The theme song promised they would be there for each other – and for 10 years the six stars of Friends truly were. Together they rode the bronco of sudden fame, hung on during a media backlash and tough salary negotiations and supported each other through personal crises, marriages and babies. As the show’s May 6 finale approaches, the famous sextet looks back in a new book, Friends … ‘Til The End. In this exclusive excerpt – featuring never-before-seen photos from the set – they open up about the show and each other. Friends, says Jennifer Aniston, has been “like a gift you can’t even imagine.”
I was 23 years old when we started. Now here we are in our 30s and some of us have been married and some babies have been born. … What’s so weird about this show is that so much of our lives get in there. … Whether it was a relationship thing or a parental thing, a situation in our lives is somehow always being played out on the show. … It did feel like I was growing up in front of everybody.
There was something especially after 9/11 that clicked for us. It was hard to come back to work and do a sitcom when the world was falling apart. I remember feeling very helpless and not knowing what our place was anymore. … It all felt very trite. Then little by little, that first show we did, there was so much energy in the audience and I realized people just desperately needed that release. And the laughter was harder than ever. … People came up to me after 9/11 and said, “Thank you for a half hour of escape.” It brings me to tears thinking about that time. We looked at each other and we went, “Okay, I guess this is what we’re doing.”
[Her husband, Brad Pitt, guest-starred on the show later that year.] Ahh, wasn’t he great? … And boy, let me tell you, he worked so hard. We had so much fun doing that show, and it was fun for me to have him come into my world and see what this was all about. And he so admired it, and it was great. But boy, I’ve never seen anybody so nervous. … He was thinking, “I’m going to blow my first line, I know I am. I’m going to blow it.” And we’re telling him, “Stop saying that, because you’re going to do fine.” Sure enough, he did blow it. He had to. It was like he had to screw up his first line.
Every single person in this cast is my family. I’m going to miss Matthew Perry making me laugh and then making me cry. … Matt [LeBlanc] is just heaven. He has such heart. I always laugh at our past because I used to be terrified of him. He was leather, head to toe – one of those guys. And all you’re thinking is “Oh, he’s going to try to get me into bed. I can just see it a mile away.” Then he turned out to be the sweetest, most lovable man.
[Executive producers Kevin Bright, Marta Kauffman and David Crane] set the tone for this family. Big group dinners, group watching of the shows, group this, group that. [And they] have been so supportive of us doing other jobs. It feels as if Mom and Dad want their kids to do well … and have lives beyond this place. And hopefully we will.
The pilot for Friends – or Friends Like Us, as it was called in the very beginning – came around. It was the pilot everybody was talking about. So I read it, and there was this character named Chandler who I was just like. I thought, “This is insane. This is me.”
And that’s who I really was – I had just spent my early 20s not living a life and making fun of other people, and that’s what Chandler was at the beginning. … [Marta Kauffman and David Crane] took everybody separately out to lunch in between the pilot and the first episode and found out what made us tick. … They said, “Tell us something interesting about you, so maybe we can incorporate it into the show.”
I remember telling them, “I’m not an ugly man, but I don’t do very well with women.” They also saw how I tend to break up emotional or serious moments with a joke whenever I can, because I’m not comfortable in serious moments. And you know, that’s Chandler. … I remember telling them I had just been on a date the previous night. I got home, I called my friend and he said, “How did the date go?” And I said, “I’m going to die alone.” So then four episodes into Friends, Chandler said that.
I was 24 when I got on the show. I’ll be 34 when it’s over, and those are really important years in somebody’s life. So to do it all in public … was difficult. At first you have the wave of “I’m famous, and this is exactly what I’ve wanted my whole life.” But then you go through the whole recluse stage where you think, “I wish everybody would stop staring at me.” And then you eventually, hopefully, get through all that. You find things in your life that are grounding, like your family and good friends.
For all six of us, [life] changed in the exact same way, so we could really lean on each other. It really started on the third day of the pilot with Courteney Cox, who was pretty much the only name going in. She was the one who said, “There’s no Jerry Seinfeld on this show, so let’s all work together. This is a true ensemble.” That was what she said, and we all held to that.
Courteney is amazing. She likes to work really hard and she’s very into the whole process. She’s a brilliantly gifted comedienne, and I don’t think she knew that at the beginning. But she just grew into it, working with all of us. … She’s an amazing dramatic actress too, and that’s what has helped me a great deal in my career and on the show, because we can stop with the joking and have a real moment together. … The more emotional and serious material [we’ve done] has been some of the most rewarding, and it’s certainly the direction I’m heading for my career in the next 10 years. Believe it or not, I learned I like doing dramatic stuff by doing a sitcom.
I remember the first season getting ready for the show shaving. There’s one men’s room and one women’s room for everyone in the building – he crew, grips, set dressing, wardrobe, lighting, producers, writers, actors. One men’s room. One toilet. Back then there was literally no room for star trips. I had a little crush on Jen in the very beginning, but I think the whole world did too. … Jen became like a little sister, and Courteney and Lisa became like big sisters. With Courteney, if you had a problem she would say, “Okay, here’s what you’re gonna do. Let’s roll up our sleeves.” She has your life absolutely sorted out in a half hour. And you go, “Fine, I’m going to talk to you once a week for the rest of my life.”
