Before The Big Bang Theory gang became some of the highest paid TV actors in Hollywood (the three main actors: Johnny Galecki, Jim Parsons, and Kaley Cuoco all make $1 million per episode!), they all started with very humble beginnings. In some cases, The Big Bang Theory has been the biggest sitcom success for them to date. They may not have worked extensively in TV in the past but they’ve been fortunate to be a part of a show that has evolved into one of the most beloved, endearing and not to mention hilarious series in recent history. Many of the cast members, including regulars, reoccurring characters and guests, have worked their way up the entertainment ladder slowly but steadily. Some have appeared in various episodes of TV shows of the past while others have even dabbled and spent some time filming blockbuster movies. You’ve likely seen the movies and the actors but have long since forgotten or didn’t make the connection.
The actors and even the characters that they play so expertly, have become extremely popular. In many cases the actors personify their characters; can you look at Jim Parsons and see anything other than Sheldon? No, right? That’s why it’s so interesting to take a look back at their previous roles and see the types of characters they played and how they’ve evolved since then.
Check out the list below of actors who’ve appeared on the show and prepare to say things like, “Oh yeah, that’s right! I remember she starred in that show” or “Oh my goodness, yes! That’s the guy, I loved him back then!”. Or you may have been thinking, “Where have I seen him before”? Well, here are the answers!
13. Judd Hirsch – Taxi
Judd Hirsch is an extremely seasoned actor who most recently appeared as Leonard’s father Alfred, in the season 9 finale. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that he’s a Hollywood icon. Can you believe he’s been acting since 1959? He’s worked extensively in theatre, film and TV (he appeared in the very popular sitcom Taxi back in the late 70s, early 80s) and was even nominated for an Oscar in 1980 for his role as Dr. Tyrone C. Berger in the film Ordinary People. He’s won an Emmy and a Golden Globe. You’ll likely remember him from many of his other movies from the late 90s. Remember a little movie called Independence Day? He played Julius Levinson, the dad of Jeff Goldblum’s character. Cool, right? Speaking of Independence Day, he’s reprising his role in the rebooted version Independence Day: Resurgence in movie theatres this month. He’s also appeared in A Beautiful Mind and Tower Heist.
12. Christine Baranski – 3rd Rock From the Sun
Arguably the source of some of Leonard’s insecurities is his mother, Beverly Hofstadter who’s played by Christine Baranski. She’s an extremely successful, well accomplished actress with several years of experience in theatre, film and TV under her belt. Prior to playing Leonard’s mother, Baranski appeared in 3rd Rock From the Sun, Frasier and Ugly Betty. While appearing in The Big Bang Theory she also appeared in The Good Wife. You might agree that these are strikingly different roles that highlight her amazing acting abilities. You may even remember her from movies such as Addams Family Values as the somewhat uptight Camp Chippewa leader, The Bird Cage as the mother or Robin Williams’ character’s son and Mamma Mia! as the very rich, three times divorced former bandmate of Meryl Streep’s character. All of these roles are a complete contrast to her role as a humorless and distant mother who seems to appreciate Sheldon and his accomplishments more than she does her own son.
11. Laura Spencer – Bones
Who else was excited when Raj started dating Emily!? After several seasons as the odd one out in the relationship department (even Sheldon had a steady girlfriend before Raj did), his dreams of blissful coupledom finally came true in season 7. Let’s be honest, Emily has somewhat of a dark personality (she delights in the macabre) but she makes Raj happy so cheers to that. But you’re probably asking yourself, “where have you seen Laura Spencer before”? Some avid viewers may recall seeing her in an episode of Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior back in 2011. She’s had a few other small TV and movie roles since then, she’s even appeared in a small number of web series, but The Big Bang Theory is by far her most notable role to date (not including her current role in Bones). Let’s hope her run on The Big Bang Theory continues for a few more seasons, I don’t know about you but I’m curious to see where her character’s relationship with Raj goes. Everyone else’s is getting pretty serious so the sky’s the limit where Emily and Raj are concerned.
