Can you imagine a version of The Big Bang Theory where Leonard was played by someone other than Johnny Galecki?
The new book The Big Bang Theory: The Definitive, Inside Story of the Epic Hit Series by Jessica Radloff (order it here) not only reveals the four well-known actresses who read for Penny, but the former child star who met with producers about playing Dr. Hofstadter. It’s among more than a dozen casting secrets exposed in the 500-page oral history — from the eventual series regular who was forced to forfeit the part of Howard, to the music icon who was approached about bringing Howard’s absentee father to the screen.
The tell-all also discloses which character was almost recast after the 2007 pilot, which cast member thought they’d have to quit ahead of Season 5, and the role that could’ve gone to Big Bang superfan Selena Gomez if only she’d had the time. Scroll down for all those answers and more, then hit the comments and tell us which of the book’s many revelations took you most by surprise.
PENNY WAS ALMOST A ROBOT
While at work on the original pilot script, series co-creator Chuck Lorre considered making Penny an actual robot. “There was a moment where I thought perhaps the female character was an android that the guys built,” he reveals. “We wrote a test scene and had a couple actors read the scene for us. And they were halfway through the scene when I went, ‘Never mind.'”
MACAULAY CULKIN WAS APPROACHED FOR LEONARD
Before Galecki was cast as Sheldon’s extremely patient roommate, the producers pursued the former Home Alone star. “There’s a special ethereal quality to that actor that I thought might be great,” Lorre says in the book. Adds fellow co-creator Bill Prady: “We had a terrific meeting with Macaulay… and then we heard that he had decided he wasn’t interested.”
Bonus Fun Fact: Kevin Sussman, who would go on to play comic book store owner Stuart, was also up for the role of Leonard in the original 2006 pilot, as was John Ross Bowie (aka Barry Kripke), who came in to read not once, but twice.
SUSSMAN WAS CAST AS HOWARD
When the pilot was retooled the following year, the creators wrote the part of Howard for Sussman. “As soon as I was done reading for Wolowitz, [director] James Burrows said, ‘Okay, yeah,'” Sussman recalls. “And then I got a call saying I had booked it.” But at the time, Sussman was playing boyfriend to America Ferrera on Ugly Betty, and ABC refused to let him out of his contract. As a result, the role of Howard went to Simon Helberg.
RAJ WAS ORIGINALLY DAVE
When the part of Koothrappali was first conceived, the character was named Dave Koothrappali. He was to be “American-born to immigrant Indian parents,” according to the casting breakdown. “But when Kunal [Nayyar] came in and we heard his accent, we said, ‘Let’s say that he’s Indian-born,'” Prady recalls. Nayyar was then asked to pick a new moniker. “He picked his first name because India has a lot of regions and ethnic groups, and we wanted to make sure that the last name and first name went together. Koothrappali is a Southern Indian name, and so he picked ‘Rajesh.'”
NAYYAR WAS FIRED, QUICKLY REHIRED
Nayyar learned that Big Bang was ordered to series via our sister site Deadline. “No one had called to tell me,” he says. The following morning, Galecki, Jim Parsons, Kaley Cuoco and Helberg were flown to New York for CBS’ annual fall Upfront presentation; Nayyar was not invited. As Lorre tells it, “While I was flying across the country, a CBS executive determined — unilaterally — that Kunal wasn’t right for the role [of Raj] and we would recast that part. Well, I did not respond well,” he says. “I was furious… I called the execs at CBS and said, ‘You can’t fire him. I cast him, I believe in him, I’ll take responsibility for this decision. He’s my guy.'” And Nayyar proved him right.
KATE MICUCCI READ FOR AMY
Raj’s love interest almost wound up with Sheldon. Prior to playing Lucy in Season 6, Micucci auditioned for Amy Farrah Fowler. “[She] auditioned before Mayim, and we thought she was terrific and really funny,” executive producer Steve Molaro says. “And then Mayim came in, and aside from being awesome as well, Chuck loved that she actually had a PhD in neuroscience. It could have gone either way… but because Mayim could bring the authenticity to the science and to the intelligence of the character, Chuck was like, ‘I think that’s so cool. Let’s go with her.'”
