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From Working With Rihanna To Playing God, Jim Parsons Is Having A Divine Moment

04/06/2015 02:01 pm ET | Updated Apr 06, 2015
Barry King via Getty Images

For a few days in May, Jim Parsons will be three distinct things at once: a lovable physics nerd, a lovable alien and a lovable God. The eighth season of "The Big Bang Theory" comes to a close on May 7. Two days before that, Parsons will step onto the Broadway stage to play the Almighty in "An Act of God," which runs for 13 weeks. If you're feeling extra ambitious, make that a triple-header with "Home." Currently in theaters, DreamWorks' animated movie, in which a teenager (voiced by Rihanna) helps Parsons' lonely extraterrestrial, named Oh, adjust to life on Earth, debuted at No. 1 after opening on March 27. That doesn't leave the 42-year-old actor with much blank space on his calendar, but somewhere in there he'll need to squeeze in an Emmy campaign, in hopes of collecting his fifth statue for portraying Sheldon Cooper. HuffPost Entertainment caught up with Parsons in between the avalanche to ask how he balances it all.

Memorizing all the science jargon Sheldon says on "The Big Bang Theory" can't be easy, and now you have all this biblical talk to learn, too. Does it become overwhelming?
It’s a funny thing. I have a couple more episodes to shoot and then in the past month two months I’ve been doing all this press for the animated movie “Home.” Every moment I have a chance to drink coffee in the morning or a moment to read, I’m like, “You should probably run some lines. You should run, you know, the ninth commandment or whatever.” So these weird quotes and these weird phrasings just run through my head -- “thou art” and “thou shalt” and things like that. It’s a weird place where one might need therapy afterwards. It can be tough to deal with the Sheldon stuff, some more than others. I will say the blessing of the television show is that you only have to know it once and you can take a few takes to do it. The frightening part, and the invigorating part, but frightening-before-you-do-it part, of theater is that it’s one night and one night only as far as that crowd witnessing the story that night. But certainly a television show and doing 24 episodes in nine months, you have five days with each one and you’re just never, ever gong to know it at that level that you can know something you’re doing at the theater.

You can probably get by without fully understanding everything Sheldon is saying, but is reading the Bible part of your God preparations?
Well, with the Sheldon stuff -- the science stuff -- the strongest part of my research would be just learning to pronounce things, and secondarily I do always make a passing effort at trying to figure out what the hell this might represent. But there are times that it is literally gibberish to me and I just hope I’m putting my inflection in a place that makes it sound sort of like I know what I’m talking about. The God stuff is actually a lot easier to understand. You may not want to always, but it really seems to be easier. Party because I took a lot more God, if you will, than I took science in my lifetime because I was raised going to church every Sunday. So we don’t touch on anything in this play that is unfamiliar to me. In fact, I think it’s been more about touching on things where I go, “My, I haven’t thought about that in a long time.” Old stories from the Bible come up. So in that way, no. The biggest thing I’ve done so far is make sure I have really strict in my head the precise definitions of “omnipotent,” “omniscient” and “omnipresent” because they come up several times and every once in a while, when I’m running through all these lines, I’m like, “Wait wait wait, which one of the O’s is this?” And it helps to remember exactly what each of those is. I mean, I know what they are, but every once in a while you’re like, “Shit, is it 'omnipresent' or 'omniscient' right now? Hmm.” Context is everything.

On top of that, there are a couple of minor characters, but this is pretty much a one-man show.
Yeah, these angels, frankly, should be talking a lot more than they are. So there.

Do you have a favorite fictional God?
The heavyweight God for me is Morgan Freeman, having a lot to do with that voice. That being said, emotionally the first one I always think of is George Burns. Those movies were playing on TV and on HBO when I was young, so he was really my first God to encounter from Hollywood. And he was such a dear old man, or at least I felt that way when I was watching as a child. I thought, “Thank you, what a lovely God.”

