Mayim's Big Bang
Styling by Christopher Campbell
Photographed at Le Bristol Paris
Mayim Bialik goes from Brainiac to Beauty in a once-in-a-lifetime shoot at Le Bristol paris
Mayim Bialik is not your typical ingénue. She’s not dressing for Vogue or undressing for Maxim, and her publicists aren’t calling in sightings at The Ivy. But The Big Bang Theory actress has never been hotter: She’s on a hit series, has earned two Emmy nominations, and her character, Amy Farrah Fowler, is half of a fan-favorite coupling with Jim Parsons’ Sheldon, producing some of TV’s funniest moments. The last thing you’d expect from the actress is someone who’s refreshingly normal, endearingly absent-minded at times (though she does have a Ph.D. in neuroscience), staunchly vegan and highly religious (she practices Orthodox Judaism). Yet somehow, the 37-year-old former child star (Beaches, Blossom) has managed to make all these contradictory elements work, becoming a high-achieving mother and actress.
And a trouper: For our cover story, Bialik took a red-eye flight to Paris and, without a minute’s sleep, conducted an interview and a fitting for the next day’s photo shoot. All in 24 hours.
“I made it,” she says with a self-deprecating laugh as she strolls through the lobby of the five-star Le Bristol Paris hotel. A forgotten passport had almost canceled the shoot, but with some quick thinking and an ever-resourceful publicist, Bialik found her way to the City of Light in the nick of time.
“I’ve hardly got any time in this beautiful city, so let’s talk now,” she says, heading to the restaurant for her breakfast interview. “I’ll probably crash out later and be useless.”
BACK TO BUSINESS
Useless is not a word anyone would ascribe to the actress. After her early years spent onscreen, Bialik dropped off the Hollywood radar and, despite having been accepted to Harvard and Yale, chose to study at the University of California, Los Angeles, where her dissertation was an investigation of hypothalamic activity in patients with Prader-Willi syndrome, a rare disorder involving genes missing on the seventh chromosome.
Bialik earned a Ph.D. for her work but slowly segued back into acting with parts on Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Secret Life of the American Teenager and Fat Actress. It wasn’t until the third season of Big Bang, when she was cast in a one-episode appearance as the deadpan Amy Farrah Fowler, that lightning hit. Her scenes with Parsons were comic gold and by the next season she was promoted to series regular.
"When I joined the cast permanently, a lot of people resisted the idea that Sheldon would have a sexual or romantic relationship,” Bialik says. “But we’ve kept Sheldon to his character; we had to be careful to not change him, and I think we succeeded. It’s sweet, and they have an interesting connection.”
Parsons is equally affectionate when he talks about his onscreen partner.
"I think what makes Mayim so good onscreen is the same stuff that makes her such a great person offscreen,” the actor tells Watch!. “In real life, Mayim manages to be so unique and yet just a ‘regular human’ at the same time. When she’s acting she makes original choices that you never would have thought of, but at the same time she radiates this very human quality—she empathizes with and struggles with the same everyday matters of the heart, self-doubt, etc., that we all do.”
In person, Bialik is more petite than the show would suggest (“They dress me frumpy and a couple of sizes bigger”), with terrific skin even after an overnight flight and a fashion style all her own: eclectic, comfortable and uniquely stylish, in a bohemian way. She’s immensely friendly and a great conversationalist, not afraid to poke fun at herself or the absurdities of Hollywood. It’s no wonder she bonded with her cast mates so easily.
"Working on any scene with Mayim is a joy,” Parsons continues. “It’s this feeling of great freedom to play, because you know that you’re working with someone who’s on the same page with you as far as what ‘needs to happen’ to get the story told. I can honestly say that, at all points of a day, I find Mayim infinitely delightful. She’s entertaining with a big heart.”
Back in Paris, Bialik settles comfortably inside Le Bristol’s Michelin-three-star restaurant, Epicure, finally ready for breakfast. Trays of pain au chocolat and croissants abound, but the actress chooses an Asian-inspired combination of green tea, rice, miso soup and tofu. Not exactly a typical start of the day, and Bialik emits a big, throaty laugh when asked if this is her regular morning meal. “It’s one of the things I often feed my kids,” she says. “Being vegan at breakfast is tricky, so we usually do either smoothies or oats, but this is a good breakfast.”
The actress has two sons—Miles, 8, and Fred, 5—and shares custody of them with ex-husband Michael Stone. Her philosophy on “attachment parenting” has generated a lot of press for the otherwise private Bialik. The technique involves extended breastfeeding, sleeping in a bed with your baby and never leaving him or her to cry, which she wrote about in a guidebook/memoir, Beyond the Sling.
Bialik is unapologetic when it comes to defending the method.
