Big Bang Theory star Jim Parsons says the role of the predatory agent he plays in Netflix series Hollywood changed him as a person.
Parsons has been nominated for an Emmy Award as Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie for his performance as Henry Wilson, a real-life figure who was one of Hollywood’s biggest agents in the 1940s but also a closeted gay man whose suppressed desire led to all manner of sexual indiscretions.
In particular he had a troubled relationship with Rock Hudson, played in Hollywood by Jake Picking.
Parsons had expected to find himself in the wilderness and searching for jobs after he left Big Bang Theory in 2018. Instead Glee and American Horror Story creator Ryan Murphy knocked on his trailer and asked him if he was interested in the role of Wilson.
Parsons told Deadline: “What was funny is he goes, ‘It’s a great character. Something you haven’t played before, blah, blah, blah,’ and I was like, ‘OK.’ He goes, ‘I’m going to give you the first couple of episodes to read. We’re still polishing.’ So, he didn’t send them immediately, but I remember going home and talking to my husband about it.”
Parson said his “brain just began doing somersaults because this was the summer after Big Bang had ended, and I knew I was going to do Boys in the Band, but I really had prepared myself for the highs and lows of a non-working wasteland in front of me, for however long that was going to be”.
His husband, Todd Spiewak, cleared up any doubts he had about taking the role. “[He] was like, ‘Well, there’s really almost no way in hell you’re not doing it, because you love working with Ryan.’ And I was like, ‘You’re right. It’s absolutely true’.”
Parsons read the scripts for Hollywood having never heard of Wilson before, but he was immediately excited by the prospect of playing a real person. His interpretation was based on Robert Hofler’s book, The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson, which he described as his “Bible”.
“It offered me a grounding, and an emotional backdrop to come from. No matter how lascivious or ridiculous or sinister, or whatever the scene was, I always had this full person in my heart and in my mind, thanks to that.”
Parsons had to play some intimate scenes in which Wilson used his position to coerce sexual favours.
“I haven’t played a lot of sex scenes in my career, so it’s not something I was used to,” he said. “I don’t even know if you would get used to it, so much. But it was funny the way the shoot went on long enough and I had enough scenes with him, and like I say, I had a really good relationship with him, so that by the time we got to doing the stuff where we were in bed together, after I was dancing for him and draping myself over him, it was so nice, the way that turned into a really fun thing to explore.”
Parsons said the scenes had a “ridiculous aspect” to them, but he felt like he had acting partner with whom they weren’t too “horrifying and uncomfortable”. They were also like two actors, in a playground, seeing what happened when you explored this kind of human transaction.
He had cause to thank Murphy for the role because it was “one of the most fun, creative, fulfilling jobs I’ve gotten to do in a long time”.
The role was a “gift” which changed his own internal trajectory as an actor and where he was heading.
He said of the role and Hollywood itself: “Without being too dramatic about it. I felt at the time, and I still feel now that [they] changed me in some way.”