Friends Reunion: Memories, Surprises and How a Cast Romance Fueled the Show

Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer finally returned to the set that made them international superstars to reminisce with their “Friends.”

It’s no surprise that one of the biggest sitcoms of all time absolutely dominated the social media conversation — even in the middle of the night — when the long-awaited “Friends: The Reunion” special finally dropped on HBO Max.

It was nearly two hours of reminiscing for the cast, as we jumped from them sharing stories and unseen clips on a recreation of their very first sets to an interview segment with James Corden in front of the iconic opening credits fountain.

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Honestly, though, we could have probably skipped Corden altogether. They cast didn’t seem to need someone asking them pointed questions, though we did appreciate him having them muse about where their characters might be today.

Overall, though, it was the segments back on the set — including the brilliant trivia game with surprise appearances from guest stars past — that really brought this special to life.

It was far more impactful seeing these old friends experience that nostalgic rush together than having them sit there and have to endure weird things like a “Friends” fashion show or a way-too-short hello from Gunther actor James Michael Tyler.

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Ross & Rachel & David & Jennifer

We will have to give credit to Corden for asking one of the most obnoxious questions in media of any reunion special — were there any hookups on the show? — for perhaps the sweetest revelation of the whole special.

“Well, I mean David–” Jennifer Aniston started, as the audience erupted in cheers.

“Yeah, I mean the first season we–” David Schwimmer started, before correcting himself. “I had a major crush on Jen.”

“It was reciprocated,” she said quietly.

We loved that while talking about this on the set — so it did come up even before Corden asked about it — the rest of the cast admitted that they all knew about this, even if the audience was finding out right now for the first time. Friends really do keep secrets.

“At some point we were both crushing hard on each other, but it was like two ships passing because one of us was always in a relationship, and we never crossed that boundary,” Schwimmer said. “We respected that.”

“Honestly, I remember saying one time to David, it’s going to be such a bummer if the first time you and I actually kissed is going to be on national television,” Aniston noted. But then, that’s exactly what happened.

“So we just channeled all of our adoration and love for each other into Ross and Rachel,” Aniston continued, which might just be the sweetest thing we’ve ever heard.

When chatting on the set, Courteney Cox said that in a way, it was almost better that they never actually were able to explore their relationship. The fact it helped fuel so much authenticity into Ross and Rachel was a huge part of the show’s longevity and success.

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Anxiety Then & Now

Matthew Perry had a lot of people concerned after they saw teaser footage of him and he appeared to be slurring his words and was barely seen speaking much at all, but his team assured fans his slurred speech was in response to emergency dental surgery.

It’s true he was not as animated as his fellow cast-mates, but he was still sharp and shared some stories. One carried with it a bit of tragedy, as it expressed just how much he struggled during the making of the show.

Fans already know that he had his difficulties with substance abuse even back during the show, notably fluctuating in weight in response to his sobriety. In the reunion, he admitted to another behavior he now knows wasn’t good for him, either.

It came when the cast was talking about how they fed from that live audience experience. Cox remembered how she would challenge herself to get a bigger laugh after a line went over well.

“To me, I felt like I was gonna die if they didn’t laugh,” said Perry. “It’s not healthy, for sure, but I would sometimes say a line and they wouldn’t laugh and I would sweat and just, like, go into convulsions. If I didn’t get the laugh I was supposed to get, I would freak out.”

The rest of his cast-mates looked at him with a sadness at how much pressure that must have been to carry for a decade. “You didn’t tell us that,” said Lisa Kudrow. “I don’t remember you ever saying that.”

“Oh yeah,” he said. “I felt like that every single night.”

After watching the special, most “Friends” fans rescinded their earlier concern for his apparent behavior based on the trailer, and decided that he was still the actor they’d grown to love through the run of the show.

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Fan Service

The cast weren’t the only ones taking their cues from that live audience, either. It turns out one of the biggest developments in the show was actually nothing more than pure fan service.

Everyone remembers that iconic season finale moment when Monica pops up from under the sheets with Chandler, hoping that her brother didn’t know she was there. In that moment, the surprise romance of the show was born. But it almost didn’t happen that way at all.

“I think that moment was the beginning of how we rethought Monica and Chandler,” said co-creator David Crane. They showed the footage of the audience reaction to seeing the two together in bed and it was one of the longest cheers the show ever received.

“The original plan was they would sleep together in London, it was a brief thing and we’d have some fun with it afterward as they were both like, ‘Oh my god, what did we do,'” Crane continued.

“But the way the audience reacted, we realized there’s more to this and we need to pay attention,” said co-creator Marta Kaufman. “That was the end of the season, so we had time to ruminate and really think about it, but it was such a powerful moment that we knew we had to explore it more.”

They slowly expanded it into an attempt to keep the romance secret, which they were able to mine for laughs for awhile. But even then, they had no idea that the pair would actually wind up not only together, but married and starting a family.

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Future Friends

Later in the show, Corden asked the cast to speculate on where their characters might be today. Kudrow had already shut down hard the idea of ever doing a scripted reunion, saying she agreed with and respected the creators notion that they’d have to undo everyone’s happy ending and they just didn’t want to do it.

And to a one, everyone on the couch painted a rosy future for their fictional counterparts. “I think we’re, did we get married?” Aniston asked Schwimmer. “Let’s say we got married. I think we end up getting married and we had some kids and you’re still playing with bones.”

“That’s paleontology,” Schwimmer helpfully told the audience as Matt LeBlanc started giggling.

