I'm driving up Sunset Boulevard, heading to The Whiskey a Go Go to interview Johnny Galecki, star of the hugely popular CBS comedy The Big Bang Theory. With his portrayal of genius/physicist Leonard Hofstadter, Galecki delivers a beautifully layered character who is -- at once -- lovable, sympathetic and extremely funny. It's a tough balance to achieve in a sitcom character, yet they keep giving Emmys to Galecki's Big Bang Theory co-star Jim Parsons. As genius/nutcase Dr. Sheldon Cooper, Parsons' performance is off-the-charts, and certainly Emmy-worthy -- but why not spread around the love? I still can't understand why Steve Carell never won an Emmy for The Office. Okay. Now I'm getting off track. Back to Sunset Boulevard.
I valet my car and begin surveying Galecki's acting credits, studying his wiki page on my iPhone. I remember him on ABC's iconic sitcom Roseanne, and as Chevy Chase's son in the holiday classic National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, a film that has special meaning to me since watching it was a Christmas ritual at my ex-girlfriend's parents' Portland home. Every year, we'd watch Christmas Vacation together, as a family. A treasured memory. Additionally, they'd practice a unique yuletide ritual: Communally biting the heads off chocolate Santa Clauses. I never understood this peculiar Christmas tradition, even though I joined in every holiday season, chomping down and decapitating ol' St. Nick right along with them. Alas, I'm getting off track again.
My meeting with Johnny Galecki today will have nothing to do with The Big Bang Theory or Roseanne or Christmas Vacation; Instead, I'll be discussing his role in CBGB, a new film chronicling the history of the legendary New York City club that launched the punk scene, as well as a slew of innovative musical acts including Patti Smith, The Ramones, Blondie, The Velvet Underground, The Police, The B-52s and The Runaways.
CBGB is a fun -- and refreshingly humorous -- recount of this iconic venue's gritty rise to notoriety. The performances -- delivered by a star studded cast, including Alan Rickman, Justin Bartha and Ashley Greene -- are a blast to watch, particularly Galecki as record producer/CBGB mover and shaker Terry Ork and the lovely Malin Akerman -- whom I've loved since her stint on Lisa Kudrow's short-lived HBO comedy The Comeback -- as rock goddess Debbie Harry. It's a cool trip back to a special era, with a kickass soundtrack featuring Iggy Pop, Blondie, The Ramones, The Police and The Velvet Underground. I enjoyed it.
I enter The Whisky a Go Go, and wind up at the upstairs bar, overlooking the press conference happening in front of the ground floor stage, where every rock star from Jim Morrison to Axl Rose screamed into a microphone while crawling their way to the top. My compliments to the publicists who thought to use The Whiskey a Go Go as a venue for a CBGB press conference. Fucking cool idea.
As I look down at the stage, Galecki and the film's director and writer are talking about The Ramones, and fielding questions from journalists. I should be paying attention to the press conference, but I'm not. Instead, I'm attacking the food spread -- cheese, crackers and coffee -- set up along the Whiskey a Go Go's upstairs bar. It's fun being in a club -- one you've partied in at night -- in the daytime, when the place is closed. I look up on the shelf behind the bar, at all that booze just sitting there. Unguarded. Wouldn't it be great if they offered the press complimentary alcohol? It's The Whiskey a Go Go, for crying out loud.
I look around and realize that -- at 2:00pm on a Tuesday afternoon -- I'm pretty much the only one thinking along these lines.
I pour myself a coffee, taking a bottled water to counter the effects of the caffeine. When nobody is looking, I help myself to an inappropriate portion of the assorted cheese plate, and wolf it down like some kind of animal. When people look my way, I stop chewing and do my best to look cool. Developmentally I'm still in eleventh grade, but at least I have my health.
The press conference ends, and I wait for Galecki.
An attractive woman sits down at the table next to me, and takes a drag from one of those fake cigarettes I keep seeing around. I ask her what she's smoking, and she explains that it's an electronic cigarette, that she quit cigarette smoking through hypnosis and that she's been smoking this thing ever since.
"Does it offer the same satisfaction as an actual cigarette?" I ask.
"Well, there's drugs in it," she replies with a smirk.
So, I'm in The Whiskey a Go Go, talking with an attractive woman about drugs. This is the closest I'll ever get to being a rock star.
As I'm ready to delve into this electronic cigarette conversation, I'm approached by Johnny Galecki and a publicist. Johnny is ready to talk.
