Before Kaley Cuoco starred on one of television’s most successful sitcoms, she was a little girl with more than one big dream. When she was forced to choose between them, The Big Bang Theory actor picked the one that transformed her into the entertainment icon that she is today.
When Cuoco got a racket in her hand as a toddler, she soon became a force to be reckoned with. She began playing tennis at age 3 and proved that she was focused and driven from the start by becoming good enough to be "ranked nationally as an amateur tennis player," according to CBS. At the same time she was killing it on the court, she was building her acting resume. After appearing in commercials for Barbie and KFC (via the New York Post), she landed her first TV role in the 1992 movie, Quicksand: No Escape.
The following year, 8-year-old Cuoco was cast alongside two acting legends, Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, in the action film, Virtuosity, per Variety. While speaking to Emmy Magazine in 2020, Cuoco recalled Washington letting her "sit in his red sportscar" and Crowe offering to let her watch one of his stunts. After the experience, her mother and father wanted to make sure that she knew what she was getting into. "My parents sat me down and were like, ‘This is a pretty serious job. Are you sure you want to choose this?’" she recalled. Cuoco’s answer should be fairly obvious.
Kaley Cuoco met her ‘girl crush’ as a tween
During a 2015 interview with CBS News, Kaley Cuoco confessed that she is a major Friends fanatic with a huge "girl crush" on Jennifer Aniston. "I loved her on the show, I loved her outside of the show, how she behaved. She was funny and cool and cute and I just idolized her," Cuoco said. When she was 11 years old, she got the chance to meet her idol on the set of the 1997 romantic comedy, Picture Perfect — and it was an unforgettable experience.
Cuoco later told Emmy Magazine that her mom had to give her a pep talk to help her work up enough courage to approach Aniston. When she finally did, she told the mega-star, "I love you on Friends." Cuoco recalled Aniston smiling and saying, "Oh, you watch the show?!" Cuoco praised the woman she would one day be compared to for being "so kind," adding, "That encounter still lives with me, and it will for the rest of my life."
That same year, Cuoco got to work with another woman who appeared on a popular, long-running television series: Cheers star Kirstie Alley. The older actor played the tooth fairy in the made-for-TV Disney movie, Toothless, while Cuoco had a pretty minor role. And here’s some fun trivia for Big Bang Theory fans: one year later, Cuoco played a character who had a pet snake named Sheldon in the miniseries, Mr. Murder.
Kaley Cuoco went to prom with a Disney Channel star
Kaley Cuoco was 16 years old when she landed the role that really put her on the map. From 2002 to 2005, she played your typical popular teen on the ABC series, 8 Simple Rules. Offscreen, her own teenage years were anything but typical. During a 2012 interview with Parade, Cuoco revealed that she was homeschooled starting in the fifth grade. However, thanks to an invite from High School Musical star Ashley Tisdale, Cuoco didn’t miss out on one hallmark of the public high school experience: going to prom.
Unfortunately for Cuoco, a group of mean girls kind of ruined the experience for her. The event took place during her first year on 8 Simple Rules, and she avoided channeling her character’s attention-grabbing style by wearing something "simple." However, she didn’t escape the notice of the Regina George wannabes. "But these horribly mean girls said, ‘Oh, you think you’re going to the Academy Awards in your classy black dress?’" Cuoco recalled. "Honestly, it just made me happy to know I wasn’t in that school."
While she was still filming 8 Simple Rules, the rising star underwent a big physical transformation. At age 18, Cuoco got breast implants. She would later say that the surgery was the "best decision" that she ever made.
A big break almost changed Kaley Cuoco’s life forever
When Kaley Cuoco was around 20 years old, she landed her career-defining role as Penny in The Big Bang Theory. During the show’s fourth season, Cuoco’s lower body was rarely shown. This is because she’d suffered a horrific injury that almost cost her a foot. After the accident occurred in September 2010, her rep told E! that she had broken her leg. However, the actor made the injury sound much worse during her appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show a few weeks later.
