“We were on a break…”
TV . 1994-2004
Phoebe, Ross, Rachel, Joey, Monica and Chandler… it’s in the jeans. [© Warner Bros TV/NBC]
Wasn’t that hard to find them. The right them… They were heaps of young actors out there, not forgetting all the Brits arriving for the pilots’ season. Some were actually in shows all over the tube at the time.
Jennifer Anniston was co-starring with Mayim Bialyk on a new Fox sitcom which didn’t Molloy for very long. Nine chapters and… all gone!
Courteney Cox, the best known of the group, was Michael J Fox’s girlfriend on Family Ties – and looking ab-so-lute-ly gorgeous in Bruce Springsteen’s 1984 music video Dancing in the Dark. She was also the first person to say “period” on US TV, in, what else, a Tampax commercial.
Lisa Kudrow was in and out as Jamie and Paul’s daffy waitress on Mad About You.
Matt LeBlanc was Christina Applegate’s boyfriend, Vinnie, on Married with Children, and was being spun-off into his own series called Hey Vinnie.
Matthew Perry was a recurring guest character on Growing Pains.
Only David Schwimmer was telling his agent: “No more TV.” He was pissed off after a bad experience as Henry Winkler’s son in the conservative-com, Monty, plus losing out to Jonathan Silverman for a tele-film (a pilot, really) called Couples – about three New York couples living in the same apartment building…
Sound familiar? Of course, it does. Because the script came from David Crane and Marta Kaufman, who respun it (in three days) for a pilot called Insomnia Café or Friends Like Us. “It’s about sex, love, relationships, careers, a time in your life when everything’s possible,” ran their pitch. “And it’s about friendship because when you’re single and in the city, your friends are your family.” And it ready to roll as soon as six personable actors with a comedic talent were found.
Penned portraits of the characters – eight lines apiece – were sent to acting agencies in Chicago, New York and, of course, LA, , resulting in 1,000 applicants, pared down to 75… I have here details of just 43… None came from Couples (although one character name remained intact: Joey). Schwimmer’s rival, Jonathan Silverman guested as Dr Franzblau in The One About The Birth and landed his own show, The Single Guy.
Having worked with David Schwimmer, the David and Marta created Ross for him and he as the first to sign on. Lisa Kudrow was second. Courteney Cox wanted to be the “strong” Monica while the producers saw her as Rachel because of her “cheery, upbeat energy.” That was far from the Monica-plan – quickly jettisoned after Cox’s audition. “But it wasn’t until we did the first Thanksgiving episode that we realised how much fun Monica’s neuroses are.”
NBC’s Gen-X riff on Seinfield became These Friends of Mine for it’s new Must See TV lineup. The title got clipped to Friends and American Thursdays were never the same again.
Rachel Karen Green. As if anyone but Jennifer Aniston could have been Rachel… she had read, all the same, for Monica! Her contract with a CBS TV series was not seen as a issue. NBC Entertainment boss Warren Littlefield was sure Muddling Through wouldn’t. Sure enough it disappeared after ten chapters, a demise orchestrated by the N vice-president of NBC programmes, Preston Blackman, by putting Danielle Steel movies on opposite the CBS show. “That killed it!” Three days after her audition, Jennifer was Rachel. And got a new haircut.
Other hopefuls had tried… “searching for love and commitment and security… and a fear of love and commitment and security.”
Elizabeth Berkley moved into Showgirls, opening one month before the series debuted on September 22. British Olivia D’Abo was the sister of 1987 Bond Girl Maryam D’Abo. New York’s Siobhan Fallon went into the other big NBC show, Seinfeld and such hit movies as Forrest Gump, 1993, and Men In Black, 1996. LA’s Loryn Locklin was known for Taking Care of Business, Fortress, etc.
Téa Leoni didn’t rate her chances. “I don’t do T&A very well because I haven’t got much of either.” Yet she as quicker into movies than any of the Central Perk clan: Bad Boys, Deep Impact, Flirting With Disaster, Jurassic Park III… and Woody Allen’s Hollywood Ending.
Kristy McNichol was the wild card. Having grown up with her teenage stardom, some Hollywoodians obviously didn’t wish to believe that what they had presumed was a rehab problem was, in fact, bipolar disorder – causing the Family and Empty Nest TV star to retire in 1992. “Time to play my biggest part – myself!” Ten years later, she came out as gay with her partner for 20 years: Martie Allen.
