The most awkward behind-the-scenes moments of Friends
Jennifer Aniston sent the press into a frenzy in October 2019, when she mentioned on The Ellen DeGeneres Show that the Friends cast wanted to do some sort of a reunion and were “working on something.” While it won’t be a full-fledged reboot, something is still something, and it’s really only made possible due to the fact that all of the Friends cast are, well, friends. Part of the reason the series skyrocketed into popularity — and still remains one of the most-streamed series on Netflix more than 25 years after its premiere — is the chemistry between the Central Perk crew.
Throughout the years, these co-stars have remained ultra-tight. Courteney Cox reportedly served as maid of honor at Aniston’s wedding to Justin Theroux, and Aniston was supposedly set to do the same for Cox (whenever her wedding to Snow Patrol’s Johnny McDaid actually happens, that is). Though all six of the cast members share a tight-knit bond on screen and off, that doesn’t necessarily mean things went off without a hitch while they were filming. This fan-favorite sitcom had its fair share of mishaps, awkward moments, and arguments.
Here are the most cringe-worthy and painful things that happened behind the scenes of Friends on that infamous Warner Bros. sound stage.
The Friends cast tried to break up Rachel and Joey
Next to the Central Perk couch, Ross and Rachel’s on-and-off relationship is the hallmark of Friends. However, their inevitable fairy tale ending makes it hard to accept the bizarre Season 8 plotline that forces Joey and Rachel to date (see: “The One where Joey Dates Rachel”). Fans weren’t the only ones disappointed. Apparently, the show’s stars hated the idea of Rachel and Joey as a couple so much that they actually teamed together to fight against the script. When the six core members of the cast form an ersatz labor union, you know it’s bad. Last time that happened, everyone left with $1 million.
In an interview with Vanity Fair, Matt LeBlanc admitted that the cast cornered co-creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman “as a group” and told them they were adamantly against Rachel and Joey’s relationship. “It felt wildly inappropriate. That’s how close we all were to the character,” he explained. “I was like, ‘That’s Rachel. She was supposed to be with Ross. Wait a minute.’ Everybody got super-defensive about the whole thing.”
As we know by just watching the show, Crane wouldn’t budge. According to LeBlanc, he liked the uncomfortable “playing with fire” aspect of the couple. The Ross-and-Rachel thing was always going to happen anyway, and Rachel’s fling with Joey achieved its ultimate goal: it kept Ross and Rachel apart, which propelled Friends through two more seasons.
Jennifer Aniston initially didn’t like Matt LeBlanc
Rachel Green might have briefly fallen for the dopey soap actor Joey Tribbiani, but Jennifer Aniston initially didn’t really like Matt LeBlanc. This potentially could have caused a problem and completely obliterated the believable on-screen chemistry that made Friends one of the most watched sitcoms of all time. Fortunately, her first impression wasn’t actually based on knowing LeBlanc at all. She was only looking at his résumé.
According to People, some of the show’s stars were “nervous” about LeBlanc’s casting. On the surface, he seemed like a rough-and-tumble kind of guy. His dad was a mechanic, and his mother made circuit boards. His credits included cool guy roles in Bon Jovi and Tom Petty music videos, as well as a modeling gig with Levis. Aniston initially wrote him off as being too macho, telling the magazine, “I was scared of that type of guy.”
Of course, you should never judge a book by its cover (or by its very limited résumé). LeBlanc was nothing like he seemed on paper and the pair became friends both on and off screen. “He thinks it’s very funny now,” Aniston told People. “And actually, he can sit down and comfort me just like Courteney or Lisa could.” It should be noted that LeBlanc also totally pulls off a purse.
Lisa Kudrow was terrified of being fired from Friends
Lisa Kudrow has become synonymous with Phoebe Buffay. There’s no other person we could possibly picture playing the bizarre-but-lovable character. Despite her clear knack for comedy, Kudrow initially feared she’d be fired from the sitcom before she even got past her first week.
According to the Mirror, Kudrow was originally meant to play Roz Doyle on Frasier, but director James Burrows fired her while they were rehearsing for the pilot. She was eventually replaced by Peri Gilpin. After Kudrow was cast as Phoebe on Friends, she realized she was working with Burrows yet again, who apparently was critical of her role. Cue the nerves.
“I was terrified that first week. It was Jimmy … again. He would say, ‘Why are they friends with her?’ Meaning me. ‘We have to figure that out. She doesn’t fit,’ and I was like, ‘Oh my God, here we go again.'” Kudrow told Vanity Fair, adding, “I thought, this is the run-through where Marta and David are going to say, ‘This character doesn’t work. We have to reconceive it. She’s just not part of the group.'”
Fortunately, Kudrow’s fears were just fears, and now we have “Smelly Cat.”
The infamous $1 million salary battle
In 2002, the cast of Friends got a historic pay raise. According to the Evening Standard, the group started out with $22,500 per episode and had been negotiating their contracts together since Season 3. During this time, David Schwimmer and Jennifer Aniston, who were making more than the rest of the cast, took initial pay cuts to even out their salaries and form a, for lack of better words, Central Perk union. Weirdly enough, it was Schwimmer who was leading the charge.