Cuoco, who is an avid equestrian, was practicing with one of her show-jumping horses when the animal "spooked," causing her to fall off. She was initially fine, but then the horse jumped up and "landed on [her left leg]." Cuoco didn’t feel any pain at first. "And then I looked, and I’m like, ‘Wow. My foot’s facing me.’ And I was like, ‘That’s not normal,’" she recalled. After paramedics cut her riding boot off, she saw that "all the bones were sticking out of it." At the hospital, she was told one of her options was "amputation."
Luckily, she ended up having two huge metal bars and 18 pins inserted inside her leg instead (via TVLine). Because of the injury, Penny was temporarily promoted from Cheesecake Factory waitress to bartender so that Cuoco could hide her cast behind the bar.
Fans freaked out when Kaley Cuoco drastically changed her look
When Kaley Cuoco lopped off her flowy blonde locks in 2014, some Big Bang Theory fans reacted worse than Sheldon did to the big change. Yahoo! Entertainment shared a few of the negative social media reactions to Penny’s pixie cut when it made its big debut on the show. They included comparisons to Keri Russell’s infamous chop on Felicity and eye roll-inducing comments from male viewers.
During a sit-down with Ellen DeGeneres, Cuoco revealed that going super short was something she had wanted to do "for years," but she noted that Penny is "all about the long blonde hair." Before she cut off her iconic golden locks for a movie role, she warned The Big Bang Theory producers about her plan. However, Cuoco said that they probably assumed that she was getting a shoulder-length cut. "And it got shorter and shorter, and eventually I said I wanted the Ellen cut," she quipped.
Luckily, Cuoco loved her new hairstyle, and the producers had no problem with it. They decided to write it into the show instead of making Cuoco wear extensions. But during a Season 10 episode, Penny was shocked to learn that none of her friends liked her short hair. "I thought it was brave. Does that count as liking it?" Bernadette said.
Kaley Cuoco made a boss move with a big payoff
By the time she was 35 years old, Kaley Cuoco’s 12 seasons on The Big Bang Theory had made her one of television’s wealthiest stars. Her big bank account made it possible for her to wait patiently before making her next big career move after the series ended. "I wasn’t actively looking for my next project and didn’t want to chase anything down," she told Emmy Magazine.
Cuoco discovered her next big project herself when she was browsing Amazon in 2017. The depiction of a blonde woman on the cover of the Chris Bohjalian novel, The Flight Attendant, caught her eye, and the book’s description intrigued her. A few months later, she procured the rights to the murder mystery. Cuoco said that she had "never [been] interested in producing," but The Flight Attendant changed that. She discussed the potential project with the chairman and CEO of Warner Bros. Television Studios, Peter Roth, and he advised her to produce it and cast herself in the lead role. She created the Yes, Norman production company to do exactly that.
Cuoco’s first production effort earned the actor her first Golden Globe nomination in 2021, and a second season of The Flight Attendant is in the works, as of this writing. Cuoco also produces the animated series, Harley Quinn, and voices the titular character. Now that she’s in the boss’ chair, Cuoco loves being there. "It’s been an eye-opening process and extremely rewarding," she said.
‘The Flight Attendant’ wasn’t a typical filming experience for Kaley Cuoco
Kaley Cuoco is more than ready for fans to witness the second season of her HBO hit series, The Flight Attendant. In March 2020, the show shut down due to COVID-19 restrictions, but resumed production in August 2020, according to Variety.
Cuoco had no one around her at first because she could not get sick. "I was just the untouchable human," she said. "I understood, but it was sad. At the end, I’m like, ‘I miss you all so much!’ It was very, very bizarre, but everyone respected the plan — and it was pretty brilliant how we finished."
The 35-year-old was coy about details for upcoming episodes, but did confirm a mystery. Her character Cassie could work in the CIA, but Cuoco wants to dive into her struggles with sobriety. "She thinks this is going to be quick and easy, and I’m nailing this!" Cuoco said. "And she’s going to learn really fast that this is a lifelong issue that will not be cured for her overnight."
Cuoco’s role impressed her former The Big Bang Theory boss, Chuck Lorre. "I was worried that I’d be unable to put Penny aside and watch with an open mind," he said. "But she had me immersed in the Cassie character almost immediately."