Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, star of TV's most popular comedy and new wife to a pro-tennis hottie, has a few simple rules for keeping things light. Be true to you, surround yourself with friends, laugh at your zits, and screw the haters ... even if you can't ignore them.
Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting woke up with a zit.
This would probably bother you — and it would certainly bother almost any other actress on planet Earth. But Cuoco-Sweeting, star of the hit CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory, didn't think twice about it. "I walked onto the set this morning, no makeup," she says. "Jim [Parsons, who plays Sheldon] was like, 'Oh my god, you have a huge zit on your face!'" After a day of listening to each cast-mate pile on, pointing out her zit, openly making fun of it, she says, "I got in the car and laughed all the way home. I thought, That is literally my family. It's the most comfortable environment I have ever been in, aside from being in my parents' house."
You could have the world's biggest flashlight, and you wouldn't be able to locate Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting's angst. "I'm so happy," she says on the evening of the zit incident, at a favorite small Italian restaurant in the Los Angeles neighborhood where she both lives and works. She's wearing slouchy overalls and a slouchier wool hat. It's raining outside, but she has an energetic warmth — direct eye contact, a beaming smile. Her zit is intact but now has some concealer on it. "I swear I'm not trying to pretend I have no complaints. I can't even think of one right now. I really can't!"
All evidence confirms this. The new addition to her last name indicates a new marriage, one that she is over the moon about to the point where her face turns red and her voice rises an octave when she talks about her husband, tennis pro Ryan Sweeting. Big Bang shows no signs of ratings descent. And well, she can barely keep to herself how excited she is for her Cosmo cover. "A Cosmo cover has been my dream my entire life," she says, leaning in, her hand on her chest. "I cried when I found out."
The things that keep Cuoco-Sweeting happy are the things that are unique about her. She has never been self-conscious. She's open about the things she never liked about herself — she calls getting breast implants when she was 18 the "best decision I ever made." She's someone who, after years of being the lone and adored woman on the Big Bang set, welcomed an influx of actresses who she says "made the show feel new again." More than anything, she's someone who can be cast as a dumb blonde and be winsome and vivacious enough for the writers to evolve the character to the point where Penny is often the smartest person in the room.
"I'm not that weird person," she says, ordering guacamole for the table, then obliterating her side of the plate with hot sauce. "I feel like a lot of comedians do have that deep, dark thing. I have my stuff, but I don't go to that dark place. Things are just way too good."
Cuoco-Sweeting credits her low-pressure upbringing in Oxnard, California, for how normal she is. Born to a firefighter-turned-real-estate-broker dad and a former print-model mom, she was "a ham, made to be in front of the camera."
She was cast in ads from the time she was 6 and was 10 when she landed her first big gig — the 1995 thriller Virtuosity. "My mom made this rule: If you want to do this, you have to pick something else too," she says. She picked tennis, worked hard, and became a nationally ranked player. "Acting was just another part of my life, as it still is today," she says. "It's 1 of the 10 things I love doing. It's never just been my life. As cheesy as it sounds, all my eggs were never in just one basket. I had a thousand baskets going on."
Even after winning a lead on the sitcom 8 Simple Rules ..., with her late, beloved mentor, John Ritter, she tried not to get too caught up in a business where even success involves tons of scrutiny and rejection. When she decided she was done with competitive tennis, she began horseback riding. She rides "as often as possible" in Simi Valley, where she owns four horses. "It's me time," she says. "It's important in a relationship to have moments when you do your own thing."
Key to her Zen attitude is surrounding herself with people she trusts. "I've had the same team around me for 20 years, the best people," she says. "I feel like I have armed guards around me 24/7. I'm never worried because these people have taken care of me." Her younger sister, Briana, a singer who appeared on The Voice, works as her personal assistant.
She also remains close to Johnny Galecki, who plays Leonard on Big Bang. She is the rare woman who could pull off a stable relationship for two years with a coworker, break up, and stay good friends to the point where she says, "It took a minute, a bit of awkwardness. By the grace of God, we became best buddies and moved on in such an elegant way." She calls her ex "one of my closest friends. He was in the front row at my wedding, with a huge smile on his face."
Having so much support helped last summer when things got a little out of control. After a 10-day fling with Man of Steel Henry Cavill, she went from being the rare under-the-radar sitcom star to someone who had tabloid photographers camped out in her driveway. "It was Superman," she says. "I had no one following me until I met Superman. I've been in this business for 20 years, and my whole life, I could go anywhere, do anything. There had not been one paparazzi photo of me until like seven months ago. The recognition has been crazy. And then meeting Ryan and getting engaged so fast, I knew people were going to think it was so ridiculous."
It's true that her courtship with Sweeting was, shall we say, expedited. Soon after her breakup with Cavill, a friend introduced her to Sweeting. He came to Los Angeles to meet her ... and never left. After three months, he proposed. The wedding was two months later. "I admit it happened fast, but that's who I am," she says. "When we met, I knew he was the one. I'm not 18 anymore."
Although she knew she was going to take a hit from the public, her family was supportive. "They know me so well," she says. "They know when I want something, I go get it. No one stops me — can't change my mind, that's it."
She had a great idea for the wedding: They'd throw the most epic, mother of all New Year's Eve parties and get married there. But it would be a secret. And it was, except for the manicurist she told and maybe also everyone else she met. "Ryan kept saying, 'I thought this was a secret wedding,'" she says, laughing.
Still, it remained mostly under wraps. She began the party in a red dress, then asked everyone to move over to the next tent ... and voilà: there she was, in a pink gown designed by Vera Wang just for her, with 11 bridesmaids, 11 groomsmen, and her sister as her maid of honor. We're talking fire and ice themes, pink smoke, 40 chandeliers, and a Cirque du Soleil motif.
She posted the photos to her social-media followers — 360,000 on Instagram and 1.81 million on Twitter. And then she read every single mean comment written about her. But it turns out, no one, not even Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, is immune to those. "My husband threatened to throw my phone in the pool," she says. "I'll read something from someone in Indiana who's like, 'She looked disgusting in that dress,' and it's going to ruin my night."
But she's learned that trying to please the haters didn't help. "I started reading and thought, Maybe I need to make more of an effort and not go out in my UGGs and be disgusting," she says. "So I started putting on makeup. And they started writing, 'Wow, someone really likes being in front of the camera' and 'Her hair's done now for coffee.' I couldn't do anything right. Why am I reading this shit? But I'm obsessed. I openly admit to being totally insane about that."
Maybe so, but she also has perspective. "The fact that I've stayed out rehab and jail and kept my underwear on for every photo ... if my one thing is being obsessed with what they think of my dress, then fine," she says. "I really am an open book. I don't keep anything in at all, which is good and bad. Now, you can post a picture and 18,000 people see it. You can tell the world everything in five minutes. Maybe they do think I'm a little dumb, like this-girl-can't-shut-up sort of thing. But if I wasn't in the public eye, I'd be the same exact person. I'd be telling my 18 followers: This is my picture of my wedding."
And no one could ruin her memories of that day, hiding in the back as her friends cried and yelled as if they were at a rock concert, how she walked down the aisle touching everyone's hands as she made her way, ripping off her veil when it got in the way. "I felt like a rock star and a badass," she says. "What was amazing in that room, it was so full of love. It was like nothing I'd ever been to before, and it was exactly what we wanted it to be. I mean, it was the eighth wonder of the world, the greatest wedding of all time."