Art mirrors life. And in the case of "We'll Never Have Paris" (opening Thursday) starring and written by "The Big Bang Theory" star Simon Helberg and codirected with his wife of seven years, actress Jocelyn Towne -- art mirrored life really, really closely: The film reflects the couple's real-life relationship travails before marriage, when he broke up with her after years together to date other women, realized he'd made a horrible mistake, then chased her to her new home, Paris, where she was involved with some great French guy.
It sounds painful to relive, but the cheerfully talkative Helberg, has made a character-actor career of playing sad sacks and self-deprecating beta-males, such as Howard Wolowitz in the ensemble of his hit sitcom. And in "Paris," he evinces a sort of Gene Wilder vibe even at his most hapless, making you care about the poor schmo.
Helberg, 34, son of actor-writer Sandy Helberg and casting director Harriet Helberg, and the parent of two children with Towne, spoke with frequent Newsday contributor Frank Lovece.
There's an episode of "The Big Bang Theory" where Howard gets in trouble with his wife Bernadette after saying he couldn't imagine working alongside her all day and then having to be around her again all evening. Soooo . . . making this movie with your real-life wife, did that episode give you ideas of what not to do or say?
Oh my God, at this point real life and fiction are almost indistinguishable for me. When people ask whether I'm similar to Howard, I always say, "No! Are you kidding me?" And in terms of surface-level qualities I don't think I'm like him . . . thank God. And that mistake Howard made in "Big Bang" by saying what he said about Bernadette. . . [pause] I did wind up working closely with my wife and the irony is that we, as a happily married couple, were making the story of our demise. Which is sort of stupid, to go down that road again and relive it, to go back to all these landmarks that I wept over and where I groveled on the ground, screaming and wailing.
In the movie, your character Quinn's beautiful, blond co-worker Kelsey [Maggie Grace] declares her love for him after he says he's proposing to Devon [Melanie Lynskey]. So he gets tempted by the hot chick and semi-intentionally nudges Devon into leaving him. But I have to ask -- with all due respect to your talent and your personality -- did you really have Maggie Grace-level women coming on to you?
The movie's definitely an amalgam of people and experiences, but yeah, in terms of physical hotness or whatever -- I don't know how deep into this question I want to get [laughs] -- but [Kelsey] kind of just likes this guy, they're friends, she doesn't have a history of being with guys who have much intellect and she maybe mistakes their friendship for something more romantic. I think that happens quite a bit -- there are a lot of guys who aren't quite handsome enough for the girls in their lives but . . . .
When did all this take place?
Let's see . . . probably around 2005 or something; like, 10 years ago.
How hard was it convincing Jocelyn to relive it?
I wrote it alone and then gave it to her. I had been talking about the idea with people, but I hadn't told her exactly what I was doing.
And she has said that she had trepidation but found the script funny and so agreed to go along.
And she had great notes and I felt she brought this balance to it since she had also lived it as the other half. Sometimes, and specifically in this kind of movie, it's hard to hold on to any kind of female perspective. I tried my damnedest to represent that aspect. We had a lot of women surrounding us at all times, at the head of most of the major departments throughout the production. We had a woman DP [director of photography], a woman director, a woman head of the art department, a woman editor . . . . We were really happy to have that kind of representation.
It was a very strange experience -- maybe masochistic or something -- to go back and relive these things. Now, of course, allowing my wife to direct me as to how I should humiliate myself, she got her comeuppance in this. . . . I made the main character very, very flawed because I relate to being very flawed and I certainly was very flawed at that time in my life. And working with my wife on this story was unlike anything I've ever experienced before, but it was in no way a mistake.