Since its debut back in 2014, “Silicon Valley” has sparked debate on who in the tech world inspired the show’s motley crew of characters. Richard is Mark Zuckerberg, Erlich is Sean Parker, Laurie is Marissa Mayer, and so on.
Nelson “Big Head” Bighetti, played by Josh Brener, has remained a mystery.
He climbed the ranks at Google-inspired tech giant Hooli to become “co-head dreamer” of the moonshot division; landed a profile in Wired (for real); and went on to acquire Pied Piper. But Big Head did it all with the technical acumen of a first-year computer science student, and even that might be generous. His job for much of season three involved idling on a roof.
He is, as Brener describes, the “manifestation of tai chi, just blowing in the wind.”
Who of the tech elite could possibly inspire such a dud?
Big Head is actually an amalgamation of Silicon Valley has-beens.
When a startup is acquired by a major company, the founders are sometimes relegated to do nothing. They run out their contracts wandering campus while their equity vests.
“As far as I know, Big Head was inspired by a number of different real-life stories where people were basically in the situation of being unassigned to any project — basically being fired without being fired,” Brener tells Business Insider, adding that there was no 1-1 comparison.
There is one surprising source of inspiration for Big Head that has nothing to do with the valley: the main character of the 1979 dark comedy, “Being There.”
Watch the trailer below.
In the film, Chauncey Gardiner (played by Peter Sellers) fakes his way to financial and political prominence after being kicked off the estate where he has worked as a gardener his whole life. His simple words about gardens and the weather are often mistaken for profound metaphors, and most of his knowledge comes from what he sees on TV. Still, he excels.
“In the early episodes of ‘Silicon Valley,’ I had no idea what Big Head would go on to achieve in all of his glory. So, it was as much a surprise to me,” Brener says, “but I definitely went back and looked at Chauncey Gardiner after the fact and tried to pick up a couple pointers.”
He remembers the show’s writers telling him, “Hey, if you’re going to steal, steal from the best.”
“Being There” has since become one of his favourite movies.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.