Fans of The Big Bang Theory know Kaley Cuoco for her role as the sweet and bubbly Penny, who was introduced on the show as an upbeat young woman from Nebraska. After 12 seasons, it would be hard to imagine Cuoco playing any other character on the show but, as it so happens, she nearly played a totally different character. And had she landed the part, we’d probably be looking at her in a somewhat different light today.
The original pilot for The Big Bang Theory greatly differed from the final product, as Johnny Galecki’s Leonard and Jim Parson’s Sheldon were the only two characters from the finished show to have appeared in it. In place of Raj and Howard, there was a female scientist named Gilda. And before there was Penny, there was a character named Katie. A special featurette that CBS released after the show ended describes the character as a “dark, brooding unhappy character.”
Kaley Cuoco auditioned for that role but ultimately lost it to actress Amanda Walsh. That pilot ultimately didn’t sell, and the character of Katie was eliminated and revamped. And as Kaley Cuoco explained (via The Independent), this led series co-creator Chuck Lorre to call her back in to read for it:
Chuck [Lorre, producer] called a year later and, 'It's a new character, we want you to come in.' I read for it and it just felt so much better than it did the year before. I guess it was just meant to be.
I suppose the rest is television history. Cuoco would go on to play the role for over a decade, becoming one of the highest paid actresses in Hollywood in the process. Penny was an important character, as she served as the outsider to the “nerdy” world of her friends. She would also become somewhat of a foil to Parsons’ Sheldon, and the two would share a number of memorable scenes throughout the show’s run. But overall, Penny was the heart of the show and, while she could be abrasive at times, her gentle touch was sometimes just what the group needed.
Cuoco seems to have enjoyed her time working on the show and still keeps in touch with her co-stars. Though she’s moved onto newer projects, she’s completely aware that she may not reach Big Bang Theory’s level of success with her future projects. Nevertheless, that’s something that helps her appreciate her Big Bang experience that much more.
While Kaley Cuoco has a great career still ahead of her, she’ll always hold a special place in fans’ hearts as the lovable Penny. The chances of her reprising the role sometime in the future are slim, but maybe fans will get that reunion special Cuoco is hoping for.
The Big Bang Theory is available to stream on HBO Max.