NERDS RULE

The Big Bang The­ory’s fa­vorite geek takes us back to his be­gin­nings with Young Shel­don.

Chattanooga Times Free Press - Parade - - FRONT PAGE - YOUNG SHEL­DON

THE BIG BANG THE­ORY ’S fa­vorite geek takes us back to his be­gin­nings with

If you’re look­ing for Iain Ar­mitage—the star of the new CBS se­ries Young

Shel­don—just put your ear to the side­walk and lis­ten.

“His fa­vorite things to wear are his tap shoes,” says actor Jim Par­sons, the orig­i­nal Shel­don Cooper on The Big Bang The­ory, who serves as nar­ra­tor and ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of the spinoff, which de­buts Sept. 25. When Ar­mitage and his mom vis­ited New York, Par­sons says she liked “hear­ing” where he was, so “she let him wear tap shoes.” “Not only is he, like, ‘kk-kk-kk-kk, kk-kkkk-kk’ next to me the whole time, he would tap-dance in the mid­dle of the side­walk, some­times in a restau­rant and, very of­ten, fall into the most per­fect splits you’ve ever seen,” Par­sons says. “It al­ways got gasps from peo­ple—as it should! He is in­sanely spe­cial.”

Of course, Ar­mitage, 9, would have to be spe­cial to earn the role of beloved Shel­don Cooper, whom we first met when Par­sons, now 44, de­buted the char­ac­ter in 2007 on

The Big Bang The­ory. Shel­don is a bril­liant the­o­ret­i­cal physi­cist with painfully awk­ward so­cial skills who hangs out with his equally ge­nius—and nerdy—sci­en­tist friends.

The Big Bang The­ory has be­come the No. 1 com­edy show on Amer­i­can tele­vi­sion, and is now headed into its 11th sea­son this fall, hav­ing al­ready been re­newed through 2019 for a 12th.

Flash­back to the ’80s

Young Shel­don will take view­ers back to 1989, when boy-ge­nius Shel­don (Ar­mitage) en­ters his fresh­man year of high school in Galve­ston, Texas, at age 9. In the pi­lot we meet his fam­ily: Mom Mary is played by Zoe Perry, from ABC’s The Fam­ily. Dad Ge­orge is played by Lance Bar­ber, who ap­peared in HBO’s The Come­back and FXX’s It’s Al­ways

Sunny in Philadel­phia. The young prodigy also has a twin sis­ter, Missy (Rae­gan Revord), and an older brother, Ge­orge Jr. (Mon­tana Jor­dan), who’ll join him in the ninth grade. “There’s a qual­ity rem­i­nis­cent of The

Won­der Years or A Christ­mas Story—‘You’ll shoot your eye out,’” says Par­sons. “There are echoes of that.”

The idea for the show be­gan when Par­sons was look­ing at his own life for ideas that might merit a good TV show for his pro­duc­tion com­pany, That’s Won­der­ful Pro­duc­tions. And that’s when he thought of his 11-year-old nephew, Michael— his sis­ter’s old­est child—“who is for sure unique in­so­far as his men­tal ca­pa­bil­ity in our fam­ily,” says Par­sons. He re­calls when Michael asked his par­ents for Wal­mart stock for his birth­day and the time he sug­gested to a man at a fam­ily wed­ding that he read an ar­ti­cle in

Forbes magazine be­fore mak­ing in­vest­ment de­ci­sions.

Par­sons felt that he was on to some­thing with the story of a su­per­s­mart kid from the South and, re­al­iz­ing it was a ma­jor echo of Shel­don, the spinoff idea was born.

Young Shel­don is es­sen­tially an ori­gins story, like ones the char­ac­ters on The Big Bang

The­ory love so much—like the ori­gins of Bat­man, the ori­gins of Su­per­man, Par­sons says. “You know, this re­ally is the story of the ori­gins of—in his own weird way—a su­per­hero.”

They just needed that right lit­tle su­per­star to play their young su­per­hero. And they found him in Ar­mitage, who al­ready has plenty of cred­its along­side Hol­ly­wood heavy hit­ters. He played Ziggy, the son of Shai­lene Wood­ley’s char­ac­ter, in the HBO hit Big

Lit­tle Lies. He was “younger brother” Brian in this sum­mer’s movie The Glass Cas­tle along­side Naomi Watts and Woody Har­rel­son. And in the up­com­ing Net­flix fea­ture

Our Souls at Night, he plays the grand­son of Jane Fonda’s char­ac­ter.