We sit at a table in a corner, away from everyone else. I can see the glow of the electronic cigarette over Johnny's shoulder. It's distracting. I start wondering where the electronic cigarette conversation would've gone had it continued, but quickly shift my focus to my interview subject.
I ask Galecki why he wanted to be in CBGB?
"To be even vaguely associated for a moment with something like CBGB, which is just universally synonymous with cool, was very appealing," Galecki says. "I feel like there are few films out there about music that have been done well -- outside of documentaries -- and I knew that CBGB was an ambitious project in that to try to capture the energy and essence and spirit of CBGB, which was so chaotic and unorganized and unpremeditated, in a format such as film, which needs to be organized and premeditated, was going to be a tall order, and I really wanted to be a part of that."
I wonder what CBGB's history and music mean to Galecki personally.
"I'm a fan of music in general," he explains. "And I'm a fan and follower of a lot of the performers that are shown in the film. What I found out when doing research was how supportive an environment CBGB was for these artists, and that really struck a chord in me, since I endeavor to be supportive of my fellow actors and artists in general. I was under the misconception, which I think a lot of people are about CBGB, that it was just about drugs, and spit and mosh pits. In the later years, it became more hardcore, and that's when a lot of the initial artists left and went to Max's Kansas City because CBGB was no longer a representation of what they initially started there. Initially, it was about performances like Patti Smith's spoken word poetry, and things of that nature. There was such diversity among those performers, and I didn't hear a single report of any competitiveness between any of them. It was a place to nurture whatever you were trying to express at the time. This film is an endearing lesson to learn about those people in that time."
I ask Galecki what's important to him?
"It changes a whole lot as I get older," he says with a laugh. "Being a good communicator. Being considerate and fair. I place a lot of importance on those things because they deserve a lot of importance and attention and energy. That's what I value. You get to a certain point -- gratefully -- when you're out of your twenties, and you realize how fleeting life is. So, it becomes important to feel as if the people in your life know exactly how you feel about them at all times. Ten years is too damn long to spend in one's twenties."
I laugh with Galecki as he says this, and appreciate his understanding that it's best to close an interview with a high note. After you've done interviews for a while, you stop hearing the actual words your subjects say. You listen for a kind of music in what they're saying. When their words sound like music, you know you're getting good stuff.
Later that night, I'm with a date at The Arclight movie theater in Hollywood. We're there for a late showing. I notice red carpet event remnants, and learn that CBGB held its West Coast premiere there earlier in the evening. If you think that's a coincidence, it gets better.
My date and I have some time before our movie starts, and we relax in the theater's lounge. I look over at the bar, and there's Johnny Galecki. Thirty feet away. My first instinct is to escape. (Escaping is my first instinct when something unpredictable occurs in a social situation.) I don't want Galecki to think I'm stalking him, following him around Hollywood like some kind of slobbering maniac. I scan the room, looking for a way to avoid the awkwardness, when an epiphany hits: What better way to impress a date than introduce her to a major TV star? Right?
I have it all mapped out in my head. I'll introduce her to Galecki, and she'll think I'm the coolest guy in the world. She's with a guy who knows TV stars.
I ask if she's heard of Johnny Galecki, and she says, "no."
"Have you heard of The Big Bang Theory?" I ask.
She's heard of it, but hasn't seen it.
I ask her to look in Galecki's direction. Johnny Galecki has been acting in film and television for years. When she sees him, she'll surely recognize him from something, right?
Nope. She doesn't.
Our movie is about to start. We get up, and walk right past Johnny Galecki. I'm hoping he doesn't recognize or remember me from this afternoon's interview. It's all too weird. My date says she loves Aubrey Plaza from Parks and Recreation, and seems indifferent to other celebrities.
Johnny Galecki is a huge TV star. He's an intelligent guy, a fantastic actor who really kicks ass in CBGB, and I've admired his work for years. This is probably the only time I'll ever have a connection to him and, frankly, what's the point of having a connection to a celebrity if you can't use it to impress a date? As great as Johnny Galecki is, he's not scoring me any points tonight.
I've interviewed Aubrey Plaza before, and as my date and I walk into the theater and settle into our seats, I wonder how I can possibly interview her again.
CBGB opens in Los Angeles, New York, and select cities on October 11, with more cities to follow throughout October. CBGB will be available on VOD on November 1 and on DVD on December 31.