10. Laurie Metcalf – Roseanne
Metcalf plays Sheldon’s ultra conservative Christian mother Mary. Always ready with a Bible verse or different point of view, she’s become an endearing part of the cast. Metcalf is the first of a handful of cast members who appeared on Roseanne back in the 90s. As such, The Big Bang Theory is somewhat of a Roseanne reunion. Metcalf starred as Roseanne’s uptight sister Jackie Harris who suffered from low self-esteem. She was considered a cool aunt but experienced her fair share of heartache. This character couldn’t be more different from that of Mary. Mary is a proud woman who won’t let anyone get away with anything!
In addition to her time working on TV series (she’s appeared in 3rd Rock From the Sun, Malcolm in the Middle and Frasier) and voice work, she’s also spent a lot of time acting on the big screen. You may also recall seeing her as the neighbor in Uncle Buck.
9. Kevin Sussman – Ugly Betty
Sussman is one of those actors that’ll have you saying, “Where have I seen him before?” Mainly because over the years he’s appeared in countless TV shows and movies that you’ve likely seen but didn’t realize he was in them. He’s appeared in Ugly Betty in season 1 in a reoccurring role as Betty’s boyfriend and a few episodes of My Name Is Earl, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and ER prior to becoming a series regular on The Big Bang Theory. When it comes to movies, he’s appeared in quite a few. If you’re a movie buff, you may recall he appeared in Changing Lanes with Ben Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson, Hitch with Will Smith and Kevin James, and Sweet Home Alabama with Reese Witherspoon. In all of this big budget movies he’s held his own, proving that he’s an actor that’ll be around for a while.
8. Melissa Rauch – 12 Miles of Bad Road
Sweet voiced Bernie has been Howard’s better half since 2009. Much like Raj, it was great to see Howard finally settle down, especially with someone so unlike anyone he’d dated in the past. Her character took his quirkiness and often times, questionable relationship with Raj, in step. This TV series is Rauch’s first high profile TV appearance. Prior to her role as the level headed and sometimes temperamental Bernadette, she appeared in a handful of episodes of 12 Miles of Bad Road with the very talented Lily Tomlin and Kath & Kim with Molly Shannon and Selma Blair. Since settling into her role, she’s really made a name for herself while on The Big Bang Theory.
Rauch as also spent some time on the big screen and appeared in a small role in the movie “I Love You, Man” in 2009.
7. Mayim Bialik – Blossom
Bialik joined The Big Bang Theory cast in 2010 and shortly thereafter, began dating Sheldon Cooper, to everyone’s surprise. She’s basically the female version of Sheldon but more in tune with the world around her and the impact her actions may have on others. What makes them so great together is their occasional awkwardness with each other and their friends. Prior to starring in this series, Bialik appeared in Blossom in the lead role for 5 seasons back in the 90s. It was a huge hit while it was on air and turned her character into a fashion icon. It was your typical 90s sitcom in that she played a smart young woman adjusting to life’s changes while learning a lesson or two along the way. Side note, Joey Lawrence also starred in this series, he played the middle brother and provided eye candy for young women all over North America. I mention this because he’s connected to another Big Bang cast member.
You may be surprised to know that Bialik, like her character Amy, has a PhD. Also, after Blossom and before Big Bang, she did a lot of voice work for children’s shows such as Hey, Arnold!, Recess and Johnny Bravo.
6. Sara Gilbert – Roseanne
Gilbert currently plays Sheldon’s nemesis (and Leonard’s former love interest) Leslie Winkle. She was a series regular for the first 4 seasons and appeared again recently in the season 9 finale episode. The humorous animosity between Leslie and Sheldon is always comical, especially with Leslie’s ability to throw comedic insults Sheldon’s way and leave the self professed know it all, grasping for a catchy comeback. But before her Big Bang days, she played Darlene Conner-Healy on Roseanne. She appeared in this role for 10 seasons before the series ended. Coincidentally both characters, Leslie and Darlene, are similar in that they’re both intelligent, smart mouthed women. In addition to her time on Roseanne, you may recall seeing Gilbert in several episodes of hit series such as 24 and ER, all prior to appearing on The Big Bang Theory. She’s now a co-host on The Talk.
