‘Friends’: Ross Geller Was Nearly Played by a ‘Will & Grace’ Star

All the alternate universe scenarios for TV show casting continues to fascinate, especially when it seems half of Hollywood auditioned. Friends is one show everyone now knows had more famous auditions than possibly any show of the last 30 years.

It was the casting of Ross Geller that has one of the most interesting trajectories. While numerous actors tried out for it, one in particular almost got the job. However, he also found out the part was always intended for David Schwimmer, something likely surprising all the other actors who auditioned.

Who was the actor that tried for the role of Ross? His role on Will & Grace arguably made a more powerful statement.

A look back to when Eric McCormack auditioned for ‘Friends’

David Schwimmer
David Schwimmer | Jim Spellman/Getty Images

According to Cosmopolitan, Eric McCormack was ready to try a comedy in 1994 when NBC was preparing Friends to go in front of cameras. Prior to that time, McCormack had done mostly dramas on the big screen and on TV. Plus, he was acting a lot in theater.

Most of his media work was in obscure movies and TV movies, basically locking him in as a 30-year-old character actor. Starring in a sitcom was likely a dream, something he mentions was on his mind. Said McCormack to HuffPost once: “I needed to start pulling at this other sort of funnier, lighter side. So I auditioned for everything.”

When he auditioned for Friends, it was for the Ross Geller role. From the outset, it seems he would have done a perfect job in the part since he fit the basic look of Ross.

McCormack said he thought he did well in his audition and thought he had a good chance at landing the job. Later, he found out some sobering news through an interesting connection.

The James Burrows news about ‘Friends’

RELATED: ‘Friends’: How Much Did Ross Geller Make as a Paleontologist?

Fans of Friends will recognize James Burrows as the legendary director of many classic sitcoms, going way back to 1970s-era The Mary Tyler Moore Show. He also directed Cheers and eventually crossed over to directing modern classics like Friends and Will & Grace.

Thanks to having this connection between the two latter shows, he was able to parlay some interesting trivia to McCormack about Friends auditions. When McCormack told Burrows about auditioning for the Ross Geller role, Burrows noted it was a waste of time. The reason was the role was already written with David Schwimmer in mind.

Why the casting department of Friends auditioned others when they already had the actor chosen is a bit of a mystery. Not that McCormack felt bad about hearing the news then since he was already a big star on Will & Grace when being told.

Nevertheless, one has to wonder whether he could have used that time to land something else since he was adamant back then to join a popular NBC sitcom.

Did Eric McCormack make the better choice with ‘Will & Grace’?

Nowadays, McCormack sings the praises of Will & Grace in what it achieved bringing gay characters to a mainstream TV comedy. As for setting a TV history precedent, he seems to agree it was worth the wait to find international success in a show until he was in his mid-30s.

Sometimes success has to wait a decade or more before finding just the right thing. Even so, no doubt many wonder what he would have been like as Ross Geller. Despite the character being ripped to pieces in more recent years based on his sometimes horrid behavior, McCormack might have brought some level of humanity as he did with Will Truman.

The biggest irony was having David Schwimmer guest-star on the revival of Will & Grace recently, essentially bringing Ross and an alternate Ross into the same room in a sitcom directed by the same director as Friends. Now that’s real TV synchronicity.