NEW YORK - Playing Sheldon Cooper isn't rocket science. Nor, for that matter, is it theoretical physics, Sheldon's chosen field as the science virtuoso of "The Big Bang Theory."
So says Jim Parsons, who plays Sheldon on that hit CBS sitcom.
"It's all right there in the script," Parsons insists. "I'm not trying to eschew credit or be falsely modest, but there's a part of me that feels like I didn't come up with anything. For me, for the most part, it's very clear: It's the words."
Fans of "Big Bang" might take issue with Parsons' self-appraisal, particularly after spending a cordial, non-Sheldony interview session with him. Granted, most people don't use the word "eschew" in everyday discourse. But for the most part, Parsons strikes a pleasingly impressive contrast to his sitcom alter ego, who happens to be socially challenged, nerdy, high-strung, blunt-spoken and beyond the pale in his devotion to science.
Parsons, on the other hand, has tried - and given up - understanding physics, and is cheery and unassumingas he talks about the show. At 6-foot-2 and a young-looking 37, he shares Sheldon's lankiness, but not the uptight manner or Sheldon's goofy-sounding "gotcha!" substitute: "bazinga!"
All in all, it's an object lesson in his skill as an actor.
"Big Bang," concluding its third season tonight, places Sheldon in a familiar sitcom premise: He shares an apartment with friend and fellow brainy CalTech scientist Leonard Hofstadter (played by Johnny Galecki). Geeky research chums Howard (Simon Hel-berg) and Rajesh (Kunal Nayyar) drop by with comically timed frequency.
And across the hall, by sitcom good fortune, resides Penny, a lovely blonde played by Kaley Cuoco who aspires to be an actress but pays the rent by waiting tables at a Cheesecake Factory. She is notably not a genius.
If this thumbnail description sounds a bit by-the-book, Parsons wouldn't disagree.
"I said it from the beginning: From the description, some people are going to say, 'I don't care. I don't want to watch two nerds and their pretty neighbor.'"
Happily, "The Big Bang Theory" began life as much more. Then, under the tutelage of sitcom maestro Chuck Lorre it continued to grow.
The creative evolution of the show might be framed in the same terms with which Sheldon received Penny's greeting, "How ya been?"
"Well," said Sheldon, literal as ever, "my existence is a continuum, so I've been what I am at each point in the implied time period."
Turns out, there was a point in Parsons' career continuum when even he wasn't sure how he felt about the show.
A Houston native who had had a recurring role on "Judging Amy" and appeared in films including "Garden State" and "School for Scoundrels," he arrived to audition for Sheldon having no clear reaction to the show overall.
He only knew from the script that he wanted to play Sheldon.
"I wanted the chance to talk this weird way that he talks, and this odd way he communicates with people," he said.
Bazinga! The role as this head-in-the-clouds science savant was his.
"Leonard wants to reach out and be part of the normal world. But Sheldon doesn't see the point, and in fact thinks the farther you can stay away from it, the better your work's going to be," Parsons sums up.
Meanwhile, Penny is sufficiently astute to find things to like in both these guys, eccentricities and all. She has the insight to appreciate their mental capacity, however far it might loom beyond her reach.
So does Parsons, by the way.
"They're not just nerds, they're not just geeks. They are geniuses! They're beautiful minds," he declares. "And I've come to find that, for me as an actor, playing Sheldon opens up anything. Things that he would think of, ways that he would act - anything's possible for me. It's very freeing."
'The Big Bang Theory'
Season finale airs 9:30 tonight on KYW-TV 3.