“An exec at NBC called to say she’d offered the part of Rachel to Jamie Gertz,” recalled Crane. “We didn’t have a Rachel and Jamie is a really talented actress, but not Rachel. So we held our breath for 24 hours until she passed.” Jami won recurring roles in Ally McBeal, Entourage, ER, Still Standing.
Lisa Kudrow was already Ursula in Mad About You. “And other guest stars would say: “I’m reading for Joey – will you help me with it?’ And I just thought: Wow. Everyone wants to do this show. I wonder why.” She found out
There was one other possibility. Courteney Cox. Crane and Kaufman asked her to be Rachel Karen Green. And she asked to be…
Monica Geller . As if anyone else could have been Monica… Yet Sandra Bullock was on the crowded March 7, 1994 reading list – Monicas, Phoebes, Chandlers and Joeys all over the place.
“When we originally wrote the role,” revealed co-creator David Crane, “we had Janeane Garofalo’s voice in our head. Darker and edgier and snarkier. Courteney brought a whole bunch of other colors to it. We decided that, week after week, that would be a lovelier place to go to.”
Annabeth Gish went on to be Special Agent Monica Reyes in the 2001-2002 X-Files, while Cady Hoffman became the first of two nearly-Friends to win a Tony award (in 2001 for The Producers on Broadway), followed by Jane Krakowski (up for Phoebe) for Nine in 2003.
A surprise conbtendxer was Carey Lowell, Timothy Dalton’s 1988 Bond Girl in Licence To Kill. The former model later joined another NBC hit, Law & Order… and had something the other girls didn’t have. Richard Gere. They wed in 2002.
After Janeane Garofalo passed, Nancy McKeon gave a terrific performance at her audition but, said co-creator Marta Kaufman, “there was something about Courteney that was adorable.” (Her husband-to-be, David Arquette, guested in The One With The Jam, 1996).
Leah Remini guest-starred once with the Friends in 1995 before winning her own own series, The King of Queens, 1998-2007. Her role of co-star Kevin James’ wife was voted the “hottest housewife” in 2006.
Molly Ringwald was the biggest name seen for Monica. After her John Hughes’ bubble burst (The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles), Molly was eager to start anew in TV. She had always maintained that her best screen kiss was in Pink with Andrew McCarthy – up for Monica’s Chandler.
Phoebe Buffay . As if anyone else could have been “the wonderfully weird” Phoebe… There was some controversy about not a single black friend. Jasmine Guy was the only woman of colour auditioned and Mel Gorham, the only Latino. However, like Bill Campbell (seen for Ross), Mel was just too old at 35. (Lisa Kudrow was only four years younger).
Also in the mix… Chicago stand-up Kathy Griffin was hot to trot. Jane Krakowski soon took off – and then some – opposite Ally McBeal. Jane Lynch lost Phoebe but had a huge hit as Sue Sylvester, the cheerleading coach at William McKinley High in the Glee musical series, .2009-2015. Clea Lewis won a guest shot as Franny in the pilot episode, on September 22, 1994. You know… The One Where Monica Gets A Roommate.
Felicia Michaels was seen in March but soon quit TV acting (after four credits) for stand-up. She is in the 2009 documentary, I Am Comic, with, among others, another Friends-tester, Janeanne Garofalo
Oakland’s Cynthia Stevenson was coming off a year as Bob Newhart’s daughter in Bob. She had once guested on Empty Nest with Kristy McNichol (a potential Rachel). Better still, the following year she had a series written just for her: Hope & Gloria. She was Hop to Jessica Lundy’s Gloria.
And then Lisa Kedrow auditioned for – as she made clear – Rachel. At one point she even said: “You know, I’m more like Rachel. “No,” she was told, “you’re this quirky girl… Phoebe.” Composing: “Smelly cat, smelly cat, what are they feeding you? / Smelly cat, smelly cat, it’s not your fault!”
Ross Eustace Geller. As if anyone else could have been Ross… Well, Jonathan Silverman was in the same Jason Biggs-Adam Sandler-David Schwimmer-Ben Stiller nebbish mould. (And won Couples from David, basically the Friends pilot).
