Monday, November 19

Q&A: Life before 'The Big Bang Theory' with actress and former neuroscience student Mayim Bialik

Correction: The original version of this article contained an error. Mayim Bialik wrote for “Fem” ““ UCLA’s feminist student newsmagazine.

On Wednesday, “The Big Bang Theory” actress Mayim Bialik came to campus to give a talk about academia and her academic life at UCLA for the Regents Scholar Speaker Series. She spoke to Daily Bruin’s Laurie Allred about her hectic life, filming “Big Bang Theory” and writing a book.

Daily Bruin: The event tonight is being held at Rolfe Hall. Any memories of being on campus?
Mayim Bialik: I was a neuroscience student so most of my (time) revolved around south campus. I took a history class in Rolfe. My Yiddish class was held uncharacteristically in north campus. The Anderson cafeteria was one of my favorite places to hang out and study. My husband and I met as undergrads there at UCLA. I miss all of campus; that’s my home; I walked to school for seven straight years. I lived right off campus. My whole life revolved around Bomb Shelter and Ackerman on occasion; I was an active student leader. I wrote for “Fem” sometimes. I knew the anatomy of the campus inside and out, and it looked very different when I was there in ’94.

DB: When did you start acting professionally?
MB: I was in school plays in elementary school, but I started professionally acting when I was 11. I was cast in “Peaches” when I was 12, I played a young Bette Midler. The movie came out when I was age 13.

DB: When you studied neuroscience at UCLA, did you attend castings or auditions?
MB: No, after Blossom ended when I was 19, I went straight to UCLA, and went away from television. The notion at that time was that it would be a good idea for my career if people forgot a little bit that I was Blossom. It was seen as a good thing to let people forget, so I wouldn’t be thought as strictly as Blossom. I did do a couple episodes of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Not really auditioning “”mdash; when you’re a neuroscience student, especially, there’s not much room for anything else, especially those pre-med classes. I got mono at UCLA because I was studying all the time.

DB: Why did you choose to major in neuroscience?
MB: I was interested in biology. … I didn’t have the ability to take AP classes when I was Blossom. I needed to do catch-up chemistry and calculus. I couldn’t start my actual pre-med classes until I took those catch-up classes. Only class that was open for me was Introduction to Psychobiology. … You didn’t have to complete chemistry and the calculus catch-up class. In that class, I learned about the neuron, and it was a specific level of study. It was hard not coming in with any AP classes, and it sounds a little bit like I was sitting in the corner, the class that I was able to take was the class that helped me fall in love with the neuron.

DB: Speaking of family, you came out with a parenting book, called “Beyond the Sling,” a month ago. Can you tell us about it?
MB: I don’t like to call it a parenting book, because I’m not a pediatrician or a therapist. I wrote a book about our personal experiences in our house, parenting in a certain way given my neuroscience background. My thesis at UCLA was on the hormones on human attachment. … I studied how they were related to obsessive compulsive disorder. Also, in my training, I learned a lot just about human attachment and development. The style of parenting we studied was natural birth, breast feeding, sleeping with your kids, being with your children a lot. … It’s physiologically normal to do the things we mammals do. I know a lot of students may not be thinking about having kids, but what’s really nice to hear from young people who have read the book is that it doesn’t matter if you don’t have kids; it’s super important to learn how the body works and why it’s designed the way it is.

DB: How was the research for this book?
MB: Well, my PhD took seven years. … That’s kind of the background for the book. I blog for a website called “Kveller.” I’ve been writing for “Kveller” about our experiences in our house. I’ve been writing for them a couple years. Never occurred for me to write a book.

DB: Is being an author something you would like to try?
MB: I like to say I only know how to parent my kids up to the age where they’re at. Every day beyond that is an adventure. I like to stick to my specialty, it’s more being a person going through life and just doing the best I can.

DB: You seem like a proud Bruin. You mentioned earlier you met your current husband at UCLA?
MB: It’s pretty cute. We met outside of Math Sciences Building. He did a B.S. in anthropology and B.A. in political science. We met in calculus 3A, and he walked me all the way to young where my next class was. The first time he had feelings for me, I can tell you exactly which tree we were standing under.

DB: Talking about “The Big Bang Theory,” are there any similarities between your character, Amy, and you?
MB: I’m not as socially awkward as Amy. … Amy is a person who views the world as a scientist, as I do, Amy arrived much later to the social world than I did. I was a late bloomer but definitely not as late as my character. Amy is a really interesting representation as a female scientist. She loves what she does, she’s not afraid to love what she does, but she also still really loves to compete in the regular social world, and I think that’s really fun. … We finished (filming) about a month ago, and we’re off until first week of August.

DB: Do you have any other current projects?
MB: Oh gosh, what am I not working on. Obviously I write for Kveller, I was just asked to write for the Jewish journal, the largest Jewish newspaper in L.A. I do a lot of speaking engagements, so I’m always bouncing around. But mostly I have two kids who I don’t get to see, which is really not my husband’s and my plan. We didn’t think I would get a job on a television show after grad school. But we didn’t have health insurance, so we thought someone better start doing something.

DB: When you do have free time, what are your hobbies?
MB: People ask me how do you do everything; one of my secrets is that I don’t sleep a lot. I stay up late, and I get up early to get stuff on. And I don’t have a terribly active social life or a personal life. We’re very outdoorsy, and my husband and I played racquetball at UCLA for years, so we try to do physical stuff and outdoor stuff. I’m going to work on a quilt this summer. … I study Jewish a couple times a week so that keeps my brain working. I also teach neuroscience at junior high and high schools in our home school community. In my free time, I guess I like to do a lot of nerdy stuff. I’m artistic. I teach piano in the local community, but I also play piano. I like being domestic. I like being home.

DB: Do you have any long-term Hollywood goals?
MB: I’m contracted year to year with “Big Bang,” so it’s hard to tell. I would love to have some quirky writer, director or producer make me a fantastic independent film ensemble actress. I respect Zooey Deschanel’s career, more unusual woman, Scarlett Johansson, women who have success both mainstream but also in the independent world. It would be great to have a mature adult career. It may happen so I’m just going to take it one day at a time.

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