- Friends -Who Was Almost Cast In 'Friends'? The Reunion Hinted At Other Stars Considered
The purple wall. The cookie jar. The green apples. The moment the six Friends cast members re-entered the set for the first time in 17 years, they were flooded with memories of the 10 years they lived in an apartment that would be the subject of rent-control questions for decades. But, for David Schwimmer, there was one thing he remembered most: "Everyone was so perfectly cast," he said during the reunion. "That's what I remember." But, of course, the Friends cast was almost completely different.
Friends creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman hinted at a parallel universe where Ross, Rachel, Monica, Chandler, Phoebe, and Joey weren't played by the stars that made the role famous, with Crane revealing, "There were so many different scenarios where it wasn't going to be these six people. It would have been such a different show." As Kauffman said, "We saw approximately a gazillion people."
But, with the exception of Louis Mandylor — who Kauffman revealed was considered for the role of Joey before Tribbiani impressed them with equal parts looks and comedy chops — the producers neglected to say who else almost set up shop in Central Perk. So who came thisclose to starring in Friends? Some of the names are more famous than you would think.
As Crane and Kauffman discussed in the reunion, Schwimmer — who was best known for a small role in NYPD Blue — was a tough get, having sworn off TV in favor of theater following some bad experiences. Though producers had their eyes and hearts set on Schwimmer, they did have to search for some alternatives — which included future Will & Grace actor Eric McCormack, who auditioned and thought he had a shot. It was James Burrows, the classic director who helmed many Friends episodes, who told him, Oh, honey, you’re wasting your time. They wrote the part for him.’”
Speaking of Burrows, Lisa Kudrow was fired by the director when she was first cast as Roz on Frasier. Still, that didn't keep her from locking in the role of Phoebe, after casting producers were inspired by her work as Mad About You's Ursula. On the reunion, the role seemed a foregone conclusion, but others like Jane Krakowski did audition for the role as well. But those rumors about Ellen DeGeneres and Jane Lynch being up for the role? Just rumors. Both actors have since denied that they ever were considered for the part.
Best known for a small role in Vinnie & Bobby, as well as a Levi's jeans spread, Matt LeBlanc was a relative newbie when cast, beating out future Friends guest star Hank Azaria (better known as Phoebe's scientist boyfriend), and — get this — Vince Vaughn. As Azaria said on The Late Late Show, "I auditioned for Joey, and didn't get it, and I was like, 'No, no, I have to go back, I have to try again.' So I bulled my way back in for a second time and they were very kind and watched my audition, and then threw me out. Spoiler alert, I didn't get the role of Joey."
Producers struggled to find the man that would be Mrs. Chanandler Bong, before Matthew Perry would sarcastically slide into the role. There are rumors that Jon Favreau passed on the part before returning to play Monica's boyfriend Pete, but the closest to locking in Chandler was Unreal star Craig Bierko, who eventually backed out. For Chandler fans, it's a good thing — according to producer Warren Littlefield, Bierko's take on the role was quite different than Perry's: "There was something Snidely Whiplash about Craig Bierko. He seemed to have a lot of anger underneath."
Jon Cryer, too, had a chance — but, as he told James Corden, his audition tape... got stuck at customs.
We know Kauffman and Crane pictured David Schwimmer when they wrote the role of Ross. But more surprising is who they had in their head when writing Monica: the droll '90s star Janeane Garofalo — quite a departure from Courteney Cox, most famous for her roles on Family Ties and in Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing In The Dark" music video.
But even closer to locking in Monica was Nancy McKeon, known for her part in The Facts Of Life. Said casting director Lori Openden, "She gave a terrific performance. Warren let Marta and David make the call. They went off for a walk and came back and said Courteney." Cox, Crane said, brought "a whole bunch of other colors" to Monica, beyond the initial take they had, which was "darker and edgier and snarkier."
The reunion backed up the well-known fact amongst Friends fans that Cox almost played Rachel, before insisting she had better chops for Monica. But it didn't mention that NBC executives actually offered the part to Jersey Girl star Jami Gertz, despite Friends producers not thinking she was right for the part. When she passed, it allowed them to approach Aniston, who previously hadn't been able to score a good pilot. As Littlefield recalls to Vanity Fair, "One night while gassing up my car on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, I ran into Jennifer, and she asked me, 'Will it ever happen for me?'"
Well, Jennifer, [gestures to Friends reunion payday].
For more on the history of Friends, check out our TV origins story podcast, TV. Watch. Repeat.!