Kaley Cuoco looks back on her 12 seasons on CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory” with pride and affection — and admiration for her former co-star Jim Parsons. “Jim was 100% the breakout, deservedly — the stuff he did on that show was an out of body experiences,” she said during an interview for a Variety cover story. The show made the most of the dynamic between Parsons and Johnny Galecki, she said: “That’s what ‘Big Bang’ was to me — I was almost the straight person in a weird way.”

“It was a great job,” Cuoco continued. “I thought, ‘Maybe I’m, like, a sitcom girl forever.’”

Cuoco wasn’t to be a “sitcom girl” for much longer, though (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). In 2017, she optioned the book “The Flight Attendant,” and the resulting HBO Max show — which premiered on Thanksgiving, and which she executive produced as well as starred in — was nominated for a Golden Globe for comedy, as was her performance as Cassie. The character, a flight attendant and lush who becomes embroiled in an international mystery after she wakes up next to her dead one-night-stand, is a significant departure for Cuoco.

During the conversation, Cuoco talked about and the day she found out “The Big Band Theory” would end after Season 12. In summer 2018, when the 12th season had begun filming, “Big Bang” co-creator Chuck Lorre summoned the actors to his office. Cuoco and Galecki thought it was going to be a discussion about a 13th season, “which Johnny and I had talked a lot about,” she says. “Did we want to do it? And we really did.” But no, that wasn’t it — and here Cuoco paused. “How do I want to say this and make sure I say it correctly?” she asks herself.

Then she launched in, and told the rest of the story: “Jim said, ‘I don’t think I can continue on.’

“And I was so shocked that I was literally like, ‘Continue on with what?’ Like, I didn’t even know what he was talking about. I looked at Chuck: ‘Wow. I thought we were — I’m so blown away right now.’”

According to Cuoco, Lorre said, “We’re all for one, one for all. And we’re not going to do this without the whole team.”

She added: “That was the one thing we all agreed on — we came in together, we go out together.”

Parsons’ declaration — timed to CBS’ simultaneous announcement — left Cuoco “in a state of shock,” and during the meeting “everyone had their open feelings, and there were questions and tears.”

But as the season went on, Cuoco accepted that “The Big Bang Theory” was ending. She still cried, though, when describing the May 2019 taping of the finale. Her father was there — he attended every taping for 12 seasons, she said, and had a “chair with his name on it.”

Cuoco and Galecki would always address the audience  on show nights, making jokes and taking questions in order to warm them up. But on the night of taping the series finale, “you could hear a pin drop.”

“And Johnny and I just stood there, and we were crying,” she continued. “I looked down and the whole stage, all the crew, had all filled the stage to come up next to us while we were talking.”

Sounding choked up, Cuoco said: “They were just listening to us like we were the last speech they were ever going to hear.”

Though she hadn’t wanted “The Big Bang Theory” to end then, Cuoco now sees the timing as a “blessing” — and wonders whether “The Flight Attendant” would have ever been made if “Big Bang” had gone on another season. “With COVID, we might’ve never shot,” she said. “I do believe someone was looking out for me going, ‘Don’t worry — I have a plan for you.’”

She looks back on “The Big Bang Theory” as “a once in a lifetime experience.”

It was a feel-good silly show, and these guys really were the heart of it,” Cuoco said. “They made the nerd thing cool and popular and sexy and fun. It was silly and people loved it. And I really loved my time on it.”

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