“In the beginning, David was perceived as the breakout guy,” Matt LeBlanc explained during a 20/20 interview. “He was the Ross of the Ross and Rachel story in the pilot, but he initiated the idea that if we all stick together, nobody can rattle us, and it worked out really good … for me personally, I was like, ‘Yeah, that sounds good for me. I’m making the least amount.'”
LeBlanc also recalled that the studio or network would “beat up” on one person during the negotiations, and the entire group would walk out. Fortunately, the final negotiations coincided with network upfronts, when NBC shops upcoming seasons to advertisers, according to Business Insider. If the network wanted to sell ads on the highly profitable show, they didn’t really have a lot of bargaining chips. The cast ended up walking away with a $1 million per episode pay day, a sum Marta Kauffman still calls “kinda ridiculous.”
Paul Rudd injured Jennifer Aniston with a Segway scooter
Casual fans of Friends often forget that the loveable (and seemingly ageless) Paul Rudd guest-starred as Phoebe’s husband Mike Hannigan from 2002 to 2004. As great as it was to see Phoebe finally settle down, the actor’s short-lived role on the series nearly turned out to be disastrous. It was so bad that Rudd feared he’d be given the boot before he even filmed more than one episode.
In an appearance on The Graham Norton Show (via Entertainment Tonight), Rudd admitted that he made a terrible mistake on his first day. Jennifer Aniston had broken her toe and was riding around on a Segway. The cast was “marveling” at her scooter, and Matt LeBlanc even gave it a try. When Rudd asked for a turn, things took a turn for the worse. “I spun ’round and rolled it right over Jennifer’s foot!” he said. “The producers’ look of panic was as if to say, ‘Is it too late to fire him? Has his character been established yet?’ I felt awful. Such an inauspicious start.”
Though Aniston and Rudd have maintained a friendship for years, having collaborated on films like 1998’s The Object of My Affection and 2012’s Wanderlust, the actor told Extra that he doesn’t think the pair ever actually discussed the awful incident. What’s a minor injury among friends?
Kathleen Turner did not have a good time behind the scenes on Friends
When Kathleen Turner, the unmistakable voice of Jessica Rabbit, joined Friends in 2001 as Chandler’s transgender parent, Charles Bing, she didn’t expect life was gonna be this way. The star was shocked with how the six core cast members supposedly treated her on set. Her main gripe seemed to center around a chair and a pair of grueling high heels.
In an interview with Vulture, Turner admitted that she didn’t feel “very welcome” by the Central Perk crew. “I remember I was wearing this difficult sequined gown — and my high heels were absolutely killing me,” she explained. “I found it odd that none of the actors thought to offer me a seat. Finally it was one of the older crew members that said, ‘Get Miss Turner a chair.’ The Friends actors were such a clique — but I don’t think my experience with them was unique.”
Honestly, the foot pain from wearing a heeled shoe is enough to make anyone a little testy, but it’s unclear if any of the cast members noticed their wrongdoing. According to Turner, that’s allegedly because “nobody from the outside mattered” to the core six. Cold.
David Schwimmer had problems with Marcel the monkey
Ross’ pet monkey, Marcel, was one of the less defensible random plot tangents on Friends — and David Schwimmer apparently hated his adorable scene partner. During an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Matt LeBlanc admitted his co-star was fed up with his on-screen pet (which, if we need to remind you, seemed like one of Ross’ only friends besides Joey, Chandler, and his sister). “I liked the monkey!” LeBlanc said. “I like animals, and the monkey was really cool. Schwimmer, not so much … He’s the one that had to work with it the most, so he was like, ‘Again with the monkey?’ But I got along great with it.”
Apparently, Marcel didn’t get along with Schwimmer either. According to LeBlanc, the monkey — who’s actually a female named Katie — ended up ditching work one day by climbing up the lights on the sound stage, which were about 60 feet high. She disappeared into the set’s vast blackness, and it took 30 minutes for the crew to coax her down with mealworms. Meanwhile, the rest of the cast got $1 million an episode. How’s that fair?
For some reason (maybe because she’s a monkey), Katie’s diva attitude never ended up tarnishing her reputation. According to BuzzFeed, she’s still acting and playing a monkey named Ampersand on FX’s graphic-novel inspired series Y: The Last Man.
Andre Agassi reportedly threw a fit over Brooke Shields’ cameo
Most of us forget Brooke Shields’ cameo on Friends, but her 1995 guest-starring role almost destroyed her relationship with tennis star Andre Agassi. Shields appears in the episode “The One After the Superbowl: Part 1,” where she portrays Erika Ford, a crazed fan of Joey’s soap opera character Doctor Drake Ramoray. In the episode, Erika kisses Joey, nibbles on his fingers at a restaurant, and giggles like an insane person. It’s clearly comedic, and Shields’ role is obviously a caricature of a modern-day stan, but the short scene was allegedly all it took to make Agassi so angry that he demolished his entire trophy collection.
