Written by Stephen Rebello
Photographed by Odette Sugerman
The woman who puts the bang in The Big Bang Theory talks about sexy nerds, dating your co-stars and going to the prom with Ashley Tisdale
Q1: We know you best for starring on two hit TV series that cast you as a hot, funny girl who can twist almost any guy around her little finger. On 8 Simple Rules you were John Ritter’s teen-heartbreaker daughter. On The Big Bang Theory you’re the sexy neighbor of Sheldon and Leonard, two brainy, socially inept, lovable sci-fi-addicted mathematicians who worship you. Does art imitate life?
CUOCO: From what I’ve been told and what I’ve observed, men seem to be intimidated by me. So I have to take the reins. I’m a bitch—like, the boldest person ever—so I’ll go up to anybody and say, “You’re absolutely friggin’ adorable. Let’s go out.” They usually look at me with giant scared Ren and Stimpy eyes. But what’s the worst that can happen if I ask them? I have to be honest; I don’t think they’re going to say no.
Q2: You and your co-stars were on a panel at this year’s Comic-Con. Did any real-life Sheldons or Leonards approach you, thinking they had a shot?
CUOCO: People ask me, since I’m on a nerd show, if I like nerds. Obviously, I don’t have a high IQ, but I’ve always liked nerds and quirky guys. At Comic-Con I told my cast mates, “I’m gonna find my future husband here.” I want a guy who has balls enough to come up to me and be as bold as I am. It’s sexy if a guy’s in control. The jock type lasts only so long, though. I go for the musician or the writer every time, but I’m deeply, truly attracted to the funny guy. I’m always like, “Can you make me laugh? Because I will make you laugh.”
Q3: What if he’s funnier than you?
CUOCO: I don’t want him to be funnier than me, but the men I’ve dated have all been pretty silly. The moderator for our Comic-Con panel was Chris Hardwick, and I had the biggest crush on him. The Big Bang guys all stared at me, like, “What the hell? You’re the strangest girl.” But Chris was so funny, which I find sexy. And Seth MacFarlane? Huge crush.
Q4: It’s not like Big Bang was a big old hit right out of the gate. The ratings weren’t great, and the critics didn’t pile on the praise.
CUOCO: The first season of any show, let’s be honest, can suck. Look back at the first season of Friends, Seinfeld, Frasier. We had eight episodes filmed for our first season, and when the writers’ strike happened we thought we were done for. But they kept airing those eight shows. And the most genius thing was they started showing us on planes, where you’re stuck unless you hate something so much you want to jump off. To get another chance, to keep getting picked up, is a dream come true. It doesn’t happen much anymore.
Q5: After working so closely for four years, when do you and your fellow actors get on one another’s nerves the most?
CUOCO: When you do a series, you’re in a family. We fight, we bicker, but every Tuesday night when we film, the five of us get into a little circle—even when we don’t want to—and say, “I love you.” I try to keep everyone together because they get a little scatterbrained. I feel like Wendy to the Lost Boys. I tell them, “Ten years from now, we’re not going to be here and we’ll wish we were. These little moments are important.”
Q6: So far, your character has bedded two of the show’s rocket-scientist types. On-screen or off, is it a good idea to hook up romantically and/or sexually with a neighbor?
CUOCO: I’m not one to talk, because a co-star definitely counts as a neighbor, right? When I fell for Johnny Galecki [her co-star], we both knew immediately that we had this connection, and that was it. Even though in the back of your head you’re like, Oh my God, this might end really bad, you don’t give a shit. You’re just in it. When that fire, that attraction is there, no one’s going to tell me no. I love being a girlfriend, and I’ve had a lot of long-term relationships, but this whole dating thing is new to me.
Q7: Which of your co-stars, ex-boyfriend Johnny Galecki included, might give you the most grief about doing this interview?
CUOCO: Johnny and I are best friends. We’re great. Actually, I haven’t told any of the guys from the show that I’m doing this interview, but I think he might give me the most shit about it. I think they’re all going to be mortified. I don’t think any of them will be able to look at this issue.
Q8: You’re often admired for your curvaceous body. Do you consider yourself sensual?
CUOCO: I hate almost everything about my body, but I’m pretty proud of my abs. I’m insane about spinning, yoga, horseback riding. With other women or in private, I walk around naked all the time. I don’t care. But as open and sensual as I am, when it comes to getting waxed or even spray-tanned, I leave my bikini bottoms on. I’m a freak about it. I would rather stick a pencil in my eyeball than be naked.
Q9: When you were growing up, what was your role in the family Cuoco?
CUOCO: My mom is Irish, and my dad and the majority of the family are Italian, so there’s lots of food, insanity and yelling. I have a sister who is three years younger than I am, and she, my parents and I were just watching home videos. Even at the age of five, there I am like a friggin’ idiot, dancing around and getting in everyone’s way. My dad was like, “Kaley, back up, back up,” but you couldn’t get my big fat face out of the camera. I couldn’t get enough attention.
