Jim Parsons on Surreal 2010 Win: ‘What the Hell Was LL Cool J Doing Handing Me an Emmy?’

The “Big Bang Theory” star talks about edging out Alec Baldwin and how Chuck Lorre handled the Sheen debacle

On “Big Bang Theory,” CBS’s top-rated comedy in the wake of Charlie Sheen’s departure from “Two and a Half Men,” Jim Parsons plays Sheldon Cooper, a theoretical physicist so convinced of his intellectual superiority that he often makes his scientist peers tremble — with derisive laughter.

The breakout role earned the 38-year-old an Emmy Award in 2010 for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series, edging out perennial category favorite Alec Baldwin. We spoke with Parsons about his upset last year and how he'll decorate if he wins a second Emmy at the ceremony this September.

You disrupted Alec Baldwins run in the category. Did he try to steal your Emmy after the show?
Oh, god, no. I’ll tell you what — the most fortunate thing that’s ever happened to me in that regard is just having been nominated up against him. He’s so much fun at events like those as far as making fun of the competition part of it. It’s led to this wonderful relationship I have with him now where no matter where I am, I feel so happy to see him and I feel so comfortable walking up to him. He’s really been so graciously welcoming of me to the party, as it were.

How surprised were you to hear your name called?
More surprised than I even thought I would be. I mean, it’s down to six people, so you stand a one-in-six chance of getting up there, and anything felt possible leading up to the moment. But then literally as they began to read off the nominees and open the envelope, I had a moment of what I thought was clarity where I knew it wasn’t me. I don’t know if there’s some sort of negative voice inside of my head or something that a psychoanalyst could help me with, but there really was this feeling of assuredness on my part that it wasn’t me. So, it really whalloped me when he said my name.

[Interview continues after this video of his Emmy acceptance speech.]

You hear the word surreal again and again at these events, and without being up there, I’ve often felt, “Wow, why does everybody use that same word?” Well, I don’t know that there’s a much better word to describe it. After they said my name and I started to walk on stage, I had never personally felt such a disconnect from my body and from the reality of the moment at hand. There is something that felt very disconnected and unreal and therefore surreal about the whole thing. I don’t know — it may have something to do with having grown up with award show after award show being on television. After seeing that so much growing up, I think it’s kind of hard to accept that you’re actually walking up to the stage to pick up a trophy yourself.

LL Cool J was the presenter who handed you the award. Did that up the surreal factor?
You know what? I don’t think that helped with the surreal aspect. I do think that only added to it. I mean, what the hell was LL Cool J doing handing me an Emmy? You know? It’s so absurd.

What was your speech-writing strategy?
I remember very distinctly getting up the morning of the Emmys and running on the treadmill, which I try to do frequently. And I was thinking as I was running, “What is your problem and why haven’t you written anything down?”As the son of a mother who has always said, “What the hell’s wrong with an actor who gets up there and can’t think of anything to say? How embarrassing! And if you ever [win], don’t do that!”I really kind of banged my head thinking, “Why haven’t you taken any action at all?”

What do you think the problem was?
The problem was that I realized that, to figure out what I would like to say, I would have to put myself into that emotional frame of mind of having won. I realized that that’s what had freaked me out about the idea of writing anything down. My point being, does it bother me if I don’t win? No, it doesn’t. So what freaked me out was the idea of getting myself in this frame of mind of having won and wondering if that would hold over to the point where, if I didn’t win, would I somehow look disappointed? Which I never would want. But I realized that I needed to do something, though, or I would embarrass my mother.

I’m sure you’ve been asked this a lot, but where do you keep the Emmy?
It’s on top of my piano. I keep wanting to be somebody who is like, “Screw it!” and it’s a doorstop for my bathroom or something. But I haven’t gotten there yet. Maybe if you are fortunate enough to win more than one of these awards, perhaps you start going, I’ll put one for a doorstop, one for a bookend.

Bookends usually come in twos — so you’ll need another this year.
Right, you have to have two to have bookends. Maybe that’s exactly the point. I could have a doorstop right now but I can’t have bookends. If I’m lucky enough to ever get another one, maybe I will graduate to bookends. But for now it’s got its place of prominence on the piano.

Chuck Lorre produces “Big Bang Theory.” Was there ever a discussion of you taking over Charlie Sheen’s role on “Two and a Half Men”?
No, but I really like that idea. That’s hysterical. Talk about going in a different direction! No, not even a peep. There was very little discussion of this entire event in general on our set. I guess to a certain degree, with 90 percent of the exact same artistic team, it’s hard not to have it at least linger in the air a bit. But I’ll be honest with you — as far as affecting anything work-wise, it just didn’t. I’ve only grown in my respect and regard for Chuck as a producer; he is an absolute master at this. The only reason I bring that up is because through the somewhat tumultuous last few months on the lot at Warner Bros., he managed to excel at being such a professional. The work remained the work and any negativity never bled over into our environment.

Are you going to join in the ritual hazing of Ashton Kutcher?
No, no. It will be fun to see him around — although I don’t know how much I’ll see him. I swear to god, in four years, I’ve hardly seen anybody from that show. It is amazing how everybody’s schedule remains just different enough that you just simply don’t run into each other. I’m also not a smoker, so if I was hanging around outside smoking more often, or maybe if I was more outdoorsy — one doesn’t have to be a smoker to be outdoors, I guess — perhaps I’d see more people.

A running joke on the show is that the last name of Kaley Cuoco’s character, Penny, has yet to be revealed. Care to disclose it here?
We don’t know.

You honestly don’t know? Or is it that you just can’t tell me?
No, we really don’t know. I’ve made suggestions. We all have. But nobody will take one. She really doesn’t have one — unless they’ve been writing one over the summer break. When I left work, Penny had no last name.

We need to come up with one. McGillicuddy?
I think that’s fine. I’ve heard Penny Lane. I suggested Moonves. I thought a shout-out to Les Moonves, the head of CBS, wouldn’t be a bad idea. But nothing has stuck. Our prop master’s last name is London and every once in a while he’ll print “Penny London” on something. But it’s not really her name. He’s just egotistical enough to assign her his last name.