Young Iain

Ar­mitage was born in Ar­ling­ton, Va., to the­ater pro­ducer mom Lee Ar­mitage and Scot­land-born dad Euan Mor­ton, an actor who earned a Tony nom­i­na­tion for his role as

Boy Ge­orge in Taboo on Broad­way in 2004. He was taken to so many the­ater pro­duc­tions as a child, he be­gan re­view­ing them on cam­era for his own YouTube chan­nel, IainLovesTheatre.

Be­sides the­ater, Ar­mitage has a long list of hob­bies. “I’m a ma­gi­cian. I do mind read­ing, I do card tricks, all kinds of things,” says the home-schooled third-grader. And of course, he loves to tap-dance.

Al­though young Shel­don is “way smarter” than him, and much less so­cial, Ar­mitage says he could re­late to the char­ac­ter in other ways. “We both like sci­ence; he’s a very good friend; I like trains, he likes trains,” he says. And he loves that with Shel­don, “I get to learn a bunch of new sci­ence and math and cool big words: ba­nal, di­aphanous, sal­mo­nella. Those sort of words.” And he can now re­cite the for­mula for how lin­ear ki­netic en­ergy works.

When it came time for Ar­mitage to pre­pare for the part, there was one hitch: He couldn’t ac­tu­ally watch Shel­don on The Big Bang

The­ory! “Well . . . you see, the show’s not quite ap­pro­pri­ate for me,” he says. But he did view as many “ap­proved” clips as he could and had con­ver­sa­tions with Par­sons—whom he calls “Mr. Jim”—about the role. The pair also bonded while at­tend­ing a num­ber of the­ater shows in New York to­gether. “He’s a very kind man. I like ev­ery­thing about him,” says Ar­mitage of Par­sons. “He’s just so awe­some.”

Young Jim

As for Par­sons’ years grow­ing up as “Young Jim,” he in­sists he was no Shel­don. He hails from Texas—Houston—but says that’s about where the sim­i­lar­i­ties end. Par­sons’ dad, Mil­ton, was pres­i­dent of a plumb­ing sup­ply com­pany, and his mom, Judy Ann, was a first­grade teacher.

“Oh gosh, I wasn’t ill-be­haved in any way,” Par­sons says of his younger years. He liked play­ing the pi­ano, didn’t like sports and loved talk­ing to adults. “I re­mem­ber en­joy­ing con­ver­sa­tions with adults be­cause they knew things that I was cu­ri­ous about.”

Par­sons caught the act­ing bug in high school, dove into the­ater at the Univer­sity of Houston and earned his master’s in clas­si­cal the­ater from the Univer­sity of San Diego. He moved to New York City to try his hand at act­ing in 2001. By 2004, he was per­form­ing off-Broad­way and had roles in the film Gar­den

State and the TV se­ries Judg­ing Amy, fol­lowed by the 2006 movie School for Scoundrels. Then came The Big Bang The­ory, for which he has al­ready won four Em­mys.

And now, he’s work­ing on build­ing his pro­duc­tion com­pany along with graphic de­signer Todd Spiewak, whom he mar­ried last May af­ter be­ing to­gether for nearly 15 years. Despite his many years of ex­pe­ri­ence, Par­sons says that step­ping onto the set and ob­serv­ing Ar­mitage’s cu­rios­ity and joy in his world “kind of serves as a re-tak­ing of Act­ing 101.

“For me, watch­ing Iain work, be­ing around him, go­ing to see Broad­way shows with him while we were both in New York, re­minds me of all the won­der­ful things that are right in front of us,” Par­sons says.

As for young Shel­don, he’s ea­ger to play the role Mr. Jim has laid out so well be­fore him. “I have some big shoes to fill,” Ar­mitage says, “and I can’t all the way fill them, but I hope I can do my best.” And he might just add some taps to the bot­tom of those shoes while he’s at it.

Iain Ar­mitage & Jim Par­sons

Meet the Coop­ers: “fa­ther” Lance Bar­ber and “mother” Zoe Perry with their Young Shel­don “kids,” Rae­gan Revord, Iain Ar­mitage and Mon­tana Jor­dan

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