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Cuoco makes 'Hop' from 'Big Bang' to movies

A star of one of television's top sitcoms, Kaley Cuoco is hoping to make a big bang in the movies, too.

The young actress' career has been centered on the home screen, thanks to regular roles on "8 Simple Rules" (still seen in repeats on ABC Family), "Charmed" (now rerun weekdays by TNT) and her biggest hit to date: CBS' "The Big Bang Theory," which is holding its own admirably at 8 p.m. Thursdays against Fox's ratings juggernaut "American Idol."

As Easter approaches, though, Cuoco is making a timely leap to the big screen. She's in the cast of "Hop," a fantasy-comedy arriving in theaters April 1. Courtesy of computer animation, she gets to appear opposite the son of the Easter Bunny (sporting the voice of Russell Brand), who travels to Hollywood and is hit by a car then is taken in by the driver (James Marsden) and his sister (Cuoco).

"I'm so excited," the lively Cuoco says about the movie's imminent opening as she takes a break from a photo shoot. "You get very spoiled when you're on a TV show, so every time my summers came around, I didn't want to do anything. I wanted to hang out with my horses and call people back; I didn't want to work on anything, because I knew I had a job.

"Last summer, I was ready to do a film, and this one came along. It was just the most fun experience. I've really got the film bug now, and I hope that takes me somewhere in my life as well. I'd never say this for sure, but I think I've built a name in television, and my next step is to find a place in the film world. There are all these goals I have, and I've met my television goal, so I want to reach some others."

Indeed, Cuoco has several other film projects in various stages. She has completed "The Last Ride," a drama about the final days of country music legend Hank Williams (played by Henry Thomas). Also on her agenda is a remake of the 1987 thriller "The Bedroom Window," giving her Elizabeth McGovern's earlier role as an assault victim who sets a trap for her attacker.

Even with those plans, Cuoco will be giving much more "Big Bang" for her bucks. CBS already has renewed the show for not just one more season but three; also, repeats start a weekday run this fall on TBS and local stations, where the series has set an off-network syndication record by netting more than $2 million per episode for Warner Bros. Television.

"The show has done miraculous things for me," Cuoco reflects, adding her belief that she's been professionally lucky in general. "I've grown up in front of the camera. I've worked really hard for 20 years, and it blows my mind when I think about being in this business that long.

"I've learned not to take anything for granted, and I don't know how I landed a show that is this successful. That's super-rare, so I'm riding this wave as long as I can. I didn't see this coming. I have no idea where life will take me next."

Cuoco knows her immediate future, at least, and she embraces continuing to play neighbor Penny to engaging geeks Leonard and Sheldon (Johnny Galecki and Emmy and Golden Globe winner Jim Parsons). She recalls being stunned by the news of the series' virtually unheard-of three-year renewal when she spotted it online while on the show's set.

"We were rehearsing, and I said, 'Hey, guys. Did we get picked up for three years?' Johnny was like, 'Oh, yeah. I heard that.' Then, Jim said, 'Oh, yeah. I heard that, too.' Then we just went on with our day. That's how casual we are at work. Later in the day, we did a big 'Cheers!' over it. That just doesn't happen, to know you have a job for three more years. It's very emotional for me."

Stressing that she's not as casual as she first might appear about such milestones, Cuoco attributes it to "my work ethic. I think some people think it means I don't care, but the more people get to know me and the longer I work with them, they realize that's just kind of the way I am. I'm as happy and grateful as the next person, but I don't take it too seriously."

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