dif­fi­cult.”

Of­fi­cially straight

He raises an in­ter­est­ing point. We can all name prom­i­nent ac­tors who, though of­fi­cially straight, we sus­pect to be gay. But the at­mos­phere is chang­ing. In the af­ter­math of The Big Bang

The­ory’s suc­cess, few out­lets both­ered to com­ment on Par­sons’s sex­u­al­ity. Those that did took a mat­ter-of-fact tone. Things would have been dif­fer­ent 10 years ago.

“I see no doubt about it. Just think about the tu­mult that Ellen DeGeneres en­coun­tered. So much has hap­pened. You think: that’s quite a while ago. But it re­ally wasn’t. I can think of few ex­am­ples of so­cial change that hap­pened at that pace. Ten years ago I never con­sid­ered the no­tion of mar­riage. That’s partly to do with who I am. But it wasn’t even on the ta­ble.”

Par­sons is not wrong about the rate of so­cial change in this area. He lis­tens pa­tiently as I talk him through the com­pli­ca­tions con­cern­ing our own up­com­ing ref­er­en­dum on same-sex mar­riage (I think he’d like you to vote yes) and raises a sur­prised eye when I point out that, just 20 years, a plebiscite to bring in di­vorce very nearly failed.

“What? What was that about? Re­ally? Re­ally?”

Asperger stereo­type

The Big Bang The­ory has at­tracted some con­tro­versy for its pre­sen­ta­tion of Shel­don as an uptight in­di­vid­ual with traces of Asperger syn­drome. Par­sons has gone among physi­cists and has found them very sup­port­ive of the show. It is, how­ever, hard to deny that cer­tain stereo­types are be­ing en­ter­tained.

“It’s a dif­fi­cult ques­tion,” he says. “Very early on I was asked by a re­porter whether Shel­don had Asperger’s. I wasn’t sure what that meant. I asked the writ­ers and they said no. He has As­berger traits. But their say­ing that took away a so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

‘RI­HANNA IS WARMTH’

“I got one good ses­sion with her where we voiced a pair of scenes. It was ex­tremely in­for­ma­tive. She has her own way of do­ing things, as do I. And what was nice about it was that we had this Yin and Yang of en­ergy and forces. She’s got a real smooth­ness about her: in her mu­sic and her per­son­age. The sound of my en­ergy is more like an EKG mon­i­tor. Haha. But the mix of the mis good. She is warmth.”

At any rate, those oc­ca­sional nig­gles have not stopped the show from be­com­ing a gen­uine rat­ings sen­sa­tion since de­but­ing in 2008. Sea­son one drew a per­fectly de­cent av­er­age of 9.6 mil­lion US view­ers. The last sea­son hit a strato­spheric 20.4 mil­lion.

Par­sons is wisely not giv­ing any firm clues as to when the show might end, but he reck­ons we will see an­other two sea­sons at least. The fa­nat­i­cal gaze of the dig­i­tal eye will be on him through­out.

“I have kept my­self shut off from the in­ter­net stuff,” he says cau­tiously. “Mainly be­cause the per­sonal con­nec­tions with fans has al­ways been so pos­i­tive. I do have an Instagram ac­count. I’ve al­lowed my­self that.”

I think Jim Par­sons will be fine. He­has the clear eye and the con­fi­dent tim­bre of an artist who in­tends to hang around a while. Home is on gen­eral re­lease and is re­viewed on

When I was young, I was able to fig­ure out the usual things in peace. I fig­ured out I was gay. I am so glad I wasn’t a child star and then had to fig­ure out my sex­u­al­ity in front of the world

HOME ★★★

Di­rected by Tim John­son. Voices of Jim Par­sons, Ri­hanna, Steve Martin, Jen­nifer Lopez, Matt Jones. G cert, gen re­lease, 93 min We are all in­di­vid­u­als. Well. I’m not, ob­vi­ously. But you get the idea.

The only 2015 re­lease from Dream Works An­i­ma­tion is a cu­ri­ous anom­aly. Adapted from Adam Rex’s novel The True Mean­ing of Smek­day, Home has an orig­i­nal, con­vinc­ingly satir­i­cal con­cept at its heart, but much of the ex­e­cu­tion feels overly familiar. The cute in­vad­ing aliens will re­mind many of less amus­ing Min­ions. The cen­tral re­la­tion­ship is very to sim­i­lar to that be­tween El­liot and ET. The trick, per­haps, is to shut out those mem­o­ries and pre­tend you recog­nise noth­ing in near-vi­sion.

Home imag­ines an in­va­sion by an unyield­ing drone-like alien species named the Boov. Flee­ing the more su­per­fi­cially fear­some Gorg, th­ese beasts clear hu­mans from the cities and despatch them (those who aren’t al­ready Aus­tralian, any­way) to Australia.

The sole in­di­vid­u­al­ist in the alien race, an ami­able boob named Oh, accidentally sends our planet’s co­or­di­nates to the Gorg and is forced into ex­ile. He bumps into Tip, a spir­ited teenager, and they set out on a road trip across and above the de­serted planet.

Ad­dicted to com­mu­ni­ca­tion de­vices, un­will­ing to connect on a phys­i­cal level, the Boov are, of course, us at our most anti-so­cial and wired in. ( Home is among those rare fam­ily films that in­te­grates the in­ter­net seam­lessly into the ac­tion.) Im­pres­sively sharp points are made about our in­creas­ing emo­tional cool­ness as Oh and Tip squab­ble their way to a con­nec­tion.

Su­perb voice­work from Jim Par­sons (weird in his pre­ci­sion) and Ri­hanna (sooth­ingly warm through­out) help flesh out the re­la­tion­ship. What a shame, then, that the an­i­ma­tion is so worka­day and the fi­nal de­noue­ment so damply familiar.

Home is not to be be­grudged the large au­di­ence that, re­leased in the penum­bra of the Easter break, it will al­most cer­tainly kick up. One just wishes that a few more risks had been taken with such promis­ing ma­te­rial.

So­cial science Jim Par­sons, “quite the op­po­site of un­ap­proach­able”

Oh (Jim Par­sons) and Tip (Ri­hanna) in Home

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