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Jim Parsons is learning to like control. For nearly his entire career, the actor best known for a 12-season run starring on The Big Bang Theory has been almost exclusively invested in delivering the best performances possible. Even after one of those massive deals to stay put at the late sitcom birthed a shingle, That’s Wonderful Productions, navigating the off-camera stuff often felt like work better suited to someone else. The company has thrived: The Big Bang spinoff Young Sheldon recently hit 100 episodes, the comedy Call Me Kat has been a rare scripted success at Fox, and Netflix’s Special proved a critical darling. But its latest project, in which Parsons also stars, signals a shift. “Spoiler Alert has changed everything,” he says of the movie, out in theaters Dec. 2 via Focus Features and based on Michael Ausiello’s memoir about losing his partner to cancer. “Something that once made me feel distracted actually informed me as an actor. I’ve realized that I want our company to get to a place where we’re almost solely producing for me.”
Speaking in mid-November from the Manhattan home he shares with his husband and business partner, Todd Spiewak, and having just finished a matinee of the musical A Man of No Importance at Classic Stage Company, Parsons discussed lessons in managing expectations, his unanticipated spate of gay roles and why, at 49, the self-proclaimed late bloomer is “still blooming.”
How soon after The Big Bang Theory ended did you move back to New York?
We did our final performance on a Tuesday night. On Wednesday, we did the handprints and stuff at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Thursday morning, I was on a plane out of L.A.
Increasingly, you’ve also produced the projects you are acting in. Is that by design?
It was kind of the exact opposite. I was not well versed enough in Hollywood machinations to know that, at some point during Big Bang renegotiations, this would be a thing — that part of one new deal was my own production company. For what? I’d only been an actor. I looked at it as a gift, but I remember saying at the time that I didn’t want to develop work for me. I didn’t want to be another actor with a vanity project production company.
What did you learn from those early swings?
We did one movie that I was in, A Kid Like Jake, which was not an encouraging experience. Very difficult. It didn’t have a big budget. I kept thinking, “This is the headache I was afraid it would be.”
Aside from the budget, what was the headache?
We weren’t with a studio, it was independent. And I’m sure I’d feel differently now, but it was just more ragtag than I was comfortable with. I didn’t know where to look for support, and producing and acting at the same time was really challenging. Our production company was a smaller group then. Having six of us on staff has changed things.
In terms of casting, what were your offers immediately after Big Bang and how have they changed since?
I already knew I was doing the movie version of The Boys in the Band with Ryan Murphy. And during that, Ryan asked if I would do Hollywood. I had a few offers, but it wasn’t tons. Nothing seemed to fit or feel like the right thing to do next. Then I got an email asking if I had any interest in doing this play, A Man of No Importance, with John Doyle directing. I’d seen his Sweeney Todd and his Company, which I adored. It’s new to me to have the reason for doing something just be, I want to work with a director.
What other directors could get you to sign up for something?
Mike Mills. I watched a good deal of his work during the pandemic. And I’ve always wanted to work with Paul Thomas Anderson. Maybe I should make some sort of wish list and put it on an altar with a candle next to it.
What did you learn about expectations in making Hollywood? Ryan’s doing incredibly well at Netflix now, but that series didn’t land the way many expected it would.
I’ve always tried to manage my own expectations. Hollywood was an interesting example. It was such a vast machine, with so many characters, that it was hard to get a full grip other than just your scenes. I never had a good idea of exactly what the series was even aiming to be. Then it was released in the pandemic, so everything was at sixes and sevens. Signing on had everything to do with Ryan. He’s a flame, and these creative moths tend to flock to him. I’ve never worked with such a creative team.
What did you glean from your experiences working with Chuck Lorre?
With Chuck, I was always impressed with how rhythmically gifted he is. He brings a lot of things to the work he does, but so much of the success of his sitcoms is that he understands how to keep them moving along musically. They play like a good pop song. They’re worth repeating, and you can dance to them.
Would you ever star in a TV show in that capacity again?
At this point, no. It was a wonderful ride and I never disliked a day of it. But what my spirit has been craving is new people, new experiences. I exercised the muscles of an ensemble that went on for 12 years. Now I want to be surprised.
You’re developing an Andy Warhol project for you to star in. Before you get a green light, do you try on the white wig and look in the mirror?
No, that would scare me off of it. For me, it’s incremental steps. If I’m intrigued, I start reading and talking and looking into it. If I jumped straight to, “Can they make me look like him?,” I’d be like, “Let’s just not.” I don’t know if that’s just the way I work, but, as I’m saying it, I realize that’s how I approach everything. I was a late bloomer in a lot of ways, and that may be reflected in this work method.
When did you bloom?
Oh, still blooming. Just my personality type, I guess. And I think it had everything to do with me figuring out how to take a more aggressive hand in the production company. I admire people who jump in feet first to things, but that has never been me. I think it’s part of the reason I didn’t play sports. I was like, “Wait, hold on. I don’t want to get hit in the face with a ball, for Christ’s sake.” I’m telling you, it’s all related.
What about your work gives you the most satisfaction right now?
It’s the jobs I’ve been doing — The Boys in the Band, that fascinating character in Hollywood, Spoiler Alert and now this play. I’ve portrayed a gay man in all of them. And, not so long ago, I would’ve been like, “Well, isn’t that lovely, to only be offered gay roles.” But these characters have been so rich that I’ve been able to make discoveries and realizations about my personal growth and humanity. I don’t want to sound airy-fairy, but it’s true. It’s all offered me opportunities to explore my place in this world and in this industry. The sensation of growth is what has brought me the most happiness in my work lately.
Speaking of gay characters, I hear you’re going to voice the Hanna-Barbera character Snagglepuss in a new animated series.
Snagglepuss was, for me, probably the first gay totem I had without even knowing it — other than Uncle Arthur on Bewitched reruns. I remember feeling, “Well, you seem familiar to me. Why is that?” (Laughs.) To get to bring an extra layer to Snagglepuss, if we get that chance? Oh yeah.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in the Nov. 30 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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