At just 10 years old, Iain Armitage has already acted alongside some of the biggest heavyweights in Hollywood. As Ziggy Chapman in the HBO hit Big Little Lies (a role he landed at age 7), his co-stars include Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern and, with season two, Meryl Streep. His film work has paired him up with screen icons Jane Fonda and Robert Redford, as well as other A-listers like Naomi Watts, Woody Harrelson, Brie Larson and J.K. Simmons. Armitage is perhaps best known, though, for playing boy genius Sheldon Cooper in the CBS comedy Young Sheldon, a prequel to the hit sitcom The Big Bang Theory, in which he plays the school-aged version of Jim Parsons’ beloved Big Bang counterpart.
WS: When did you start acting, and what drew you to the entertainment business?
ARMITAGE: I started acting at about 6 or 7 years old. I got my first part, in Big Little Lies, at 7. It was more of a happy accident. I always liked being a good audience member and seeing theater. An agency asked if I wanted to try [acting] and I thought, OK! It’s been really fun and awesome ever since.
WS: What do you like most about the character you play in Young Sheldon, and do you and Sheldon have characteristics in common?
ARMITAGE: Since he is so oblivious to emotions, it gives him the freedom to say a lot of funny, kind of naughty things that you wouldn’t say in real life. He’s a very interesting character to play. He’s funny and nice (a lot of the time). We’re both very passionate about the things we’re passionate about. We both love science. We’re also different in a lot of ways. I’m not nearly as smart as he is, for example.
WS: What are some of the biggest challenges Sheldon faces as a super-bright kid in high school? Are these relatable to real-world experiences of kids or are they unique to a brainiac like Sheldon?
ARMITAGE: For most kids, the social aspect of school is the easy part and all the work is the hard part. For him, the work is the easy part and socializing is hard. [Looking at] the hallway scenes—where I’m scuttling between all these people, running around and going underneath them—being a lot smaller is definitely not an advantage for Sheldon.
Being in high school as a 10-year-old might not be very relatable, but everyone has something that makes them feel a bit different from other people. That’s actually a good thing! If everyone were the same, things would be pretty boring. Sometimes people have a difficult time navigating social aspects of life; that can always be a little bit hard.
WS: How did Jim Parsons help you step into the role of Sheldon? Do you ever watch The Big Bang Theory and look to his character for inspiration?
ARMITAGE: I don’t watch The Big Bang Theory because it’s not aimed at my audience level. The good thing is I have the world’s greatest Sheldon expert just a few sound stages away. To help me prepare for this mammoth role—it’s very hard to be Sheldon!—we talked about how Sheldon would handle different situations. We talked about how he would react to things and about everything from the way he speaks to the way he behaves. We discussed every aspect of Sheldon, and over time I got it down.
WS: What method do you have for memorizing your lines? Is there anything in particular that helps get you into character when filming?
ARMITAGE: I read somewhere that if you read something before you go to sleep, you remember it better. I read my lines on my way home from work and on the way to work. Once I have the gist of the scene, I pretty much know all the lines—it’s sort of weird! [Laughs] When I come [to the set], I’m Iain; I’m in my Iain clothes with my Iain hair. But then I put on my Sheldon clothes, step into his shoes (literally), get my Sheldon hair on, my perfect Sheldon paleness—we jokingly call it “going through the works.” Once I have all that done and I step onto our sound stage, that’s when I feel like Sheldon. Having it all come together is a good feeling.
WS: What are some of the things that are universally funny (or relatable) that this show offers for viewers across the world?
ARMITAGE: Touching back to the idea of Sheldon being oblivious to feelings, having someone being as open as he is is always pretty funny. He says such brash and hilarious things. There’s also the fish-out-of-water aspect to it. That’s so relatable but in a funny way. This really takes it to the next level of being a fish out of water. Think fish in a desert. [Laughs]
WS: Are you and the cast a tight-knit group?
ARMITAGE: Oh yeah! I love everyone in the cast. Meemaw, Miss Annie Potts, I go to her house on the weekends. Me and Raegan [Revord, who plays Sheldon’s twin sister, Missy] go to the park together. Me and Montana [Jordan, who plays Sheldon’s older brother, George Jr.] have a lot of fun and do some videos together. The parents are like real parents to us. The atmosphere on the set makes it feel like I’m at home, even though I’m at work. The Cooper house set, that’s our home—everyone there is like my family. I’m really lucky and feel so honored to work here.
WS: Your character on Big Little Lies is quite different from Sheldon.
ARMITAGE: Sheldon is very confident. He holds himself in a high, high place. He knows his capabilities. Ziggy is more vulnerable. Sheldon is a little bit vulnerable, in that he hasn’t quite found his footing in the world. Ziggy is quiet; he doesn’t really talk to people and is not confident.
WS: You have worked alongside some tremendously talented actors. Have any of them passed on acting tips?
ARMITAGE: Oh my goodness, it is mind-blowing! To be in the room with such legends is crazy! They’re like the best you can get, and then you’re around them and they are so homey and down to earth. They make everything feel so normal that sometimes you forget you’re in the same room as, say, Jane Fonda; it’s more like you’re in the same room as your friend. Just being around them and watching how they [approach acting] in itself is a big acting lesson. Seeing everybody’s different method for acting and how they get into their characters is pretty cool! It seeps into you and makes you better than you were before.
WS: I understand you love the theater and do reviews of Broadway shows on your YouTube channel. Where did your love of plays come from?
ARMITAGE: It’s in my blood. My mom is a director and my dad is an actor. It’s like seeing magic happen on stage. On screen, you can’t go meet the actors when they’re done with the show; they’re not right there in front of you for real. In theater acting, there’s only one take to get it perfect—so it’s very good. Theater acting is also very passionate. So is acting for film, and I love both!