David Schwimmer Was the Heartthrob of Friends — and Courteney Cox Once Likened Him to the Beatles
"When David goes outside, it's like the Beatles just arrived," Cox once told EW
In the same interview, his costar Courteney Cox likened her on-screen brother to the most famous band in the world.
"When David goes outside, it's like the Beatles just arrived," she said.
Though Schwimmer was often fast to deflect such praise — "It must be my haircut," he joked to EW — Cox recalled another time when "about 10 girls stood up and shouted, 'We love you, Ross!' " during a curtain call. "He's just very vulnerable," she added of Schwimmer, who embodied hopeless romantic and paleontologist Ross Geller. "The way David says 'hi' when he's depressed is so cute, you just want to run up and say, 'Okay, what? I'll help you.' "
Born and raised in Los Angeles, the son of divorced attorneys, Scwhimmer, now 54, once called himself a former "fat, ugly geek," a studious teen who was "the prankster always telling jokes," he shared with EW. He made his way to college at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, where he fell in love with theater and founded a company, Lookingglass, with several fellow grads.
"My first love is the stage," he told EW in 1996. "It's important for me to grow as an artist — my main interest in performing is to educate."
But there was no denying he had the charm that made him the perfect fit for Friends.
"He was so funny," Friends co-creator Marta Kauffman told EW of another audition Schwimmer had for her.
"His voice just stuck in our heads."
So much so that when she started writing Friends with David Crane, they had him (and what Kauffman called his "hang-dog expression") in mind.
"He had quit television," Crane told PEOPLE. "He had a miserable experience doing another show. He moved back to Chicago just to do theater."
Producers had to "beg" and "beseech" the actor to audition — and Crane "assured him that whatever his past experience was, this was going to be different we promise," he recalled. "And he came on board."
Though he is the one showrunners chased, Schwimmer himself told PEOPLE that Cox was the one who made everyone nervous from day one. "She was the one big name in the cast," he recalled in an early set visit.
But once he fell into his role, "I think this was just a dream come true for all of us," he told PEOPLE in an interview ahead of Friends: The Reunion on HBO Max. "And I think we all realized it early on. We thought, 'Holy crap, not only is this casting just perfect, but we all get along.' "
"For any struggling actor, which we all were, I mean … for the first seven years of trying to be an actor, I was also waiting tables," he added. "Financial security is what you dream of, right? So [10 seasons] was a huge gift and a relief."
These days Schwimmer — whom PEOPLE actually deemed the "early favorite" on that fateful early '90s set visit, in part because of his character's "solid, grown-up presence" — is the only friend living in New York City.
Divorced from Zoë Buckman, with whom he has a 10-year-old daughter, Cleo, Schwimmer lives a relatively private life despite voicing Melman the giraffe in the Madagascar series, joining the Will & Grace reboot, earning an Emmy nomination for The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story and starring on Peacock's Intelligence.
"Over the years we've all struggled with different obstacles and challenges, and I think in those times it's been nice to be able to reach out and touch base and have a call," he says of maintaining relationships with his Friends costars.
Not that they still don't have a little jealousy from time to time.
"He's got this quality that I admire and hate at the same time," costar Matthew Perry once joked to EW. "I admire it because no one else has that hurt-guy style, and I hate it because every single woman on the face of the planet wants him."