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After twelve seasons that drew millions upon millions of viewers to CBS, The Big Bang Theory and its ensemble cast are pretty much set in stone in fans' memories, and it would be difficult to envision any major switch-ups happening within the hit sitcom during its early years. However, as strange as it may be to believe, the standout character Sheldon Cooper could have easily been portrayed by a completely different actor if co-creator Chuck Lorre had been solely in charge of handling all the casting choices.
The Big Bang Theory obviously had more going for it than just Sheldon's high-functioning behavior – from Kaley Cuoco's adorable woman-next-door appeal to Kunal Nayyar's often anti-suave approach to Raj's bachelorhood – but it's safe to say the show would have felt wildly different with another actor beyond Jim Parsons portraying the brainy physicist. But that scenario is one that fans might have seen play out had co-creator Bill Prady not been alongside Chuck Lorre during the audition process. Here's how Prady explained that process to the podcast The Creative Coalition:
"We saw — oh God, I don't know, 100 people? And when Jim Parsons came in, he was Sheldon on a level — you know, there were people who came in and you went, 'Okay, well, he's kind of okay... Oh, he's pretty good... Maybe he's the guy.' And Jim came in and he was just — he was, from that audition, the Sheldon that you saw on television. He created that character at that audition. And he left the room and I turned and I went, 'That's the guy! That's the guy! That's the guy!' And Chuck said, 'Nah, he's gonna break your heart. He'll never give you that performance again.'
To be sure, it doesn't sound like Chuck Lorre was totally put off by Jim Parsons' audition, and he likely didn't think poorly of the actor's talents. However, Lorre apparently thought that Parsons didn't have the performance stamina to keep his Sheldon portrayal tuned into that particular frequency for the long haul. Thankfully for fans, Bill Prady was pretty confident in Parsons' chops, and he claims this is perhaps the one time in their working relationship where his opinion successfully overrode Lorre's stance. He continued:
And I have to say, in the story of my relationship with Chuck, the number of times that I'm right and Chuck is wrong may be... I'm gonna go with one. This may be the only example of where I actually was right. And Jim Parsons came back in the next day and gave us that exact same performance again. It was like, 'Well, this is Sheldon.'
Even Jim Parsons has shared that when he attempted to audition for Greg Daniels' U.S. adaptation of The Office, he didn't quite get what the appeal was. But that clearly wasn't the case with The Big Bang Theory, since he nailed his audition (twice) with flying colors.
Chuck Lorre and others have previously discussed that the Big Bang Theory's original pilot was vastly different from what fans are familiar with, with Kaley Cuoco taking on a slightly darker version of Penny who handled Leonard and Sheldon in completely different ways. So maybe the Sheldon role would have been molded and morphed to match up with whatever other actor might have secured the part in Parsons' wake. But would the show have still lasted a dozen years on the air?
Jim Parsons definitely maintained the success that was earned through his many years on The Big Bang Theory, having recently earned a Golden Globe nomination for his work on Ryan Murphy's Netflix drama Hollywood. He's also serving as an executive producer on the first-year Fox sitcom Call Me Kat, which reteamed him with former co-star Mayim Bialik, and is still lending his voiceover talents to CBS' Young Sheldon, now in its fourth season.