“I had friends who did it at college, and I thought it was crazy,” the actress admits. “They slept with their kids, they breastfed whenever the kid wanted, they never let the baby cry. It just seemed insane that their lives were all ‘baby.’ But as their kids got older, they didn’t have to make them sit in the corner; they didn’t have to fight with them. That’s when I started to do more research and it started making logical sense. It’s normal for mammals to want to feel close to people.
“I wrote this book only from the perspective of how old my kids were,” Bialik continues. “I was trying to depoliticize attachment parenting in the same way I’ve tried to do with veganism. I’m not an expert on anyone else’s kids. I wrote it from a neuroscience perspective, like why natural labor matters—not that you have to do it, but why people choose it and why breastfeeding makes sense.”
When she gave birth to Fred—on her living room floor (an experience she describes as “awesome”)—she used self-hypnosis, a pain-control technique she also employed when she seriously injured her hand in a car accident in 2012. “I had to find a way to separate mind from body, so I self-hypnotized.
“Of course, the best time to know everything about children is before you have them, because you think you know everything,” she says, laughing.
A CAREER BLOSSOMS
Bialik, who was raised in Hollywood, took up acting at 11 “because I loved doing plays in elementary school, and in my mind that equated to having to be an actress,” she says. Her mother, Beverly, convinced that Mayim looked like a young Bette Midler or Barbra Streisand, searched the Yellow Pages for a Hollywood agent. The work started slowly; her first roles were bit parts in the horror movie Pumpkinhead and the Michael Jackson video Liberian Girl.
“At the time, the only look that they wanted was ‘all-American,’” Bialik remembers. “I was blond and blue-eyed but ethnic-looking, so I started getting character roles, which is still what they call actors like me now. Back then it was unusual to look the way I did and try to be getting work.”
She finally landed the role that would make her famous, as a young Bette Midler in the hit 1988 movie Beaches.
“When we were making Beaches, everyone knew Mayim was destined for stardom,” Midler recalls. “She was adorable and found her way into people’s hearts. I think if it hadn’t been for her, the movie wouldn’t have been such a hit.”
That film begot Blossom, a coming-of-age series about a teenage girl being raised by a single father. The show still strikes an emotional chord in the young women who helped make it a hit series. Bialik was catapulted into the spotlight when she was just 14.
“It was a hard time to have so much of my life public,” the actress remembers. “But what was good was that the Internet wasn’t big yet, publicity wasn’t as big as it is now. There’s more pressure now on girls for sure. When I see how I looked at 14, I looked like a kid, and when you see 14-year-old girls on TV now, the stakes are so much higher for what women are expected to look like. I’m glad I didn’t have that kind of pressure.
“I’d go back to school in between, but it was a challenge,” Bialik recalls. “I make a better-adjusted adult than a teenager. I was very mopey, dark; I wore Doc Martens every day, read Dostoyevsky and was a Morrissey fan.”
But she doesn’t regret doing the series. “As experiences go, it was very positive,” she says. “There were no drugs or alcohol. It was a very clean show.”
FLYING UNDER THE RADAR
When Blossom ended after five seasons, rather than getting back into the auditioning circuit, Bialik decided to go to college.
“My mom’s parents didn’t finish junior high. I come from an uneducated immigrant family, so I was expected to go to college,” she says. “I wasn’t good at science at school—it didn’t come naturally to me—but I had a tutor during Blossom and she turned me on to it. Having a female role model who took the time to teach me was important, and that’s what gave me the confidence.”
The transition from child star to student proved tricky, in some respects.
“Blossom was never as popular as Big Bang,” Bialik says. “We were maybe Top 20, never Top 10. It was the first large show about a girl, so maybe people remember it more, but it wasn’t on the Big Bang scale. Way more people come over to me now, but unadorned women don’t get much attention, so it’s a good disguise just to be frumpy. I still go to the supermarket and all that stuff, but with iPhones and iPads you get people videotaping in airports, so you have to be on your best behavior all the time.”
STRIKE A POSE
Bialik has purposely kept a low profile, but on this day she is the center of everyone’s attention as she models vintage designs from Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Givenchy and Dior throughout Le Bristol and on the streets of Paris’ trendy Rue Saint-Honoré. Her veganism and Orthodox religion pose many challenges for the stylists—no animal products, no showing skin above the elbow or knee—but the crew nails it with classic designs that are as chic as they are understated.
“I love these dresses,” Bialik says, gesturing at the conservative yet fashionable vintage Chanel she’s cocooned in. “You have no idea how hard it is to find a dress for the Emmys that isn’t strapless, above the knee or sleeveless. But I don’t find it imprisoning; I find it kind of liberating that I get to decide and choose whether to display certain parts of my body.”
Now clad in her designer garb, Bialik is magically transformed into a 1940s screen goddess. “Unadorned women can mostly go unnoticed in Hollywood,” she says with a wry smile. “Although it’s more difficult since I joined Big Bang, because the show’s so huge on a worldwide scale. But if I’m wearing jeans and a cap and glasses to the mall, a lot of the time no one even sees me, luckily.”
Just not today.