Q10: How did you most shame the family name growing up?
CUOCO: For all the noise in our house, I come from a conservative family with a lot of values and dinner at the table every night. I was such a goody two-shoes. I never touched a drug in my life. I was afraid to drink before I was 21, and though I did drink a little, I had constant guilt in my head. I got a tattoo at 17, and back then, that felt badass. But I already had a career. That was my real focus.
Q11: You were modeling by the age of six and acting on TV by seven. Given your personality and income, you probably challenged your parents a time or three.
CUOCO: I don’t think I made their lives too bad, but I always felt I had one up on them. Even at 15, if they said I couldn’t do something, I was like, “Well, I make my own money. I just did a movie. I just did a TV thing.” I knew I was going to get out soon, and I knew my career was happening.
Q12: On 8 Simple Rules you played a character described as “the hottest girl in high school” who toys with the love and lust of a bunch of boyfriends. Were you the hottest thing on your campus?
CUOCO: The minute I started getting a little popular in school, I didn’t like it. I hated school more than anything. I told my parents when I was 16, “I’m gonna be an actor for the rest of my life, and I want to homeschool, graduate early and do what I want,” which I did. Ashley Tisdale and I grew up together, and she asked me to be her date to her high school prom when I was on the show and had started to get some public attention. I picked the simplest black dress so I wouldn’t make a scene, and these mean girls kept coming at me: “Oh, you think you’re so classy you couldn’t wear a prom dress? Do you think you’re at the Academy Awards?” It was the worst night ever. I don’t think I missed anything being homeschooled.
Q13: How were you affected by the unexpected death in 2003 of John Ritter, your father on 8 Simple Rules?
CUOCO: It’s the biggest loss of my life and always will be. He touched me more deeply than anyone ever has. He was so insane, incredible and lovely. When I feel hotheaded or exhausted, I think about the time John, Katey Sagal, the rest of the cast and I wanted to go on the rides at Disneyland and it took us an hour to walk 10 feet because people wanted to meet John, hug him, get his autograph. He was always the same with everyone—never annoyed, with a giant smile.
Q14: When do you feel his influence the most?
CUOCO: Whenever there’s a dark joke in my head or I want to make fun of someone, I laugh because I know he’s sitting right there on my shoulder like a devil-angel egging me on.
Q15: How does your family handle your fame?
CUOCO: My parents are beyond awesome. They’ve been married more than 30 years and are totally outside of show business. When I told them I was hosting the Teen Choice Awards this year, my mom was like, “That’s nice. I miss you. When am I seeing you again?” To me, doing that show was a big deal, and I had a blast, like it was my own little concert. I really want to do Saturday Night Live. I’ve now said it publicly—I want to work with Kristen Wiig. Of course, if I do Saturday Night Live, my mom will probably say, “That’s nice. When are we seeing you again?”
Q16: Are you addicted to anything on TV the way fans are addicted to The Big Bang Theory?
CUOCO: My addictions are disturbing. After being on TV my whole life I can’t dive into sitcoms or anything else, because I’m always looking at hair, makeup, lighting, the timing, how the show works. I love Hoarders, which is so unbelievably gross, but I just cannot get enough.
Q17: Being someone audiences have watched grow up on TV, do you have eight simple rules for keeping yourself out of rehab and the tabloids, unlike so many other actors who started young?
CUOCO: I’ve been doing this job for 20 years, and I’ve learned that if you’re having lunch every day at the Ivy or any place where 8,000 or so paparazzi are out all the time, don’t bitch and complain, “Oh my God, no photos.” Another tip is to live in the San Fernando Valley, where it’s more private. Learn to like to stay home, enjoy your great friends and have a million rescue animals, like I do. Also, when you go out, always wear underwear. It helps when you’re doing things like getting out of a car.
Q18: Cuoco is Italian for “cook.” If the way to a guy’s heart is through his stomach, what’s your go-to recipe for seduction?
CUOCO: I’m not a very good cook, but I don’t think you can go wrong with strawberries and whipped cream. Whipped cream can go anywhere and end up anywhere. It’s extremely sensual.
Q19: What’s the craziest, most aggressive thing you’ve ever done for love?
CUOCO: I leave it to men to do the craziest things for me. Someone I’ve been dating recently traveled cross-country just to have dinner with me and then had to leave the next day. That was so nice and such a huge turn-on. I showed my love and appreciation in many ways. Let’s just say that he might be doing that again sometime soon.
Q2O: What recharges your batteries, sensually speaking?
CUOCO: Getting into my incredible Jacuzzi with a glass of wine and listening to Sinatra or Etta James is very sexy. I also like to get into a man’s T-shirt, be with my animals and watch TV, again with a glass of wine. Then there’s my incredible shoe closet, which is just beyond words, where I can put on my sexy shoes and skinny jeans. That’s what I love about my job. I can be a mess all day and then get all dressed up for an event at night and look amazing.
From the December 2011 PLAYBOY