There has been a lot written over the years about casting for The Big Bang Theory. We know the original roomie across the hall was replaced by Kaley Cuoco’s Penny after the pilot was made. In fact, Chuck Lorre’s called the pilot “a mess” in the past and admitted they didn’t know what they were doing, but there was one now a-lister the show definitely didn’t think would be a good fit due to her age at the time the pilot was coming together.
Who was that a-lister? Brie Larson. And she wasn't the only major name to try out for the role either.
What Brie Larson Said About Auditioning For The Big Bang Theory
In an interview about auditioning, Brie Larson once admitted she’d tried out to star in The Big Bang Theory. Unfortunately, those involved in the casting process thought she was “too young.” Given The Big Bang Theory pilot was filmed ahead of the fall TV season in 2006 and Cuoco was introduced to the cast before the show as we know it hit the TV schedule a year later in 2007, Larson would have only been 17 or 18 years old when the show was coming together. She noted on her YouTube page:
I tested for The Big Bang Theory, I remembered that this morning. They were really sweet, they just said I was too young; it's true.
While she admitted the role wasn’t right for her, the sting of “rejection” was clearly still there, as the actress went on in the video to explain why exactly the auditioning process can be so brutal. She also shouted out people everywhere who have undergone the process.
Being an actor is hard. Auditioning is hard. It can bring up a lot of emotions because you’re feeling rejection constantly, everyday. So for those that are actors I feel you. For those who are interested in being actors, I feel you. For those that think that being an actor is just like fluffy and easy, you’re wrong.
The Big Bang Theory isn’t the only high-profile role Brie Larson has lost during her career. She’s been open about losing major gigs in the Star Wars franchise and in Terminator Genisys in the past. At this point in her career, she’s also beat out some major contenders for roles, including landing the gig as Captain Marvel in the MCU. While those who auditioned were never confirmed, names like Emily Blunt and Charlize Theron were bandied about, with Blunt later theorizing there are a limited number of female actresses fans can seemingly imagine as these sorts of characters. Given Larson’s acting roots are in comedy, she was a bit of a surprising fit for the MCU role.
The Long Story Behind Kaley Cuoco Landing The Big Bang Theory Role
It’s unclear if Brie Larson auditioned when the original character Katie was being cast or around the time when Kaley Cuoco landed the role. She’s not the only major name to try out for The Big Bang Theory either, as Elizabeth Berkley and others were revealed to have tried out. In fact that entire list is wild and includes other hopefuls like Jodi Lynn O'Keefe.
We do know that Cuoco had also seen both versions of the script that had been written: The original with the “Katie” character (which ultimately went to Amanda Walsh) and the second script with the “Penny” character.
The only problem? Ken Miller said Kaley Cuoco wasn’t particularly interested in the Penny character when she was pitched it the second time around, having like the "darker" Katie character better. He said in the book The Big Bang Theory: The Definitive Inside Story Of The Epic Hit Series that she actually passed when offered, unlike Larson, who wasn't seen to be the right fit.
When Chuck and Bill rewrote the character of Katie/Penny, we said, ‘What about Kaley?’ [who had just come off 8 Simple Rules and Charmed]. And they said, ‘Let’s get her in.’ And then she passed. She liked the darker role from the first pilot and didn’t think the rewritten character was as interesting. Nikki spent the entire weekend saying to Kaley’s agent, ‘She’s gotta come back in for this, she’s gotta do it.’
The staff “begged.” In fact, Peter Roth even admitted everything in the second pilot had been “timed to get Kaley to play Penny.” It eventually worked, because the sitcom –with Kaley in the role – went to series and became a ratings juggernaut, lasting on CBS for 10 years and still being revisited by those with a Max subscription today. Cuoco would thank Ken Miller and Nikki Valko at subsequent table reads over the years for “hiring” her.
Ultimately, while Larson likely would have had the comedic chops to play Penny, it’s hard to imagine a world where anyone but Cuoco portrayed the character. (And it's even wilder to think of Elizabeth Berkley in the role, as she cut back heavily on acting for a time before she recently cropped back up in the Saved By The Bell remake.)
While the Big Bang actress was a known name before Chuck Lorre’s sitcom, without playing Penny, who knows if her career would have led to projects like The Flight Attendant and Based on a True Story? Perhaps it would have gone in a different direction entirely. Plus, Larson probably wouldn’t have even had the bandwidth to sign on for Captain Marvel if she’d landed the gig, either. It would have been a different world.