On “The Big Bang Theory,” Johnny Galecki‘s spent seven seasons bringing a fictional character to life, but in his new film “CBGB,” he’s part of a cast trusted to represent people who actually walked the earth, a responsibility he didn’t take lightly.
In the film, which tells the story of Hilly Kristal (played by Alan Rickman) and how his plan for a country, bluegrass and blues venue (hence the CBGB) ultimately became the birthplace for the punk movement, Galecki stars as Terry Ork, a record executive and label owner who brought Kristal many of the acts that put CBGB on the map. Speaking with Zap2it in advance of the film’s release (in theaters Friday, Oct. 11), Galecki admits that there’s an inherent elevated responsibility involved when playing someone who once lived himself.
“There’s a responsibility that comes with playing someone that walked this earth and had relationships with people that still walk this earth, and especially if they’ve passed, you want to pay them proper homage,” the actor says. “But it’s such a luxury to have any reference to building a character that can’t be argued, you know? You’re alleviated of your own artistic insecurities. ‘Maybe people won’t like the beard.’ Well, it doesn’t matter. Guy had a beard. ‘Is the scarf a little too over the top?’ No there’s a photo of him with that scarf. It’s great. So, that’s a real luxury.”
Though there isn’t much public information on Ork available, Galecki says that he was able to find some insight into the man, however miniscule. “Well, I tracked down some friends of his and got together and sat down with them,” he reveals. “One of them had about two-and-a-half seconds of footage of him laughing at the bar in CBGB and, as silly as it sounds because it was such a brief little snippet of history, it was incredibly telling. It was really — and I must have watched that snippet a thousand times because there wasn’t a lot to draw on. But there was definitely a blueprint there.”
While the film tells the story of Kristal, and rightly credits him for giving the then-underground scene the opportunity to flourish, there is a schism in the punk community that argues on behalf of Ork, who brought artists like Television and Cheetah Crome to Kristal and his club, crediting him with true father of the scene.
“I’m aware of the argument that’s in the punk community of who deserves what credit between Hilly and Terry,” Galecki admits. “I think obviously it was Hilly’s club, but obviously also just by CBGB standing for country, bluegrass and blues, the blueprint of the punk movement was not his initial intention. [laughs] I think that Terry does, not to take anything away from all the credit Hilly deserves, but I’m really happy that Terry’s represented in the story because I do think he deserves quite a bit of credit for making those connections and he was a true lover of this music, of these performers.
“He was terribly generous towards them without having a lot to give monetarily or anything like that, and really cultivated the first broad strokes of it, you know? And knew that it was new. Before the term ‘punk,’ they just called it new music as there was no way to describe it or categorize it at the time, and I love that Terry has that line in the film,” he adds.
Though the actor came to the film as a fan and follower of the artists included in the film, he reveals that there was still some things he was pleased to learn. “What I didn’t know was chronologically, how it grew and who influenced who and who supported who and who collaborated with one another, and that was very exciting to learn,” Galecki says. “I think most importantly, and what really made me excited to be part of the story, was to learn how supportive they were of one another. That it was a place that they all nurtured this expression in a way that never once hinted of even competitiveness.”
That spirit of community touched Galecki, driving his excitement over working on the film. “I think [that’s] all too rare, and as someone who endeavors to be supportive to his fellow artists and actors out there, whether I know them or I’m working with them or not, I thought, ‘Wow, this is a really endearing thread through this story that’s unexpected and something that I’d really like to contribute to because I think it’s important,'” he says. “There’s too much rejection out there in all of these walks of life, be it acting or film or music, that it’s important to be there for your brothers and sisters. And that was not part of the CBGB story that I was expecting to gather.”
“CBGB” hits theaters on Friday, Oct. 11.