Even though he’ll have a hard time shaking his rep as Sheldon on the Big Bang Theory, Jim Parsons is starring in Broadway’s Harvey, the Pulitzer Prize winning play about a goodnatured man named Elwood and his imaginary best friend, a rabbit. Though the play is best known for its 1950 film adaptation starring James Stewart, Parsons talked to the New York Times about both his concerns and excitement with stepping into the role.
Of course, perhaps the most difficult aspect of Parsons’ performance is going against audiences’ expectations of the role set by Hollywood legend James Stewart.
On that note, he says, “People may not like me as Elwood, people may say ‘I enjoyed Jimmy Stewart more.’ There’s nothing I can do about that. But I have to come in and take a stand on the performance, as it were.” In fact, Parsons has never seen the 1950 film adaptation starring Stewart or any previous stage performance.
Another difficult part of the performance is the fact that one of Parsons’ “co-stars” is an imaginary six-foot rabbit, who Parsons has to play off of despite the fact that his character is the only one who “sees” Harvey.
Another challenge for the scripted sitcom actor was memorizing all the lines of dialogue, which he did with 200 3×5 index cards. He has been dedicated to bringing his own take to the performance, pointing, out “I try to master every facet of a character in order to build a safety net for myself, so I can go on to take more risks to create someone really distinct. One of my very early teachers said over and over again: ‘What are you bringing to the party?’ That expression never left me… If I’m not making a choice with each and every line, then why are you bothering watching me?”
One of the biggest rewards is that Parsons gets to play a very likable character after playing the peevish Sheldon. He explains, “Elwood has such warmth, and wants nothing more than to connect with other people, whereas my nine-month-a-year job is a character who says things like, ‘If you don’t mind, I’d like to stop listening to you and talk now.’ The jump-out-of-bed happiness I feel transcends any nerves about taking on a history-laden role. Now, would it have been preferable to take on a role that had not been created before? God yes. But breaking in a new role takes more time than I’ll have until my time on TV comes to an end. And when it does, I hope I’ll be back for longer.”
Harvey is current in previews at the Roundabout Theatre at Studio 54. It opens on June 14 and closes on August 5.