What if, as a grown-up, you could confront your younger self? What would you say? That’s the challenge facing TV producers Chuck Lorre and Steven Molaro as they try to spin their new sitcom, “Young Sheldon,” into gold.
Authors of the super-nova “The Big Bang Theory,” Lorre and Molaro are regressing to 1989 and visiting their popular “Big Bang” character, Sheldon Cooper, before he was an annoying brainiac. Their new comedy, with a special premiere on CBS Sept. 25, stars young Iain Armitage as the 9-year-old Sheldon.
Jim Parsons, who plays Sheldon on the original show, is an executive producer of the new take and provides a voice-over narration. He tells the young Iain that he has much more in common with the boy now than he would have as a kid.
“Here’s the difference. You have a very smart, mature approach to this,” he says to Iain. “I was much more fearful of other people than you were. You will talk to anyone. I still won’t, no offense, but I really won’t. I don’t know. But I would say in those ways, and in many ways I felt … I had a great time as a child. I really did. But those are some of the ways in which I was just slightly different … ”
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Parsons insists he was no Einstein in school either. “I was not an overly bright child. I was mediocre, and I didn’t befuddle my parents. That came much later, with my sexuality,” he says.
Lorre and Molaro have been thinking about a young Sheldon spin-off for 10 years. “The origins of Sheldon have been something we’ve been interested in writing about for a couple-hundred episodes of ‘The Big Bang,’ says Lorre, who also created “Two and a Half Men,” “Mom,” “Dharma & Greg.”
“And so last fall, when Jim sent me an email discussing the possibility of actually taking it a step further, it just seemed like the greatest idea in the world. And so I called Steve, and he thought it was a great idea.”
Casting the role of the young Sheldon was a critical element, say the producers. Young Iain recalls it was Christmas time and he was visiting his grandmother in Georgia when his family heard about the tryouts. His mother shot an audition video of him on her iPhone and sent it to a couple of casting directors.
“I’ve been working with (casting directors) Nikki Valco and Ken Miller for over 20 years, and they’re astonishing,” reports Lorre. “They brought Jim to read for ‘The Big Bang Theory’ 11 years ago. And one of the first things they did when we wrote the script was actually, even before we wrote the script, we wrote some test sides (dialogue). And they sent us a video, a home video, (of Iain).”
“He made us laugh,” recalls Molaro. “We laughed. We looked at it and went, ‘Oh, my God. We can’t possibly be this lucky.’ He was just spectacular,” says Lorre.
In another bit of fortuitous casting, young Sheldon’s mother is played by Zoe Perry. Perry is actually the daughter of Laurie Metcalfe, the actress who plays the grown-up Sheldon’s Bible-thumping mother on “The Big Bang Theory.”
Perry confesses to similarities between her and her mom. “Genetics do a lot for me. This is my voice. Certain mannerisms just come with the territory,” she says. “I mean, upon knowing I was going to audition for this, I re-watched all the episodes that she was in, because I just wanted to be sure that I was in the same ballpark as her.”
“When she came in to read for the part of Mary, again, we were flabbergasted,” says Lorre. “It was like, ‘This can’t be. This is beyond good luck to have an actress who is of this caliber and has clearly mastered her craft but also has the sensibilities that we’ve come to see Laurie do for years on “Big Bang.”’ So it was a tremendous piece of good luck for the show.”
In the new series the young Sheldon – while very bright – hasn’t yet developed the social ineptitude that the older Sheldon displays.
“Part of the fun of writing the series was not just to watch how Sheldon develops, but to see how his family has to adapt,” says Lorre. “Everybody in the family is affected by having a child who is remarkable, and they all have to adapt, and their lives have to change in order to accommodate him. And that was interesting for us to write about. We touched on it a little bit in the pilot, but it’s something we are going to do more of.”
After the Sept. 25 premiere, “Young Sheldon” will fall into its regular timeslot on Nov. 2 following - what else? – “The Big Bang Theory.”