[When we filmed the pilot] I had this incredible fever and flu. It was awful. … I was pouring medications into my body. … But it was amazing. I know it sounds corny, but you could just feel there was something magical going on that night. … The chemistry, the timing, everything. … It didn’t feel like a pilot. It felt like Season 3.
The strongest episodes are when there’s no guest cast and all six of us are in a room together driving each other bananas. That’s what people want to see.
[Growing up with Joey has] changed my life. It’s weird how you always have those kinds of profound moments where art imitates life, absolutely coincidentally. Joey’s grown as a character quite a bit, and I’ve grown as a person quite a bit. But the fame thing is an uncomfortable suit for me. … Fame is just a different set of problems.
Friends changed my life in so many ways. It gave me opportunity. It gave me freedom. It gave me a family of close Friends with whom I’ve grown up. It taught me about comedy. It taught me about relationships. It taught me about everything. I remember thinking the role was mine. Then I remember being in the ladies’ room at casting for Warner Bros. and overhearing from the next stall that Nancy McKeon was up for the role too. Suddenly I was less sure. Apparently it was down to the wire. That’s probably the thing that stands out in my mind, because it was a surprise and because of where I heard the surprise.
I was always extremely excited about [the Monica and Chandler romance] plotline. It made work really fun for me. … Matthew is a comic genius. He really is. He uses inflections that only Matthew Perry can do. I’ve learned a lot from him and we’ve been through a lot of ups and downs. He’s like my family. I really have worked so closely with him for so many years and I love him.
I’m always proud of Matthew. I’m proud of his growth. I’m proud of his accomplishments. I’m proud to know him because he’s a really good person and he’s really grown up.
I loved the episode where I ask Chandler to marry me. I hadn’t had the chance on this show to play a dramatic, comedic moment quite like that before. I’ve had other ones, but that episode was really special to me. It’s fun to watch and it’s fun to play it too.
Clearly this job has been so amazing for me for so many reasons, but it’s not normal for me to enjoy something this long. That’s why I move all the time. I love change.
I think that people can relate to [Friends]. If not all of the characters, at least one of the characters. It has a positive impact because it makes you laugh. If you spend five minutes laughing, it’s got to be good for you in some way. We definitely address a lot of issues that people are going through, and I think that can only help. I want [Friends] to be remembered as a show that made people laugh for 10 years, and a show that grew with the times and stayed relevant. And I’d also like it to be seen as an example of how people really can stick together.
I never felt like Friends was an 8 p.m. show. It is sexually open. With some of that material, I’m still shocked when a 7-year-old girl comes up to me and says, “I love your show.”
Everyone’s comedic sensibilities just work really well together. You can really see it when you go off and work on something else. You notice how different it is.
We kept each other in check so no one’s ego could get too inflated. Everyone at different points gets credit for that. … Courteney was the one who said, “Look, we’ve got to help each other make this as funny as possible.” … She kept reminding us that it’s an ensemble. … Then, when it came to our famous negotiations as a group, that was David Schwimmer. He was the first person who said what the truth is – that any one of us or two of us could get more than the others, but that it’s more important that there’s no resentment and we all make the exact same amount.
We learned a lot from [the backlash in the second season]. That’s where I give Jennifer credit, because hers was the voice I remember most clearly when Warner Bros. asked us to do the Diet Coke commercials. She said, “It’s too much.” … And we could have listened to her. But we didn’t. … She turned out to be right. What we did learn eventually was that less is more.
I firmly believe the success of Friends is not just that it was funny, but that there was some real heart to these characters –the love between them and how they looked out for each other like a family.
[Offscreen we’ve been close as well.] One of the [reasons] is that the six of us actually liked each other. That’s rare. . . . The second thing would be what happened to us the first year was jarring in terms of our place in the world. That sudden celebrity was so scary for all of us. Everyone handled it differently, but the only other people you could really talk to about it were the other five. We grabbed on to each other and clung for dear life.
My experience from my ensemble theater company [in Chicago] is that of a truly democratic decision-making process where everyone has a voice. Everyone is really listened to and heard. . . . I [urged] the group to work in that fashion. . . . So if some idea came down from NBC or Warner Bros. . . . then as a group we would go in a room, privately talk about it, debate the pros and cons and then decide. Luckily, that stuck. . . . I didn’t realize the power it would eventually wield us in terms of our negotiations.
The most meaningful part is when [a person] says, “My daughter’s sick in the hospital. She watches your show. That’s the one thing that’s making her happy. That will get her through this.” That’s huge . . . influencing and perhaps making so many people that you’ll never meet or hear of, feel a little better.
From FRIENDS . . . ‘TIL THE END, to be published May 7 by Time Inc. Home Entertainment. Copyright © 2004 Warner Bros. Entertainment In