CBS’ The Big Bang Theory pulled off quite the impossible: A surprise guest star.
In an era where spoilers are increasingly hard to avoid, TV’s No. 1 comedy surprised millions of diehard fans by bringing in Oscar winner and Emmy nominee Billy Bob Thornton for a guest gig as Penny’s suitor.
During the episode, Thornton’s Dr. Oliver Lorvis came calling to his favorite pharmaceutical rep: Penny (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting). While Leonard (Johnny Galecki) took issue with the fact that his bride-to-be hides her engagement ring in a bid to boost sales, Lorvis winds up having more in common with all the guys than anyone could have imagined. (As in he lives with his mother and has a collection of sci-fi memorabilia that makes everyone’s head spin.)
The Hollywood Reporter caught up showrunner Steve Molaro to get the story behind Thornton’s gig and what’s next now that the series has returned from its Monday perch to its regular Thursday slot.
How did Billy’s casting come together?
We had seen Billy Bob in a red-carpet interview talking about shows he likes to watch and that he loves Big Bang Theory and that he’s really getting into the characters and finds himself sitting at home yelling at Sheldon through the TV to give Amy a break because “she’s just trying.” We thought it was so cool that he liked the show so much and we had it in the back of our head that if we could come up with something good for him, he’d be up for doing it. The idea that came up of Penny taking her engagement ring off while she’s working had been floating around for a while. We thought, what if Billy is this socially awkward, sympathetic doctor who doesn’t quite know how to process Penny’s flirtations with him. We had that basic idea and went to Billy and his people ran it by them. Billy was on the phone and he thought it was a really fun idea and was into it. That’s how it began.
He’s a huge fan of the show and pitched a story line that he wanted to be a guy who stole Penny away. Did you talk about that at all?
It did come up a little bit but he basically got to try to!
How did you keep this a secret? Were his scenes filmed without a studio audience?
No, we shot it with the audience. We knew that as far as the promos go, they were going to keep a lid on it but we figured we couldn’t control these 200 people in the [taping] audience, it’s probably going to get out somehow. But people managed to keep a lid on it long enough that it was a genuine surprise for a lot of people. I’m glad it worked out that way. The response seems to be overwhelmingly positive.
Was this always the plan to make a bang for your Thursday return?
We had thought, yes, when we make move back to Thursdays we should have a couple of really big, fun episodes to generate excitement to go with that. This was certainly one of them. And there’s next week’s as well, which I’m crazy excited about.
Lorvis really hit it off with the guys, is there an opportunity for him to return?
We would love to have him back. Obviously, he’s a busy guy but he’s told us he had a wonderful time. The cast, crew and writers, we all fell in love with that guy. He was a delight. It was the most fun, magical week having him around. We did tape night and the next morning at the table read we were all a little sad that Billy Bob wasn’t there anymore. We really enjoyed having him around. It was a great week.
Will Penny’s experience with Lorvis impact her at all going forward?
Maybe she’ll find a way to use her techniques to find a way to avoid having doctors show up at her door with flowers in the future (laughs).
On the geekier side, where did all of Lorvis’ memorabilia come from? Were those replicas or the real thing?
I was told that a lot them were real because [studio] Warner Bros. was helping us out. Batman’s cowl was from the movie. I heard the Superman suit was real. The Mr. Freeze costume, I believe, was real. There were quite a few things that were legit. I’m not sure about the Terminator.
Next week is a prom-themed episode. With prom comes a certain expectation — how will Sheldon navigate that?
Sheldon (Jim Parsons) is feeling the pressures of losing his virginity on prom night, which is a thing that some people end up doing. I don’t want to give too much away but I will say that a major move forward in the Sheldon-Amy relationship occurs.
The Big Bang Theory airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on CBS.