‘Friends’ Creators Almost Gave the Role of Ross to This Actor After David Schwimmer Originally Turned it Down
NBC’s iconic show Friends is hitting a milestone on September 22, celebrating 25 years since the sitcom premiered. The landmark comedy became a cultural phenomenon, catapulting its cast members into stardom. The infamous Central Perk six – played by Jennifer Aniston, Courtney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, and David Schwimmer – immediately became famous faces once Friends hit the coveted Thursday night lineup on NBC.
Some little known details about the show and its cast are being revealed in Saul Austerlitz’s new book, “Generation Friends: An Inside Look at the Show That Defined a Television Era“, including how Schwimmer, who played the character of Ross, almost passed on the now infamous role. The actor has also commented in the past on how the fame he attained from the show could sometimes be a stumbling block.
The role of Ross
Schwimmer nailed the role of the intelligent yet goofy Dr. Ross Geller, true love of Rachel Green (played by Aniston), and brother of Monica (played by Cox). Ross was an endearing character to fans, showing a strong sensitive side in his unrequited love for Rachel during the first season. Over the series’ ten seasons, viewers got to see Ross get married and divorced several times, have two children, and say the wrong name at the alter among other adventures.
Schwimmer delivered some now iconic lines as Ross, such as “We were on a break,” “Pivot… pivot…,” and “I’m the holiday armadillo!” It’s almost blasphemous to imagine anyone other than Swimmer playing the role of the lovable paleontologist, but the part almost went to another actor.
Torn between two NBC hits
Austerlitz’s book reveals that Friends creators Marta Kauffman and David Crane had Schwimmer in mind for the role of Ross. “They were ready to offer him the role without even having to audition — a rare privilege for a young, untested actor,” Austerlitz writes, according to People. “There was only one problem: Schwimmer did not want to do the show. More than that, he did not want to do any more television at all.”
People reports that the young actor had been working on Fox’s failed comedy Monty, and was disillusioned with working on television. He wanted to concentrate on the Chicago theater company, Lookingglass, that he co-founded and turned down any TV scripts sent his way.
So, enter Noah Wyle pre-ER. Wyle auditioned for the part of Ross before ER had gotten the green light. Kaufmann and Crane were going to give him the part, but then the medical drama got the go-ahead, leading Wyle to that other NBC megahit on Thursday nights.
Schwimmer finally agreed to read the Friends script and, according to Austerlitz’s book, “was pleased to learn that their new show was to be an ensemble series, with no designated star,” viewing the show as possibly “a television series that worked a bit more like a theatrical troupe.”
The downside of fame
After Friends wrapped in 2004, Schwimmer stayed out of the spotlight of showbiz for a while, needing time to recover from the effects of fame. “As an actor, the way I was trained, my job was to observe life and to observe other people, so I used to walk around with my head up, really engaged and watching people. The effect of celebrity was the absolute opposite: It made me want to hide under a baseball cap and not be seen,” he said, according to Today.com. “And I realized after a while that I was no longer watching people; I was trying to hide. So I was trying to figure out: How do I be an actor in this new world, in this new situation? How do I do my job? That was tricky.”
The actor shared that he had to relearn how to relate to people outside of the microscope of celebrity. “It was pretty jarring and it messed with my relationship to other people in a way that took years, I think, for me to adjust to and become comfortable with,” he said.
Schwimmer’s work since Friends has been focused on smaller projects including some indie films. He returned to the small screen just three years ago for FX’s “American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson” where he played the late Robert Kardashian, earning him his second Emmy nomination, as reported by Today.com.
The former Friends star also enriched his personal life, marrying British artist Zoe Buckman in 2010 and welcoming daughter Chloe in 2011.
Though Schwimmer may have experienced some negative effects from his Friends fame, diehard fans will never want to be on a break from Ross.