According to Shields’ memoir, There was a Little Girl: The Real Story of Mother and Me (via The Telegraph), Agassi attended Shields’ taping of the episode. When she recorded the scene in question, he reportedly stormed off set and claimed she “made him look like a fool.” He then apparently drove all the way from the Friends sound stage in Los Angeles to his home in Las Vegas (a brisk four-hour-and-45-minute drive, but who’s counting?) and “systematically smashed and destroyed every single trophy he had won, including Wimbledon and the US Open,” according to Shields. It’s a wonder that the couple didn’t end up working out.
Did a fight with Brad Pitt cut Season 10 of Friends short?
Each season of Friends typically ran between 22 and 25 episodes, but Season 10 only had a brisk 18 episodes. Why? It might all boil down to an argument Jennifer Aniston had with then-husband Brad Pitt — at least if we’re willing to believe tabloid gossip.
According to a rumor that surfaced in the New York Post (via E! News), Aniston cut things short because Pitt was “really angry” that the actress ended up going back for a final season. The couple had allegedly wanted to start a family. “The rest of the cast wanted one more year and [Aniston] felt a lot of pressure,” a source claimed. “But she also wants to keep Brad happy. So Jennifer said she would do one more year, but insisted on only 18 shows and that filming would be done by January.” Talk about a show-ruining argument!
Of course, Aniston’s rep denied the New York Post‘s report. Uproxx still pointed fingers at the actress and blamed her movie schedule (but browsing Aniston’s IMDb credits shows that she wasn’t very busy in 2004). In truth, Friends was meant to end with Season 9 anyway. According to a Digital Spy interview with executive producer and director Kevin S. Bright, the final season was a last-minute call. Do we believe Pitt was at fault for its brevity? The pair did wind up splitting the year after the finale, so who knows?
Matthew Perry’s addictions tested his Friends castmates
Most of us forget that Matthew Perry struggled with alcoholism and Vicodin addiction while filming Friends. It was so bad that Perry doesn’t remember filming three entire years of the show. In an interview with BBC Breakfast host Chris Evans (via the Independent), the star admitted that he wasn’t drinking on set, but he was “painfully hungover” between Seasons 3 and 6. According to People, he went to rehab in 1997, but didn’t stay sober. In 2000, he was hospitalized for alcohol-related pancreatitis and wrecked his car. At one point, Perry was downing 20 to 30 Vicodin pills a day, then later moved on to drinking “probably a quart of vodka a day.” Perry was in trouble, but there was little his friends could do to be there for him.
Matt LeBlanc told People that he tried to intervene. “I tried to talk to him. There wasn’t a response … They need to bottom out on their own,” he said. Marta Kauffman also admitted it was “terrifying” watching someone she cared about in “so much pain,” and Lisa Kudrow told The New York Times that the cast was “just hopelessly standing on the sidelines. We were hurting a lot.”
Fortunately, Perry had a moment of clarity in February 2001. He began to fear for his life, called his parents asking for help, went to rehab for the second time while filming the series, and has since maintained his sobriety.
Lisa Kudrow hated playing the guitar
Phoebe Buffay might have had a hit with “Smelly Cat,” but Lisa Kudrow absolutely didn’t like playing the guitar. In a Friends “Final Thoughts” video, the star admitted she struggled to learn the instrument and asked if her character could play bongos instead. Executive producer and director Kevin S. Bright revealed that the network hired a guitar teacher to help the actress master Phoebe’s talent, but it just didn’t work out like everyone thought. As it turned out, it was better for the show if Phoebe was terrible.
“By making her better, it made the comedy not so good,” Bright admitted. “So Lisa, it was really her choice. [She] said, ‘You know what, I don’t really want the guitar lessons anymore. I’ve learned a few chords. That’s enough. That’s all Phoebe would know anyhow.'”
Those few chords carried Kudrow through 10 years of the sitcom and gifted us with singles like “Su-Su-Suicide,” “Ode to a Pubic Hair (Little Black Curly Hair)” and, of course, “Smelly Cat,” which she even sang alongside Taylor Swift at the 1989 World Tour stop in Los Angeles in 2015.
Jennifer Aniston had an awkward Friends story arc with her ex
As far as guest star relationships go, Jennifer Aniston’s marriage to Brad Pitt certainly overshadowed anyone else she dated who made an appearance on her hit sitcom. We might not remember Tate Donovan’s brief role on Friends, we don’t even really remember their real-life relationship, but the actor certainly does, if only for the emotional scars.
According to InStyle, Aniston and Donovan met in 1995 through mutual friends. By 1997, they were serious enough that he told People he “definitely” wanted to get married. He even bought her a 9-week-old puppy named Enzo, but by the time he joined the series for a six-episode arc in 1998, the pair were working their way through a breakup. Donovan later told US Weekly that he was “sort of dying inside” while playing his ex’s love interest, Joshua, a hunky personal shopping client Rachel met while working at Bloomingdale’s.
“It was just six episodes. I mean, only because we were breaking up. We were like, ‘Hey, can we not keep doing this? ‘Cause this is really painful and tough,'” he told the magazine. “The people that know that we dated think that we met on Friends. But in fact we had dated for two years before then, and it was over by the time we were on Friends together.”