Just like that, The Big Bang Theory‘s Penny let her heart tumble out onto her waitress uniform’s sleeve, blurting those three never-little words to Leonard. And the moment just so happened to occur during the CBS hitcom’s most-watched episode ever.
TVLine invited Kaley Cuoco to share the inside story on the shooting of the scene — including whether Penny’s almost-tears were her own. Also: What’s next for Penny and Leonard, and how might a third party prompt a certain blonde beauty to “go all in” with her geek guy?
TVLINE | So, let’s talk about that scene. Had you gotten a heads-up that this moment was coming? Or did you stumble across it in the script the same way the words stumbled out of Penny’s mouth?
I knew that [executive producer Steven] Molaro and the writers had been toying with the idea. Johnny [Galecki] is always trying to get info about what’s the next episode and during one day of shooting, Molaro said something like, “We’re trying to figure out how Penny’s going to say, ‘I love you.’” Weeks later, when we saw the script and did a table read, I thought, “Oh my God,” it was such a well-written scene. Then, on the shoot night, we actually did that in one take. Johnny and I were actually talking about it yesterday, how we literally felt like Leonard and Penny in that hallway. We didn’t even think there was an audience there, that’s how dead silent it was. It just was so perfect, Steve and Chuck [Lorre] came out and said, “We’re going to move on. We don’t want to touch that.”
TVLINE | Your eyes looked a little glassy in the moment. Were you on the cusp of welling up?
Completely. I cried at the table read. I cried in the rehearsal. I cried in run-throughs. That’s why I had to take such a long beat, because I thought, “If I close my eyes, tears are just going to come streaming down my face,” and I wanted it to look more pent-up. I thought, “Oh, they’ll tighten that [in editing],” but they left it all in there. I guess they liked it.
TVLINE | Did the “I love you,” as written and directed, reflect at all how you imagined these three words would one day come out?
It made perfect sense that she would blurt them out and not even realize it. And you saw the vulnerability at the same time. I feel like Penny’s got just as many issues as Leonard, in different ways, and this has obviously been very difficult for her, so I loved that it came out without her knowing. It shows that she meant it. It was really the first time I felt like I was actually in that moment, that I was talking to Leonard — as cheesy as that sounds. It’s been an amazing and crazy road, almost six years up to that point, so it’s just such a cool moment.
TVLINE | Have you, Kaley, ever said “I love you” to a guy for the first time in such an adorable way?
I’ve said “I love you” too many times. [Laughs] I need to stop. I am…oh, my God, I fall hard. It’s the opposite of what Penny does, so I definitely am not afraid to say those three words.
TVLINE | Is Penny going to be at all different starting this Thursday? Maybe a little sheepish around Leonard, knowing that she has said this?
I can safely say, because we’ve shot a few since then, no. What I love about the show is they’ll do some kind of Earth-shattering scene, and then we kind of don’t mention it again for a while. You kind of let it settle, and then it comes back full circle. There’s not going to be any weirdness.
TVLINE | Because Leonard’s mid-coitus marriage proposal came back up pretty quickly.
That is always going to get made fun of.
TVLINE | Sheldon’s assistant Alex has taken a shine to Leonard. Will she be any kind of a hurdle?
Actually, what we’re shooting this week has a lot to do with that storyline and her kind of being a little too flirty, and Penny feeling completely insecure about her relationship with Leonard — which is a good change, because Leonard’s always the one feeling insecure.
TVLINE | Is Penny feeling like she wants more now that she has made this declaration?
The thing is, I never know where they’re going with her. Some weeks, I feel like, yes, she’s totally all in. And I think she’s also trying not to bring up the fact that she said “I love you,” because she knows so Leonard so well. You give him an inch, and he takes a mile.
TVLINE | Big Bang drew record numbers last time out. Has anyone sat you guys down and explained the math behind this? How a show in its sixth year is pulling that off?
I don’t need to be sat down to understand. There’s no understanding. I’ve been [acting] for a long time, and we all know that years in, series either plateau, or they keep a great audience. Getting bigger just doesn’t happen. A handful of shows in the past have been able to do that, but it’s very rare, and every Friday morning, we’re still stunned. It still blows our mind, and it’s such a blessing. I guess that’s credit to our writers. It’s not easy to continue to serve up a hilarious script week after week after week, and they just have been…. I feel like this show is better than it ever has been.
TVLINE | How does it feel for you, as a young actress, to know that regardless of whatever else happens with your career, you’ve been on one of the most successful sitcoms of all time?
Again, I feel so proud to be part of something so special — and I feel that we were special from the pilot. I remember one of the first things we shot, when Leonard and Sheldon get introduced to me at the door, and we all say hello 27 times. I remember going, “How is this going to work?” And after we shot that scene, seeing all the chemistry we had, I truly thought we had something special, and I feel that way to this day. This is something that has changed my life forever.
TVLINE | You’re hosting the People’s Choice Awards again (on CBS, Jan. 19). Any lessons learned from your first time around?
I was just honored and completely shocked when they asked me to do it again. I thought they had the wrong number, like, “Are you sure…?” But it comes very naturally to me and I like being in that sort of arena, so I’m excited. We’ve thought of some really funny skits.
TVLINE | Is there anything else you want to talk about? Do you have any movies in the pipeline or…?
I think, most importantly, we should talk up the 20 million hits we got with our [“Call Me Maybe”] flash mob. I think that’s the most important thing, don’t you?
TVLINE | That was directed by your sister Bri, right?
Yeah, she choreographed it. Honestly, a year ago, when I said I wanted to do a flash mob, I told the guys at work, “I’m telling you, we’d get 20 million hits” — and they all laughed in my face. Now, because we’ve gotten 20 million hits, I’m just dying. It’s awesome.