Geek Out

08.30.12

Mayim Bialik On Her First Emmy Nomination, for ‘The Big Bang Theory’

A scientist who loves playing one on television, the ‘Blossom’ star is nominated for her first Emmy for her supporting role in the CBS hit ‘The Big Bang Theory.’ Bialik talks to The Daily Beast about how the industry has changed, her family life—and the hand injury that’s keeping her character away from the harp.

Last season on The Big Bang Theory, Amy Farrah Fowler got her tiara. It was a fan-favorite moment, as the idiosyncratic neurobiologist briefly lost her very controlled mind and blissfully exclaimed, “I’m a princess and this is my tiara!”

The question now is whether actress Mayim Bialik, who plays her, will get to do the same kind of happy dance when the Emmys are handed out on Sept. 23. Bialik, who starred in her own show, Blossom, at the age of 14, has earned her first Emmy nomination for her comedic supporting role on The Big Bang Theory, the CBS hit nominated for outstanding comedy for the second time.

“To be loved by fans is so important but to finally get critical acknowledgement is a very big deal for all of us,” Bialik said. “I think we would all agree that it’s really a testament to our writers. We have a very bright group of people who make it what it is. To me, even my nomination is an acknowledgment of all those words and just this quirky character, which is more of their creation than mine.”

The episode, titled “The Shiny Trinket Maneuver”  but affectionately known by fans as “The Tiara Episode,” is the one Emmy voters will consider on Bialik’s behalf. Also competing in that category are last year’s winner Julie Bowen and Sofia Vergara of Modern Family; Merritt Weaver of Nurse Jackie; Kristen Wiig of Saturday Night Live; and the late Kathryn Joosten of Desperate Housewives.

“Even though I don’t really think it’s my best episode, a lot of people felt that was the moment to submit,” said Bialik over lunch this week in Studio City. “There were episodes I liked more or better, but the vote by Team Mayim was that this one was the one that got the most play.”

Video screenshot

Amy Farrah Fowler, who has possibly the best character name in all of television, met Dr. Sheldon Cooper (played by two-time Emmy winner Jim Parsons) online in the third season finale and became his “girl-slash-friend,” as Sheldon has more than a few intimacy issues. But last season, Sheldon drew up a strict 31-page “Relationship Agreement” and the couple started dating on his terms. In the show’s unexpectedly touching finale, Sheldon reached out for Amy’s hand for the first time.

Bialik, who has a doctorate degree in neuroscience, bases Amy’s charming awkwardness on scientists she knows as well as a Maya Rudolph’s character in the “Wake up, Wakefield!” skit on Saturday Night Live. In addition to winning over the hearts of geeks everywhere, Amy Farrah Fowler has endeared herself to the gay community with her bi-curious infatuation with Penny (Kaley Cuoco).

“She’s an equal opportunity beauty appreciator and I think that’s the beauty of human sexuality,” Bialik said. “It’s really fun to show a character that appreciates Penny as well as Sheldon. A lot of the quirks and general awkwardness of this character is what’s fun about it. She’s sincere. I like to feel like I’m representing a subset of geek culture and also female scientist culture. I don’t mean to make it seem like I’m curing cancer; I just think that’s important too.”

One thing viewers won’t see Amy Farrah Fowler do for a while in the new season is play the harp. Bialik was in a car accident on Aug. 15 that left her right hand “mangled,” requiring surgery. The show’s writers and director are working around the injury to hide it from viewers. Bialik didn’t miss a day’s work.

“It’s a significant injury,” she said, her arm still in a splint. “It’s a very sensitive part of your body. I am pretty dexterous with my left and can make it look I can do things productively for script and stuff. But it’s been challenging. Emotionally, the whole thing was life-affirming, I guess.”

The attention Bialik received over her accident—read: photographers staked out on her driveway—caught her by surprise and taught her a lot about how much the industry has changed since she was last working in it. After Blossom ended in 1995, Bialik left acting to pursue her dream of becoming a scientist. She had always loved performing as a child in school plays but was not prepared for the fast career that presented itself when she landed a part on Beaches at age 13 and then was offered her own TV show at 14.

“I never felt comfortable in the industry,” Bialik said. “I still don’t, but it’s much easier as an adult not to feel comfortable. As a kid, I felt really weird. I’m one of those people that makes a better adult than I did a kid. Nothing was right when I was a kid or a teenager, and now it’s OK that nothing is right and I’m not like other people. I wanted a normal life. My grandparents are immigrants—you go to college. You can’t not go to college.”

Bialik credits a tutor she had when she was 15 for changing the trajectory of her life. The young woman was a dental student who hailed from a prominent family of doctors and inspired Bialik to pursue a field that didn’t necessarily come naturally to her. “She made it so beautiful and so lyrical,” said Bialik, whose parents were English teachers. “I thought that only literature could be like that. When Blossom ended, I was two years out of high school and I fell in love with the neuron and the action potential and the electrophysiology of the brain. My plan was to be a research professor.”

“I never felt comfortable in the industry. I still don’t, but it’s much easier as an adult not to feel comfortable. As a kid, I felt really weird. I’m one of those people that make a better adult than I did a kid.”

But then she fell in love for real. Bialik met her husband in a calculus class, got married in 2003, and has two sons, ages 6 and 4. After she became a mother, she started longing for more time with them at home and began thinking about returning to television and film again. Besides, she admitted, “I needed health insurance!”  She landed guest spots on TV shows such as The Secret Life of the American Teenager and Curb Your Enthusiasm, gamely accepted a 2009 makeover on TLC’s What Not to Wear, and in 2010 was offered the guest role of Amy Farrah Fowler on The Big Bang Theory, which she had never watched. The character and Bialik clicked so well with the band of social misfits that producers decided to make her a permanent part of the cast.

Bialik wasn’t ready for how much show business has changed in the dozen years she was away and how much the Internet has affected it. “It feels a lot more decadent to me—the whole swag industry and the hyper emphasis on designer this and needing to look so competitive, especially among women,” she said. “A lot of that stuff has gotten very intense, and it’s starting even younger.”

Although she loves the Internet and is a regular contributor to Kveller.com, an irreverent Jewish parenting site, she recently stopped posting on her Facebook fan page because she didn’t like feeling like she was a conduit for negativity.

“I’m one of those people that thinks the Internet is amazing and I can’t believe it exists,” she said. “But the things that people were writing—that they would never say—not necessarily to me but to each other, I just had to force myself to stop having personal interactions because I just didn’t want to facilitate that anymore.”

This year, Bialik released her first book, Beyond the Sling: A Real-Life Guide to Raising Confident, Loving Children the Attachment Parenting Way, which chronicles how she and her husband are raising their sons. According to the practice, mothers and fathers who follow their children’s rhythms have all the tools they need to parent them.

When Bialik first heard the theory from friends who using it to raise their children, she thought they were crazy. But as she studied attachment theory in graduate school, the lessons coalesced with what she was observing at her friend’s house—the children were disciplined, even though no one ever yelled at them or ruled them by force. “They’re not perfect, and your life won’t be perfect, but there’s a language that’s easily learnable and ways to manage your stress and your own hot buttons.”

Now all Bialik needs to figure out is how to calm her nerves about the Emmys. She, at least, knows what she’s wearing—an understated classic Hollywood gown with a piece of jewelry with a Jewish theme being designed just for her.

“It’s my second time but I am nervous,” she said. “We will all be there but I don’t get to sit with the rest of the cast. I asked Jim if we could make a special request. I think my category is first, which is crazy. Let’s not talk about it. The whole thing is nerve-wracking.”