You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘Big Bang Theory’ Star Mayim Bialik on First Making Waves in 1988’s ‘Beaches’

Like the character she plays on “The Big Bang Theory,” Mayim Bialik is a neuroscientist — she earned her Ph.D. from UCLA in 2007. Though as Amy Farrah Fowler she’s won the hearts of millions of fans, not to mention Sheldon Cooper, her fiancé on the hit CBS sitcom, acting wasn’t the career she always intended for herself.

She stumbled onto the industry in 1988, when she was cast as the 11-year-old version of Bette Midler’s C.C. Bloom in the movie “Beaches.” Her no-holds-barred performance drew raves, including in Variety, where she was called “extraordinary.” The reviewer wrote, “She can sing, she can dance, and she seems amazingly like the carrot-topped star as she brazenly bulldozes her way through a musical routine and most real-life situations.”

Although she was “pretty new” in the industry, Bialik was savvy enough to recognize what that rave meant. “It was a very big deal for me to be talked about,” she says. “At the time, and it’s still true now, the trades are kind of it.”

What did the review mean to you?

I was not raised in this industry, so I didn’t have this notion of “I’m going to be a big star.” I literally went from school plays to “Gee, I think it will be really fun to be an actress on TV.” So, even though my parents raised me to not listen to reviews because if you listen to the good ones, you also have to listen to the bad ones, I knew that the kind of attention was very unusual. It’s not an experience you’re used to having, especially when you’re new to the industry.

It was a challenging role. Did you have any apprehensions? Or were you confident?

It’s funny, I didn’t think of it as challenging or not because I just was doing what I naturally thought to do as a person getting a script. I was a kid with very little knowledge of the industry. I knew who Bette Midler was, I knew who [director] Garry Marshall was, but I didn’t have this feeling of, “This is going to be my big breakout moment.” I just read the lines, followed my natural accent. That’s how I talked! For me as an untrained, inexperienced grandchild of immigrants from Eastern Europe, I didn’t understand the impact of it at all. I just said the lines as if it were a school play.

Was there a moment where it actually sank in?

The premiere of “Beaches” was the week of my bat mitzvah. It was very emotional. Seeing myself on the big screen was very overwhelming and I remember crying a lot after. They were tears of overwhelming excitement and confusion about my place in a world. Honestly, I had been gearing toward my place in the Jewish world. The attention that I got was sort of an awakening for me. But it’s still very bizarre to me, even now at 42. This is not the life that my grandparents ever anticipated when they fled Eastern Europe.

Was that the moment you knew you wanted to be an actor?

No. In fact, I left the industry at 19 for 12 years and not only pursued neuroscience but had two children who I was the primary caregiver for. I’ve had a very, very unusual life. A day does not going by when I’m not amazed at the marvels of the universe in general, and my situation in particular is very, very unusual. I credit all of the people — particularly the women around me in this business — who have supported me being myself as an actor and as a person. So as grateful as I am to be acting again, I know that my life could have had a lot of different things, and we all make choices. Women in particular have a lot of choices to make, especially if they want to be a mom.

Do you think walking away from the industry helped you avoid the child actor curse?

I come from a very strict immigrant family, and my parents were very strict with me. I hate to say that if you’re strict with your kids, that’s the answer. Or that the people who have fallen prey to some of the evils of our industry didn’t have parents strict enough. I just know that for me, for my mental health and my mental sanity, I did need to leave and be appreciated for what was inside my brain and that’s given me a lot of prospective.

What made you decide to come back into acting?

Well, the true unglamorous story is that I was running out of health insurance as a graduate student. You only get a certain number of years, and I had never acted as an adult. I had a toddler and a baby. I figured if I could just get a job here or there to get basic SAG insurance that I would have a chance for my kids. I started auditioning for roles where it was just “Girl No. 2” or the sassy secretary. I had never heard of “Big Bang Theory” when I was asked to audition. I was very fortunate to be in this position, but I do acknowledge that it’s an unusual story.

What did you learn from being in “Beaches”?

I don’t know if I could narrow it down to one thing. I guess the most salient is that your life can change in a moment. Because mine did. They could have gone with so many other girls. Maybe they should have. But this became my life story. This became really the architecture of my very existence. In all of our lives, there are those moments. And that was mine.

Have you rewatched “Beaches”?

No, I find it very difficult to watch, mainly because I’m a very sentimental person. I’m cursed and blessed with a very good memory. So a lot of things come up for me otherwise that were going on in my life at the time. I especially don’t like watching myself. I haven’t seen probably 95% of “The Big Bang Theory.” And it’s very painful to watch the movie knowing Garry is no longer with us.

More Vintage

  • Scarface Movie

    Inside 'Scarface's' Sometimes Rocky Road to Becoming a Classic

    “Scarface,” which opened Dec. 9, 1983, made money at the box office but wasn’t immediately profitable. In the 35 years since then, the film has been embraced as a classic. On April 6, 1982, Variety announced star Al Pacino and director Sidney Lumet were working on a remake of the 1932 film, but before long [...]

  • Shakespeare in Love

    'Shakespeare in Love' at 20: From Troubled Development to Oscar History

    It’s the 20th anniversary of “Shakespeare in Love,” which premiered in New York on Dec. 3, 1998, defying expectations and making Oscar history. On Oct. 23, 1992, Variety reported that Universal and Savoy Pictures had “indefinitely shelved” the $20 million production with Julia Roberts and director Ed Zwick when Daniel Day-Lewis dropped out. It went [...]

  • Frankenstein Movie 1931

    Monster Hit 'Frankenstein' Caused a Scandal in Kansas City in 1931

    In the 1818 novel “Frankenstein,” Mary Shelley invented a creature that was philosophical, articulate and vengeful. But most people remember the Hollywood version: barely speaking, lumbering and with bolts in his neck, memorable thanks to Boris Karloff and the makeup designed by Jack P. Pierce. November 21 marks the anniversary of the film’s 1931 debut. [...]

  • Mrs Doubtfire, Matthew Lawrence, Lisa Jakub,

    'Mrs. Doubtfire' at 25: Inside the Making of the Robin Williams Classic

    When Lisa Jakub showed up to audition as the oldest daughter of Robin Williams and Sally Field in “Mrs. Doubtfire,” she was introduced to a matronly Scottish woman. Jakub thought she was talking to the mother of director Chris Columbus, who was in production on the movie that turned out to be an enduring classic [...]

  • Superman The Movie 1978

    Brando’s Big Payday Helped 1976's 'Superman' Fly Into Theaters

    December marks the 40th anniversary of the “Superman” movie, which opened Dec. 15, 1978, and influenced generations of action films. In recent years, many people were distressed that Claire Foy was paid less than Matt Smith for Netflix’s “The Crown,” but pay gaps are not always about sexism. Blame the star system. Back on June [...]

  • The first crowds gather at Buckingham

    World War I, 100 Years Later: How Hollywood Short-Changed the Global Trauma

    Nov. 11 marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, Armistice Day (or Remembrance Day in Britain and other countries, and now called Veterans Day in the U.S.). World War II endures as part of our collective DNA, because filmmakers dealt with it extensively at the time, and continue to do so. [...]

  • Jessica Harper

    Jessica Harper on Early TV Role, Starring in Two Versions of 'Suspiria'

    Jessica Harper has a key role in the Luca Guadagnino-directed “Suspiria,” which opens Nov. 2. It’s a nod to her work in Dario Argento’s 1977 original, just one of the many cult films she’s starred in. The list also includes “Shock Treatment” (the sequel to “Rocky Horror Picture Show”), Brian De Palma’s rock musical “Phantom [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content