5. Kunal Nayyar – NCIS
Nayyar has been part of the main cast since the series came to air in 2007. His lonely, often times lovesick character won us over from day one. Thankfully he overcame his inability to speak to women and can now do so in front of the ladies of the group. Often teased for his bromance with Howard, he keeps us laughing with his deadpan comments and wacky comparisons of the U.S. to India (yes, his accent IS real). Much like Rauch, Nayyar hadn’t appeared in much prior to starring in The Big Bang Theory, it was truly his big break. However, diehard NCIS fans might remember that he appeared in an episode back in 2007. He played Youssef Zidan an Iraqi national convicted of a crime. While it as a small role it paved the way for him to get his foot firmly in the door and dazzle us with his acting talents.
4. Simon Helberg – MADtv
Howard is the only member of the Big Bang crew without a PhD. However, he’s been just as successful as his peers in that he’s been to space. Before dating Bernadette, Howard was Raj’s other half. Do you remember MADtv? Well, you may not know that Helberg played various roles for five episodes of the extremely funny sketch comedy show (think SNL). His time on that show gave us a peek into his comedic abilities which are constantly on display in The Big Bang Theory. Whether he’s imitating Raj’s accent, dancing to Dance Dance Revolution or recounting his time in outer space, he has us laughing.
Remember how Joey Lawrence was mentioned above, well Helberg appeared in the short lived sitcom Joey which starred the 80s heartthrob. Helberg played Seth Tobin in the series and coincidentally was also an engineer. His character constantly butted heads with the Michael Tribbiani character.
3. Kaley Cuoco – 8 Simple Rules
Ever notice that Penny is the only character on the show who doesn’t have a last name? I suppose that now that the character’s married to Leonard we can safely assume that she’s finally earned herself a shiny new last name. Anyway, I digress. Cuoco has starred as Penny since the beginning when the show first aired in 2007. It’s safe to say, and she’s even admitted this herself, you didn’t know who she was until she dated Superman a.k.a Henry Cavill. Right? After this she started to pop-up everywhere. Remember the RAV4 genie or the Priceline.com commercials?
Before playing Leonard’s crush and eventual wife, Cuoco starred in 8 Simple Rules as Bridget Hennessy. She had a reoccurring role as this character for four seasons. She’s also had smaller roles in My So Called Life, Ellen and 7th Heaven among others. She’s also starred in many small feature films but The Big Bang Theory is really her claim to fame.
2. Johnny Galecki – Roseanne
Galecki has starred as Leonard Hofstadter since the show first took over our airways. Let’s face it, since then we’ve all fallen for the lactose intolerant nerd who used to spend his evenings either playing video games and attending Comic Con before finally marrying Penny. The immense amount of patience that he shows Sheldon even when he’s at his most annoying is absolutely amazing.
Before Galecki’s super successful Big Bang Theory days, he starred in a little show you may have heard about called Roseanne. That’s right folks, he’s the third member of this cast to have starred in that show. He played David Healy for six seasons and dated Sara Gilbert’s character, Darlene for most of that time (it’s almost like their fictional characters were meant to date). His character then wasn’t too different from Leonard in that they’re both smart and sensitive guys with a love for comic books. Another interesting twist, he appeared in one episode of Blossom back in 1991. Aside from his work in TV, Galecki appeared in multiple movies before his Big Bang days. You may recall seeing him in big budget movies such as Vanilla Sky and Hancock.
1. Jim Parsons – Judging Amy
By far the most popular character on the show, Parsons has been playing the quirky, much loved character for nine seasons. It may be surprising to note that Parsons auditioned for several roles on pilot series before hitting it big with The Big Bang Theory. Fortunately for us, the previous pilots weren’t picked up so Sheldon has graced our airways instead. It’s pretty clear that Parsons is a very gifted actor. This is further proven by the fact that he’s won several awards stemming from his ability to bring Sheldon’s character to life. You can’t picture Sheldon as anything other than a tall, lanky guy who loves to wear superhero T-shirts, right?
If you’re a Judging Amy fan then you might remember that he played Rob Holbrook for one season on the former hit TV series. He played a very different character from that of Sheldon Cooper. He was a court clerk who was a bit of a suck up and wanted to please Amy whenever he could. Very different from Sheldon who marches to the beat of his own drum. In addition to this, for those of you who have seen the 2015 movie Home, Parsons voiced the character Oh, a lovable but clumsy alien.