“It gets Joey every time, I don’t know why,” Aniston laughed.

“I think Monica is still really competitive,” Cox said. Her kids are probably not even in– They’re probably graduated, but she’s still is in charge of the bake sale at the elementary school. She’s gotta keep things going, PTA–“

By this point, Perry was waving his hands around as if trying to get her attention. Noticing him, she quickly added, “And you are making me laugh every day.”

“Just wanted to make sure I factored in there somewhere,” Perry deadpanned.

As for Phoebe, Lisa suspects she’s still with Paul Rudd’s Mike and living in Connecticut. “They had kids and I think she was like the advocate for her kids, who were a little different, and all the other kids who were just a little different, creating the arts program and the music thing and all that,” she said.

As for Joey? “I think he probably opened a sandwich shop in Venice Beach,” said LeBlanc as the show’s co-creators both laughed and nodded that this seemed perfectly logical to them, too.

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Casting Friends

We love that Crane and Kaufman, along with fellow producer Kevin S. Bright, broke down their casting experience for each of the six stars that would create this show, including details like having to convince Schwimmer to be involved and even showing clips from the shows Perry and Aniston were already booked on.

Perry’s other show, ‘2194 LAX,’ a show “about luggage handlers in the future at LAX, which just sounded insane,” as Kaufman described it … well, she said it.

“Someone from Warner Bros. was at the taping of ‘2194’ and thought, ‘This show is never going, put him in “Friends,” we’ll be okay.’ Suddenly it was like, there’s our Chandler,” recalled Crane.

Aniston’s show was actually on another network, with her playing a waitress, but they had so much belief in her, they actually filmed the first two or three episodes with her, even knowing they could lose her should her other show get picked up.

The actress would go on to embody Rachel remembered how special she felt on the set of “Friends,” so much that she went to the producer of her other show and tried to get out of it.

“I said, ‘Please, release me from this show. I love the show that I’m doing right now. Nothing against your show. I just love these people and I’m having so much fun,'” Aniston shared.

But then, hilariously, she continued, “He said, ‘I saw that show Imma tell you something, that show’s not gonna make you a star. This show’s gonna make you a star.’ And, ‘nuff said.” History always proves the victor.

Cox actually paved the way for Aniston’s casting by insisting that she was more of a Monica in real life when they were seeing her for Rachel. That much was clear in just how hyper-competitive she was getting during that aforementioned trivia game on the set during this reunion.

The producers said they’d cast Schwimmer first, having written the role of Ross with him already in mind. He’d actually given up screen acting and had returned to theater work in Chicago, so they had to lure him back out with a promise that it would be different.

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As for Phoebe, as fans of the show know, there was a connection established with Crane’s partner’s other show, “Mad About You.” “My husband Jeffrey was writing and producing on ‘Mad About You’ and he said, Phoebe’s right here playing Ursula the waitress,” Crane laughed.

Ultimately, Lisa Kudrow would go on to play both Phoebe and Ursula, later establishing that they were twins and helping to link all the ’90s New York shows into a single shared universe.

Matt LeBlanc shared a hilarious story about his casting process, which might have helped him secure the role just because it was such a Joey thing to do. “I had gone with a friend of mine to run lines and he said, ‘So the show’s about friends and being friends, just a group of friends?’” LeBlanc said. “I was like, ‘Yeah, kinda.’ And he was like, ‘Then we should go out drinking.'”

Just the fact that this train of thought made logical sense to LeBlanc at the time says everything you need to know about the character he embodied. But it gets better as he shared, “I woke up in the middle of the night in his apartment and had to go to the bathroom. I got up too fast — and I can’t believe I’m telling this — but, I kind of blacked out, as you do, and fell face first into the toilet.”

LeBlanc gashed his nose open, arriving for his callback with “a big, ugly scab” on his nose. “Marta Kaufman said, ‘What happened to your face?’” he shared. “And I told the truth and got the job.”

He also shared the story of the time he dislocated his shoulder filming a bottle episode that was supposed to be a quick and easy shoot. Instead, the real injury led to Joey’s arm in a sling and they had to return to finish filming that episode after he’d recovered.

We loved the squeamish looks on the faces of the cast as they actually showed the footage of the take where he dove into the chair ahead of Perry and injured himself after tripping over the coffee table. As they all cringed and turned away, LeBlanc was just watching and laughing gently.

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There for You

All in all, it was a satisfying way to remember one of television’s most iconic sitcoms at a time when the cast is still here to help us do that. It was nostalgic in all the right ways, with some fresh footage even the most hardcore of fans had never seen.

It was great sharing in the moment when the cast first stepped back onto that familiar set, first saw one another in that space again after all these years. Those are the kinds of true moments that can’t be faked.

And it was wonderful getting just a hint of Rachel and Monica and Phoebe and Joey and Chandler and Ross in the actors who brought them to life. The table reads of some of the show’s most memorable scenes, their laughter and their joy in just being together for this moment was enough to make it worth the visit.

Even some of the more oddball sequences were a lot of fun, like when Kudrow slipped into Phoebe to duet on “Smelly Cat” with Lady Gaga and a random choir, or when LeBlanc again put on all of Chandler’s clothes at once — and did the lunges — or even when Tom Selleck dropped by to ask a trivia quesiton of his own.

“Friends” was always about surprise guest stars, laughs and tears, but mostly just about that good feeling you get when you spend time around genuinely good people you care about and perhaps more importantly, you know they care about you, too.

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