CUOCO USED A BODY DOUBLE...
… but only once! After sustaining a broken leg early in Season 4, Cuoco had no choice but to rely on a stand in during the episode “The Boyfriend Complexity,” which introduced Keith Carradine as Penny’s dad Wyatt. “There’s a scene where I [walk] from the living room to my bedroom,” Cuoco says. “Expect that is not me walking to my bedroom… if you look closely, you can tell.” She also points out that “in all the [other] scenes in that episode, if you pay close attention, I’m not moving.”
GALECKI THOUGHT HE'D HAVE TO LEAVE SHOW
In between Seasons 4 and 5, Galecki was convinced he’d had a stroke. “I was at my sister’s house… and kept getting teary out of my right eye,” the Emmy-nominated actor recalls. “I took allergy medicine and when I woke up, I was still teary, but this time I was also drooling and one side of my face was entirely drooping…. As we were on our way to the hospital, I called Chuck and told him I was paralyzed on my right side. I said, ‘I’m going to help you recast my role, and I would love if you would also consider me for a staff writing position on the show.’ And of course Chuck calls all the best doctors in the world and looks into things and says, ‘It sounds like you have Bell’s palsy,'” and he was right. Galecki would ultimately recover.
SELENA GOMEZ WAS ALMOST A FOWLER
After the Only Murders in the Building star mentioned that she was a fan on Instagram, the producers approached her team “a couple of times,” Molaro reveals. Prior to establishing that Amy’s parents were still together, “I had kicked around an idea that Amy had been complaining about her awful stepsister,” who would turn out to be “beautiful and great and everyone loves her.” But alas, “it never worked out due to scheduling.”
PRODUCERS WANTED RINGO STARR AS HOWARD'S DAD
The Powers That Be wanted none other than Ringo Starr to play Howard’s absentee parent. “It was a fun conversation based on Simon’s haircut and physical appearance,” Lorre says. “You could buy the genetic link to Richard Starkey…. We pursued it to the point where we got a solid no [from Starr’s team].” After that, producers decided against introducing Mr. Wolowitz.
MRS. WOLOWITZ WAS PLAYED BY A MAN
While the late Carol Ann Susi gave voice to Debbie, it was Olaf, the show’s security guard, who appeared as Mrs. Wolowitz on screen. “Yep, that was Olaf in a dress [in Season 6’s “The Spoiler Alert Segmentation],” Molaro confirms — and according to director Mark Cendrowski, any other time you saw Mrs. Wolowitz’s silhouette it was Olaf.
Bonus Fun Fact: After Susi’s passing midway through Season 8, Galecki and Molaro put a picture of Susi on Sheldon and Leonard’s refrigerator, which remained for the duration of the series’ run. That same picture was framed in Howard and Bernadette’s living room prior to the house remodel.
HARRISON FORD SAID NO TO STAR WARS EPISODE
The memorable Season 7 episode “The Convention Conundrum” featured cameos by James Earl Jones (Darth Vader) and Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), but not Ford (Han Solo). “We would have loved Harrison Ford, but that never got any traction,” casting director Nikki Valko says. “He just was not open to it.”
SANDRA BULLOCK TURNED DOWN A DATE WITH RAJ
In the 2019 series finale, Sarah Michelle Gellar accompanied Raj to Sheldon and Amy’s Nobel Prize ceremony. But before the producers approached TV’s erstwhile Buffy the Vampire Slayer, they first reached out to Raj’s beloved Sandy B.
“Sandra Bullock was actually our first go-to because of Koothrappali’s long love of her,” exec producer Steve Holland confirms. “We were really excited about it, but we got a polite decline because she was shooting a movie and wasn’t available. But we were very excited Sarah was available to come on.”