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How ‘Spoiler Alert’ changed Jim Parsons’ life, and how it might map his future
2023/06/15

Jim Parsons (center), co-star Ben Aldridge (right) and writer Michael Ausiello at the Castro Theatre before a screening of "Spoiler Alert," which opens Friday, Dec. 2. The film is based on Ausiello's memoir about caring for his dying husband.Photo: Chloe Aftel / Special to The Chronicle

Every actor seems passionate about the movie they are promoting, and most of the time they are. But for Jim Parsons, "Spoiler Alert" is more than just his latest film. It's a project that transformed him.

"I feel changed as a person having gone through it," Parsons said of the film, based on Michael Ausiello's touching memoir about caring for his dying husband, photographer Kit Cowan.

Parsons, who plays Ausiello in the film, thought it so important to bring the film to a preview audience at the Castro Theatre in November that the event, on a Monday night, was arranged around his schedule.

Monday is his only day off, you see. He's starring in an off-Broadway revival of the musical "A Man of No Importance." After a Sunday matinee, he flew to San Francisco to participate in a Q&A, and flew back Tuesday in time to make his evening performance.

Jim Parsons (left) and Ben Aldridge in director Michael Showalter's "SpoilerAlert," based on Ausiello's memoir.

Photo: Focus Features

"Because I care," Parsons said, smiling, during a morning interview at his hotel in downtown San Francisco, showing no signs of jet lag as he sat next to co-star Ben Aldridge, who plays Cowan. "It's love, it's love."

"Spoiler Alert" is, in a sense, Parsons' first big film project after the end of his 12-year run as Sheldon Cooper in the CBS series "The Big Bang Theory," and points to the next stage of the 49-year-old actor's career of producing as well as acting in more mature, ambitious roles. (Although his turn in Netflix's "The Boys in the Band" was filmed after the series ended in 2019, it was essentially a film version that reunited the cast of the 2018 Broadway revival.

)

Parsons optioned the rights to "Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies" in 2017, when the book was published, after he agreed to do a Q&A at a Los Angeles-area Barnes & Noble with Ausiello. He recalled having good rapport with the journalist, who had written for TV Guide and Entertainment Weekly before forming his own website, TVLine. He agreed to moderate the Q&A without reading the book.

Then, in the days leading up to the Q&A, he actually read it.

Jim Parsons at the Castro Theatre before a screening of "Spoiler Alert".

Photo: Chloe Aftel / Special to The Chronicle

"I was so visibly affected by it," Parsons said. "I was on a trip with my husband (art director Todd Spiewak) at the time, and my husband said, 'Do you think it would make a good movie?' And I said, 'I have no idea.' And so he goes, 'Well, I'm going to read it.' … So we were backstage waiting to go on before the Q&A and Todd went up to Michael and said, 'We're interested in optioning your book.' "

Parsons was initially stunned, then, ever the pro, he played along. He looked from Spiewak to Ausiello, and nodded.

"Yeah, he dropped a bomb on me right before we walked out on stage," laughed Ausiello in a separate interview in San Francisco, before the screening at the Castro.

"I couldn't believe it. It was like, I was already so excited to have Jim at this event; I had interviewed him for the past 10 years, and all the tables were being turned: He's interviewing me. I hadn't really thought too much about a movie adaptation. It wasn't something that I was prepared to even think about."

Ausiello said yes, of course.

"I don't know why Michael immediately trusted me with it, I never asked," Parsons said of the intensely personal, therapeutic memoir that was published just two years after Cowan's death. He then rolled his eyes in a Sheldon Cooper-sort-of-way. "Okaaaay, I'd like to think I'm trustworthy.

But I don't know; maybe he thought that with my own life experience, I understood where he was coming from, with his relationship with Kit."

Writer Michael Ausiello from the set of the movie "Spoiler Alert," which opens Dec. 2. The film is based on Ausiello's memoir about caring for his dying husband. Shot on location at the Castro Theater.Photo: Chloe Aftel / Special to The Chronicle

Ausiello still retained a level of control; he is an executive producer on the project and was on the set daily. But the on-set orders came from director Michael Showalter ("The Dropout,""The Eyes of Tammy Faye,""The Big Sick"), the former comedian and actor who has forged a well-respected filmography as a director and producer.

Showalter is a filmmaker known for skillfully balancing drama and comedy, and both are features of "Spoiler Alert." It's a film about death and loss, but it is also about the celebration of life.

"I think Michael made a beautiful movie that's remained faithful to the essence of my book, and I'm so grateful," Ausiello said.

Or, as Parsons sees it, much of how Ausiello conveyed the story made it ideal for adapting into a movie.  "There is both a comic cageyness — a kind of distance — and utter blatant honesty at the same time," Parsons said. "It's like he's laying bare as much as he can, but he never loses his 'Don't get too close.

' "

Ben Aldridge (left), Jim Parsons, Sally Field and Bill Irwin in director Michael Showalter's "Spoiler Alert."Photo: Focus Features

The British-born Aldridge, known for playing Thomas Wayne in the DC Epix series "Pennyworth" and as the Arsehole Guy in Phoebe Waller-Bridge's "Fleabag," came out as gay in 2020 and said he was thrilled to sign on with Parsons and his team to help bring the memoir to life.

"This is the first thing I read that I felt that the characters being gay weren't suffering at the hands of their gayness," Aldridge said.

"It wasn't about their struggle, it wasn't about them being discriminated against, it wasn't about shame. The center of this film is a celebration and a journey of love. You can't love without the risk of pain.

"When you see this, you're not thinking you've watched a person die. I think you've watched a love story. It's very life-affirming."

Parsons nodded, then added.

"You're looking at people who are going on a journey that is very traumatic, but it does take them to a place of the understanding of themselves and their love and their place in the world. For me that's where the uplifting part comes from: That was a really, really hard journey that I wouldn't wish on another person.

Except, having gone through it, I see what I see in life now and wouldn't want to trade that away.

"There's a clarity, for a moment at least, and a lot of the b—s— goes to the side."

A scene from the final episode of "The Big Bang Theory," with, from left, Johnny Galecki, Jim Parsons, Mayim Bialik and Kaley Cuoco.Photo: Michael Yarish / Associated Press

Parsons will turn 50 on March 24. While "Spoiler Alert" signals a mature, vibrant post-"Big Bang Theory" career, he said he isn't operating from some master plan.

"I've never been a kind of actor who has said, 'I want to play this role, I want to be this person.' People I know do successfully work that way, but it's just never been the way I've worked. It's more of a collaborative and organic growth process. And then bam, this is happening.

"I will say that I want to keep on the path as much as I can that has led to things like this movie. I listened to my heart and went forward, and it's led to something that has really affected my life and changed my life in a lot of ways. And if there is a guiding thing going forward, I would say I would like to keep working on things that affect me as a human, as much as they do as an actor or a career."

Ever the actor with comic timing, Parson smiles slyly, then laughed,  "And then I'll be 60 and we'll see what happens!"

"Spoiler Alert" (PG-13) opens Friday, Dec. 2, at select theaters. Expands nationwide Dec. 9.

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