Had you and Rihanna met before working on "Home"?
God, no. We never would have had that chance. I guess I could have gone to a concert, but I don’t know. I don’t know if I even could have worked my way backstage, but no. That didn’t happen, so we didn’t meet until we did the movie.

jim parsons rihanna

Jennifer Lopez has a role in "Home," too, so you were essentially living in pop-star land. Were all three of you in the studio at the same time?
No, it would have exploded. We really weren’t though. Most of the time we had to record alone. I think it’s a lot easier for them to get our recordings alone. I also think, scheduling-wise, they do it that way. But no, we never worked together.

Being your first animated movie, did you find yourself still concocting mannerisms and facial expressions for the character? And do they factor into the actual movie?
They do factor in, but they really were concocted accidentally. It was a very interesting experience to be robbed of certain storytelling abilities like your body and your face. There was a certain point where the animation got more and more precise and particular, and at that point sometimes the character would make eye movements or even when his mouth would open sometimes, I’ve seen myself enough on camera to know, “That’s really, completely me,” and it would be. And I have to tell you, too, that part didn’t freak me out. In fact, I found it very joyful because the hard part was when I was watching preliminary sketches and drawings with my voice. Even actors who hear themselves a lot of the time, I think even for us there’s still the little seed of that first time you hear yourself on the tape recorder and go, “No, that’s not how I sound,” because your voice just doesn’t sound the same. So there was this double whammy of this disembodied voice but embodied through this alien that I really wasn’t comfortable with at first. They would even take lines that I remember recording and not being thrilled with, and they’d say, "Sure, it’s fine." Animators are the best excuse-makers in the world. They take all the rough edges off of everything that I’ve done. It was really delightful. I would jump to do another animated movie. They take a long time and you feel like you’re never going to see the full fruits of the labor, and that is a test of patience, but the process is joyful and the result of kind of heavenly.

There's a cute scene where your character, Oh, starts involuntarily dancing and can't stop. What's a song that you just have to dance to if it comes on?
I don’t really have one because I have enough self-control about these issues. I keep thinking that I should dance more often. Because of the movie, it keeps coming up, but I guess I just don’t dance enough.

What about karaoke?
I’d rather be shot in the heart. My God, it’s one of my least favorite activities on earth. I’d run away.

What’s the last Rihanna song you had stuck in your head?
“Please Don’t Stop the Music.” It’s such a good song.

What’s the last J. Lo song you had stuck in your head?
The one from the movie because I keep hearing it, “Feel the Light.” It’s the song that kind of travels through the whole movie.

jim parsons emmy

Amid all of this, you still have another Emmy season to gear up for. Have you kept up with the category changes, which will affect some of what "The Big Bang Theory" competes against this year?
I heard about it happening. I will say that I think the attempt to -- I don’t even know what you call it -- the attempt to shuffle things around and try to think about what is the best place for certain work to be showcased is a good and necessary thing to put energy into. And I really do speak in that part from personal experience, both in the acting category and in the show category. I felt it very vividly last year when, and it’s been a while now, but in the actor category was me and then William H. Macy from “Shameless” and then Don Cheadle and Louis C.K. If you watch an episode of each of those shows right in a row, you really are going, “Are you kidding me? We’re asking people to compare and contrast these? What?” There will always be a bit of that, though, even in its most infantile stages, back when there were only three channels or whatever. When you’re comparing entertainment things like that, it’s always apples and oranges and carrots and celery. There are so many opportunities for writers and actors on TV right now that it is a cornucopia. It’s like being in a Thanksgiving feast as far as opportunities and choices on television, and that is 100 percent good. But when you’re talking about how to divide up an award show, it is 100 percent tricky. It’s only gotten trickier. So I guess we’ll see with the decisions they’ve already made. I don’t think you know till you do it. It is, though, a very, very good quote-unquote problem to be having.

Right, I think we're on our way to figuring out how to modernize the Emmys, but I wonder if it doesn't make more sense just to split shows by half-hour and hourlong programs?
Oh, that’s interesting. Absolutely. Well, and then do they decide further between cable and network? I don’t know. I hesitate to call it Pandora’s box because it’s an award show -- it’s not war. But it is the messier part of it. Again, it’s a good thing to be in. It’s just not a clean breakdown of what’s going on on the small screen anymore. So I guess if you’re going to continue to have categories, you have to figure out some sort of regulations or dividing lines.

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