About ten years ago, I was stuck, professionally, and doing my best not to freak out every day about where the next mortgage payment would come from. I was doing moderately well as a writer, but I wasn’t earning enough to sustain myself and my family, and my acting career was … well, if it were a patient in a coma, we would have been having serious discussions about pulling the plug to end the suffering.
Everything changed when Bill Prady called me, and pitched me on playing a version of myself on his series, The Big Bang Theory. Believe it or not, I didn’t instantly say yes. I felt like playing myself meant I would only get to do one episode, nobody would care, and the industry wouldn’t respect me for it because I wasn’t playing a role. So I called my friend John Rogers and asked him what I should do.
“YOU SAY YES YOU DUMMY WHY ARE YOU EVEN CONSIDERING NOT DOING THIS?!” He hollered at me, throwing much-needed cold water on the doubts and fears I had unnecessarily created in my fucked up head.
So I thanked John for his advice and guidance, called Bill back, and accepted the gig. A few days later, Bill called me back and carefully told me that the character had changed. Now, the version of Wil Wheaton I would be playing was, and I quote, “Delightfully evil.”
Now I said YES without hesitation. I was playing a character, just like I wanted to, but I was the only person in the world who could play him, because he was literally a version of me.
That week on the set was the best week of my life. I was already a huge fan of the show, but by the time I was wrapped, I was an even bigger fan of the cast and crew. Everyone treated me with kindness and respect. They made me feel so welcome, like I deserved to be there, like I was a valued member of the show. One of the producers told me “I hope you had a good time here, because we are definitely bringing you back for more episodes.”
That was awesome, but I’ve worked in film and television long enough to know that people say things like that all the time, and nothing ever comes of it.
Only this time, it did! A little while later, they brought me back for another episode, and then another and another and then it was ten years later and I’ve done like seventeen episodes. Along the way, I became good friends with the entire cast and most of the writers and producers. Along the way, they welcomed me into their family, and made me feel like I was as important to the production as anyone else who works there. They accepted me and always made me feel like I deserved to be there, like I was valued, like I was not someone who had done under twenty episodes, but who had been there for every moment of every day. It has been a remarkable experience, and the greatest joy of my professional life. Personally, it ranks second, behind my marriage and partnership with the best person on the planet, Anne Wheaton.
Last night, I took what is probably my final curtain call in front of an audience at Stage 25. There are only 9 episodes left, and the math of it makes it unlikely there will be another space in any of the stories they have left for my version of Wil Wheaton.
And while that breaks my heart, it’s really okay. Things end, and I’m always grateful to be sad at the end of something, because it means I am grateful that it happened.
When I was a kid on Star Trek, I never had the emotional maturity to appreciate it. I loved my cast mates, and we were a family, but I was just too young and immature to fully appreciate what we had, until it was gone. For years, when I thought about TNG and my space family, I felt shame and regret. But I finally got to publicly express my love and gratitude to them at a big TNG reunion panel in Calgary. I got a second chance that I never thought I would get, and I made the most of it. Since then, I can look back on TNG with fondness and pride, instead of sadness and regret.
I wasn’t going to let 25 years go by before I got to share my gratitude with the cast and crew of Big Bang Theory, so yesterday during a break in camera blocking, I stood in the middle of the set, and I took a minute to tell them all how grateful I am for the years of love and kindness they have all given me. I thanked them for making me feel like I’m part of their family, and for being my friends. I did my best not to cry, and I mostly succeeded.
We went back to work, and over the next hour or so, pretty much everyone from the cast and crew came up to me and made sure I knew that I didn’t just feel like part of their family, I was part of their family. Every single person who talked to me told me they will miss me as much as I will miss them.
Over the course of the day and night (we tape in the evening after rehearsing and camera blocking all day), I was able to share meaningful and joyful (and tearful) moments with everyone in the cast, and most of the producers and crew. I was able to directly express my gratitude to all of the people who have been such an important and wonderful part of my life since we shot my first episode, way back in 2008.
I’m so sad that the show is ending. I’m so sad that, in just a few short weeks, they’ll start tearing down the sets and preparing Stage 25 for whoever is going to move into after we leave.
But I am so grateful that I’ve had the privilege and honor to spend nearly a quarter of my life working with and becoming friends with these amazing humans.
The episode we shot last night will probably air in 3 to 4 weeks, and it’s likely to be the last time we see Formerly Evil Wil Wheaton in his natural habitat, but as you probably saw from the pictures I posted from the set, I could not have asked for a better and more wonderful way to bring this incredible chapter in my life to a close.
My life and career are in a much better place now than they were ten years ago. I feel happier (recent kick in the face by my damn Depression notwithstanding) and I feel better about my career choices and opportunities than I have in a long, long time. Being part of this show, and forming friendships with my cow-orkers there has been a very big part of that.
Thank you, Bill Prady and Chuck Lorre, for giving me the opportunity to be part of your creation. Thank you, Steve Molaro and Steve Holland, and all the writers, for always giving me the funniest stuff to perform, and letting me play a version of myself who is so much cooler than I am. Thank you, Mark Cendrowski, for always directing me toward my best possible work, and for making me a better actor. Thank you, Anthony Rich, and everyone on the crew, for creating such an amazing and joyful and supportive working environment.
And thank you most of all to the cast for allowing me to be part of the family. I don’t know what’s next for any of us (I hope you all take a deserved vacation) but I want you all to know that I love you, and being part of your stories has been a gift, an honor, and something I will cherish for the rest of my life.