The overly good-looking Corin Nemic was a kid star who grew up to be serial killders Ted Bundy and Richard Speck in films for the video bin. He won a few episodes in the (first) Beverly Hills 90210 in 1997 –like Dalton James, a potential Joey. And Bill (ex-Billy) Campbell joined the short-list, despite being 35, a trifle old to be chilling around Central Perk. Schwimmer was 28.
Eric McCormack tried out for Ross.
“Years later I told director James Burrows and he said:
‘Honey, you were wasting your time.
They wrote the part for Schwimmer.’”
Eric went West instead for the Lonesome Dove series… and made it as Will Truman in the Will & Grace sitcom.
“Look, I know you told me not to send you anything,” said Schwimmr’s agent Leslie Siebert, “but there’s a show I really think you should take a look at. It’s by Marta and David, who – if you remember…”
“Oh, yes. I remember loving the writing. And she said the magic words to me: ‘It’s an ensemble show. There’s no star. There are six people, all similar age. And I said: ‘OK, I’ll read it.”
Then, he added: “But I’m not gonna do it!”
Chandler Muriel Bing. As if anyone else could have been Chandler… Among those being looked over for was the future Iron Man director Jon Favreau – and his pal, Vince Vaughn. Jon was a 1997 season guest star as Monica’s millionaire lover, Pete Becker.
Hank Azaria was short-listed and joined another Friends-hopeful, Chris Hogan (up for Ross), in CBS’ short-lived 1995 series, If Not For You. After some 20 movies, the ex-Brat Packer Andrew McCarthy was seen, passed over – and so he just made another 40 movies, playinmg everyone from Henry Miller to RFK
Losing Chandler hardly damaged Currie Graham, a Kevin Spacey lookalike. By 2005, the Canadian was: 1, Sipowicz’s boss for the final season of NYPD Blue, 2, the DA in Boston Legal… and 3, Felicity Huffman’s boss in Desperate Housewives.
Neil Patrick Harris had just finished four years as the teen genius, Doogie Howser MD, when reading for Bing. After voicing the Spider-Man TV toon and various Batman characers, he won another smash series with How I Met Your Mother, 2005-2014.
Anthony Rapp was a future star of both the Broadway and Hollywood versions of the Rent musical. When cast as the first gay character in Star Trek in 2017, Rapp was the first (of several men) in LA and London to out Kevin Spacey as a sexual predator… Spacey’s career, his House of Cards hit series and a top role in Ridley Scott’s All The Money in the World vanished in a trice.
Jon Cryer, another John Hughes stsr, and on his way to a dozen years of Two And A Half Men, was was in a London play, when he was invited to audition for Chandler. And the tape he made… never… arrived… in… time. How Chandler is that!
“We were so sure that Chandler would be the easiest part to cast,” said David Crane. “It’s got the most jokes. It’s sarcastic and kinda quippy, but no one could do it. No one.”
Except Perry, but he was making the LAX 2194 pilot. (It crash landed without any Danielle Steel help from NBC this time). Craig Bierko read – coached by his pal Perry, incidentally – and passed. “Thank God!” declared NBC’s Warren Littlefield. “There was something Snidely Whiplash about Craig Bierko. He seemed to have a lot of anger underneath, more of a guy you love to hate” – as he proved later during his most unfunny guest arc on Boston Legal, 2006-2007. Perry took over – thin. He then gained a lot of weight between episodes. Sometimes, it seemed, between scenes.
Joey Tribianbi. As if anyone else could have been Joey… James Dalton and Patrick Berg tried. As did Micheal DeLuise, son of Dom, famous for his work in harness with Mel Brooks. Kevin Dillon came and went; the year Friends ended, he started a seven year stretch in Entourage on HBO.
Crane and Kauffman wanted Joey to be “a guy’s guy” who loves “women, sports, women, New York, women”. Most Joey wannabes turned up with lots of chest showing.
The (still) unknown Matt LeBlanc read for Joey. “I got a callback and had a studio test. It was between me and this guy – his last name was Yeager, I think. He was dressed in a denim jacket, jeans, cowboy boots. I think he had a cowboy hat with him, but he didn’t have it on. I looked at him and thought: One of us is way off the mark. God, I hope it’s you!”
