Sheldon Cooper’s Meemaw was an iconic character long before “Young Sheldon” ever premiered on CBS. First introduced in “The Big Bang Theory” as Sheldon’s favorite family member, she was spoken about (and later depicted by June Squibb) as a warm-hearted, accepting woman. Annie Potts stepped into the role for the prequel, tasked with developing the relationship with Iain Armitage’s boy genius that would have such an impact decades later. Potts first appeared in the third episode of the first season of “Young Sheldon,” teaching Sheldon about the importance of bluffing — in poker and in life.
Potts: “We have the great benefit of having some of the map been laid down in terms of character, but really it’s its own thing, so I felt like I had free range — a clean slate — within the context of what Chuck [Lorre] and Steve [Molaro] had created.
“I said, ‘Oh, I would like to play her with gray hair,’ and they said. ‘What actor wants their hair gray!?’ They wanted me to have the same hair color as my on-screen daughter, but I thought she was so different from the daughter, I wanted something a little different.
“I’m from the South, and I have known these women all my life. There were numerous people in my own family circle and outside of it that I have had to draw from. She’s really kind of like putting on my bedroom slippers and going to work. It just felt real comfortable.
“The characters are so well written you don’t have to do much but show up. The job of an actor is to memorize the lines, and when they’re good you hardly have to look at them at all. It’s easy.
I just wanted to show up and be as funny as possible.
“I always want to get the rhythm right. I think comedy’s more musical. That’s one reason Iain is so good at what he does — he’s very musical. When he practices his lines, he’ll hear himself say it and change a note and hear himself say it again until it sounds right to him and everybody else. That’s pretty much the way I work, too. I often write down my lines. Something in the process of writing internalizes them for me.
“I have an idea about acting, which is it’s just telling the truth, and comedy is telling the truth a little faster. I think life is funny amidst the darkest moments. I think that’s the beauty of life.
“With the episode I felt like I landed in the honeypot. I felt like I knew her so well and she was so well within my wheelhouse of both real and quirky and funny and a little sharp-ish. The minute I saw it on paper I went, ‘That is so my role.’
“As fate would have it, when I started working on the show I was renting a house not far from where Iain and his mother were renting a house, so we were sort of neighbors and we started seeing a lot of each other off-set — playing together and taking walks together. We became friends, and of course it’s absolutely essential with a little one to have their absolute trust. Because then they’ll play with you.
“I don’t have grandchildren myself but I have these fake grandchildren now. I love them and I enjoy them. They’re very malleable right now, so it’s part of our responsibility to make it fun and also model excellent professional behavior — showing up, hitting your mark, saying thank you.
“All three of those children are very naturally sweet. I can’t remember if I’ve ever been on a set before where I was told so many times in one day how much someone loved me. I can’t even believe they pay me for this!”