Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer reminisce together about their beloved show

By Julie Jordan
May 19, 2021 08:00 AM
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The six stars of Friends were overcome with emotion.

Walking back onto Stage 24 at Warner Bros. studios, the former castmates — Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer — were taken aback by the site of meticulously recreated sets of a world they hadn't visited in 17 years: Joey and Chandler's bachelor pad, Monica and Rachel's apartment, even Central Perk, where the thrift-store-find orange couch was always reserved for them.

"I was flooded with 10 years of irreplaceable memories," Cox, 56, tells PEOPLE exclusively in this week's cover story.

For more of the exclusive interview with the Friends cast, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here

Friends Reunion
Credit: Mark Seliger

By the end of its 10-season run, Friends was one of the highest-rated television shows of all time. Now, for only the second time since the finale aired in 2004, the six actors reunited for two days to film Friends: The Reunion — a non-scripted celebration of the NBC series premiering on HBO Max on May 27.

"It's funny, when we do get together, it's like no time has passed," says LeBlanc, 53. "We pick up right where we left off."

From reminiscing about the show and performing a table read of part of "The One with The Jellyfish" episode to even re-imagining the epic trivia game from season 4 when Joey and Chandler won Monica and Rachel's apartment, the reunion special also features special guests — like Reese Witherspoon (who played Rachel's sister), superfan Lady Gaga as well as David Beckham and Justin Bieber.

friends reunion
Friends reunion
| Credit: Terrence Patrick/HBO Max

When the six stars first met up together on the soundstage, their initial mutual thought was "Oh God, how are we going to get through this alive, without just crying our faces off?" says Aniston, 52.

"It was kind of melancholy, I guess. Right?" asks LeBlanc. Kudrow, 57, agrees: "Yeah, emotional."

While the special is unscripted, the cast members each have an idea of what their characters would be doing today. "I would like to have maybe started a clothing line of my own, and it's sort of a small franchise," says Aniston of Rachel. "Like a Nili Lotan. And I live in New York City on the Upper East Side."

friends reunion
Friends reunion
| Credit: Terrence Patrick/HBO Max

For Cox, "I always just feel like Monica would be doing something competitively with other mothers and trying to outdo them," she says. "Whether it's the bake sale at school or something. I mean, she'd be so annoying. She'd be at the head of the PTA or something."

Listen to more of PEOPLE's cover story interview with the Friends cast below on our daily podcast PEOPLE Every Day.

Kudrow thinks Phoebe "is living in Connecticut with Mike and their kids, and she's in charge of the arts program for the school," the actress says. "And just ... the advocate for her kids because they're different like she was."

Chandler "would be a wonderful father," says Perry, 51. "And a wonderful comedy writer."

LeBlanc says Joey "would have opened a chain of sandwich shops." Adds Perry: "And eaten all the sandwiches."

As for Ross, aside from "playin' with the bones" as a paleontologist, Schwimmer, 54, says "he would've invested in Joey's sandwich shop and lost a lot of his savings for his kids."

"Dinosaur-themed sandwich shop," adds LeBlanc. "Bronto-burger."

While generations of fans have fallen for the sextet through syndication and streaming services, the actors recognize their chemistry working together "was like lightning in a bottle," Cox says.

friends
Friends cast
| Credit: Reisig & Taylor/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty

"It was a character-driven funny, not timely funny," says Perry of why the show has found such a following. "They didn't make timely jokes. They didn't make jokes about O.J. Simpson. They made character-driven jokes about people — and people are going to come back time and time again and watch that."

The chemistry that still exists between them all is "magic," he insists.

"Awkward," deadpans LeBlanc. "I would say awkward." Adds Perry: "It's awkwardly magic."

Friends: The Reunion premieres May 27 on HBO Max.