That was Ben Yeager. He guested on two other series, Ned and Stacey, 1996, and Conan, 1997, but has not been heard of since his 1997 movie dsebut, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
In his audition, LeBlanc put a “different spin” on the kind of actor who would never be chosen to play Joey! It was the pilot’s director James Burrows who suggested that Joey should be ”dumbed up a bit,” otherwise he’d be a Chandler II, Using his experience playing “this Italian, kind of dim character” in Vinny and Bobby, he made Joey perhaps more simple-minded than intended, but this gave the guy more heart 6]
Matt made Joey perhaps more simple-minded than intended, but this gave the guy more heart. Crane and Kauffman didn’t want him and were over-ruled by the NBC brass. For once, the suits were on-target. After eight auditions, readingt with Aniston and Cox in his final call-back he won over Marta Kauffman. “He made Joey this whole new being.” LeBlanc played a “larger than life version of himself” in a future David Crane series Episodes, 2011-2017.
Emily Waltham . British actress Patsy Kensit went through the motions during a LA trip. Even when asked to marry Ross Geller in London in a 14 episode skein on “the Holy Grail in the TV world at the time.” The producers were fans of her in Absolute Beginners and Lethal Weapon. “Everyone on the show was absolutely lovely and the actors were so good – so polished and sleek.” However, her heart, her mind were elsewhere: back in London with her two lads. (Lennon had now arrived, following her (third) marriage to Liam Gallagher of Oasis). She pulled out, feeling too fragile and afraid. “No one forced me.. I was madly in love with Liam and I chose my marriage over the job.” Her agents were not happy. Even less so when, on returning home, she did two and a half years as he award-winning bitchy blonde man-eater Sadie King on Emmerdale… followed by the BBC’s Holby City for four years! The role of Emily Waltham opposite David Schwimmer helped Helen Baxendale into headlining PD James’ Unsuitable Job For A Woman series, 1997-2001, and the sity-com, Cold Feet, 1997-2003.
Ugly Naked Guy. Todd Van Luling, a senior Huffington Post staff wrtiter, spent a year tracking this fella down, so listen up… The guy was often mentioned by the gang but, (thankfully) only seen twice: in 1996 and 1999. And his face was never visible. Ironically, his second episode was The One Where Everybody Finds Out.
Some say that Chicago’s Michael Hagerty – aka the building super, Mr Treeger – stripped off to play Mr Ugly. Some say he was Wayne Knight, aka Seinfled’s bête noir, chubby postal worker Newman. Other insist that with his sobriquet he had to be the disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein…
They were all wrong. As Mr Van Luling proved. Eventually.
He interviewed casting directors, Central Casting, itself, and then on up to the veritable fountainhead of all Friends facts, fiction and trivia, co-creator David Crane. None of then knew anything!
Well, producer Todd Steverns had an idea. “Here’s what I remember. It was an extra, and we wanted it to fly under the radar because we didn’t want somebody, like, being Ugly Naked Guy. We just had Central send a few people over. It was not somebody with a history on the show.”
Central Casting had already said: No idea, man! A year after his first visiit, Van Luling contacted Central again. And found he’d just missed him… The actor in question had recently called into the Central office and, yeah, he was more than willing to come clean. After all, being Mr Naked wasn’t as bad as being outed as Phoebe’s smelly cat.
“You want to let the world know who the real Ugly Naked Guy is, huh?” he asked Van Luling on the phone. “There’s only one Ugly Naked Guy, man, and that was me.” And he was a certain Jon Haugen.
He had some other info. When Ross got naked with him to eat muffins (when trying to get his apartmen!), they were in boxers.
From the kick off, David Crane wanted all six actors to match one of the early titles, Six of One, by forming “the first true ensemble show” – on-screen and off. No one dominated, no one ruled. They did magazine covers and salary negogiations collectively. As a family. They became and remained friends – Aniston is the Godmother of Cox’s daughter, Coco.
Cox had been six months pregnant during the final episode, watched by 52.5m US viewers on May 6, 2004,the fifth most-watched series finale in tele- history, certainly the most-watched sitcom closer since the Seinfeld finale in 1998 Advertising rates for the finale reached $2 million fora 30 second commercial.
Talking of money, during their reign, the gang’s pay rose from $22,500 to $75,000 and finally to $1m per episode. Later renegotiations led to them winning 2% of all syndication royalties – a deal previously only ever won by stars who had ownership rights of their shows, like Lucille Ball, Bill Cosby, Jerry Seinfeld, This added up to $20m each – per year! While Warner Bros raked in about $1bn a year.
Hey, that ‘s what friends are for.