Most “Big Bang Theory” fans know that Sheldon Cooper’s incredibly patient love interest, Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler, is played by a real-life neuroscientist. But it may come as a surprise that Mayim Bialik’s faith goes well beyond worshiping a socially awkward geek.
When she’s not filming TV’s most popular sitcom or raising her two sons, the Emmy-nominated actress, first known to TV audiences as star of the 1991-95 sitcom “Blossom,” dedicates much of her time to addressing Jewish causes through her year-old website, GrokNation, and via speaking engagements around the country.
Bialik, who will be the featured guest Sunday at a benefit for St. Paul’s Temple of Aaron, spoke right before a “Big Bang” rehearsal recently about bridging the gap between fame and faith. But first, revelations on another calling:
Q: Will this be your first visit to Minnesota?
A: No, I’ve been several times. My father and I took six daddy-daughter trips together when I was growing up. One was to Hibbing and Duluth to see where Bob Dylan lived. Ours was a Dylan-lullaby household. We flew into Chicago and drove, wearing Bob Dylan T-shirts all the way and stopping to take pictures of any sign that said Hibbing on it. It was fun. I think it’s tremendous that he’s getting the Nobel Prize. Just look at the protest music and poetry he’s produced.
Q: It’s interesting to track Dylan’s association with religion over the years, particularly in the 1970s.
A: Yeah, “Slow Train.”
Q: You haven’t shied away from addressing Judaism in your private life. Was that always the case? Were you always this committed?
A: It’s kind of like having blue eyes. It’s not something you can change. Three out of my four grandparents immigrated to this country, so I have an acute sense of my Jewish identity. I’ve journeyed in and out, in terms of observance, just like anyone else would. Right now, it’s the way I’ve chosen to spend my free time, to use my public platform. It’s hard with the demands of being a parent to an 8- and an 11-year-old. I happen to be divorced, so the kids are with their father when I’m working or flying to places like Minnesota. They have to share me with this decision to be of service. That’s honestly the hardest part.
Q: Has your religion ever gotten in the way of your career?
A: The wonderful and terrifying thing about the internet is that everyone is allowed to have an opinion. When I’ve spoken of being a Zionist, people have said they are going to boycott “Big Bang.” There are also people who don’t think Jews should be Democrats. I can’t really take on that part of the universe. I try not to tell people what to do or think.
Q: “Big Bang” doesn’t deal with religion much. Few shows do. Why is that?
A: Yeah, religion and faith don’t tend to be popular topics in Hollywood. The creative arts are associated with a rebellious spirit, and that hasn’t traditionally been tied to religion, but there’s a new wave of progressive, social justice-based Judaism that might be more compatible.
Q: I know you majored in neuroscience at UCLA, but you also majored in Hebrew and Jewish studies. Was it sometimes awkward when sitting around having beers with fellow science students?
A: Actually, I minored in Jewish studies. I might have been the only one ever doing both. I’ve never really felt a conflict. The more I fell in love with science, the more I could accept that we didn’t create all of this. It’s actually elevated my spiritual connection.
Q: After the success of “Blossom,” you left acting to pursue science full time. I’m wondering how this second time in the spotlight is different from the first time around.
A: My perspective is different. I take everything a lot less seriously than I used to. When you are young, you are anxious to be in every scene. Now I’m just grateful to be in one.
Q: When “Big Bang” is over, do see yourself doing a drama or sitcom more closely connected to Jewish issues?
A: It depends. I’m very drawn to Jewish projects, but they often cast non-Jewish actresses. It’s tricky. Sitcom actors don’t have a lot of clout.
Q: Why is Amy Fowler still with Sheldon Cooper?
A: I think she finds him enjoyable, attractive and intelligent, so she’s willing to put up with a lot of his quirks.
Q: I guess the question you get asked the most is: How much longer will the show continue?
A: Honestly, I have no idea. I’m sure there’s some algorithm that people use that takes into account that 20 million people are still watching and what the numbers have to be for it to continue. Some kind of equation.
Q: Spoken like a true scientist.