The Actors Who Almost Played The Main Characters
Friends‘ superb cast makes it hard to imagine any other actors in their place, but there are many famous figures who initially auditioned for these iconic roles. Friends is one of the most successful sitcoms of the last few decades, and it continues to garner new fans in the streaming age. The chemistry between the friends is unmistakable, but what would have happened if one of the original six wasn’t cast in their role?
While the roles seem to be tailor-made for these performers, only a few of the main six Friends characters were written with specific actors in mind. Others required hundreds of auditions, which featured some of today’s most well-known comedians. Thankfully, creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman’s meticulous process discovered their pitch-perfect cast members. However, there were many other actors who almost made the cut.
Lisa Kudrow was one of the first actors to be cast in Friends. Although Kudrow auditioned twice, she eventually won over producers via her role as Ursula Buffay on NBC’s Mad About You thanks to her quirky charms and impeccable comic timing. Kudrow was able to play both characters, and Friends even wrote Ursula into the show as Phoebe’s twin sister.
There were rumors that Ellen DeGeneres turned down the role to star in her own titular NBC series, but DeGeneres denied this on The Howard Stern Show in 2015. There were a number of other actresses rumored to have auditioned for the part of Phoebe, including Kathy Griffin and Jane Lynch, but Lynch told The Huffington Post she never auditioned. While all of these women went on to have successful acting careers in comedy, it is hard to imagine any of them filling Kudrow’s shoes. Kudrow brought uniqueness and lovability to a character who could have seemed ridiculous in another actress’s hands.
Out of all six friends, Rachel Green was arguably the main protagonist of the show. The Friends’ pilot episode revolved around Rachel leaving her ex at the altar and beginning a life on her own. Throughout the ten seasons, it can be argued that Rachel had the most character development. Rachel, therefore, was an important role to get right. Courteney Cox was originally brought in to play the part of Rachel but ultimately was drawn to Monica’s strong personality.
Besides Cox, there were many other actresses considered for Rachel. Jami Gertz auditioned and was originally offered the part by an NBC executive (via Vanity Fair). However, Crane didn’t think she was Rachel, and Gertz passed on the role anyway. Gertz went on to become a series regular on ER and was Emmy-nominated for her role on Ally McBeal. According to E! News, Jane Krakowski also auditioned to play Rachel alongside Gertz and Cox. Krakowski went on to star in two comedic ensemble shows, 30 Rock and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmitt.
Before Cox showed interest in Monica Geller, the creators’ choice was Janeane Garofalo, whose voice was in Crane and Kauffman’s head while writing the role (via Vanity Fair). Garofalo went on to appear in many films, including Wet Hot American Summer and Reality Bites. Leah Remini made it to the final rounds of auditions for Monica but knew she had lost the part when she crossed paths with Cox in the parking lot (via The U.S. Sun).
Remini returned to Friends as a pregnant woman named Lydia, who bonds with Joey over basketball in “The One With The Birth.” After her cameo on Friends, Remini landed the role of Carrie Heffernan in The King of Queens. Nancy McKeon also auditioned for the part and had previous ensemble cast experience as Jo on The Facts Of Life. According to Kauffman in an interview with Vanity Fair, the final decision was between McKeon and Cox, who came across as “more maternal” than other actresses who auditioned.
As one of the core characters of Friends, Ross Geller was essential to cast correctly. While he can be socially awkward, the actor needed to bring both a lovable and intellectual quality. According to an interview with the Guardian, Mitchell Whitfield got far in the audition process but ended up playing Rachel’s ex-fiancé, Dr. Barry Farber. Eric McCormack took multiple auditions for Ross but was passed over, which led him to eventually land a lead role in Will & Grace. McCormack also told Vanity Fair that the producer and director of the pilot, James Burrows, said to him years later, “Honey, you were wasting your time. They wrote the part for Schwimmer.”
Despite many actors almost playing Ross, Crane and Kauffman were most impressed by Schwimmer, who had auditioned a year earlier for a different pilot. After a bad experience on a short-lived TV show, Schwimmer was initially reluctant to leave the theater to star in a sitcom before being won over. It is difficult to imagine anyone else pulling off Ross’s demeanor and wide range of quotable lines.
The role of Joey was originally envisioned as a traditional ladies’ man in Friends, but LeBlanc brought a sweetness to him. In an interview with People, Hank Azaria said he auditioned twice for the role of Joey. He wasn’t fit for the part, but he did appear in Friends as Phoebe’s love interest David. Louis Mandylor was another actor who auditioned for Joey but ended up appearing several years later in a smaller role (The Hollywood Reporter). Ironically, Mandylor played a Joey lookalike who Joey tried to pass off as his “identical twin” to make some fast cash. Mandylor is also known as Nick Portokalos from the My Big Fat Greek Wedding franchise.
Vince Vaughn also auditioned for the role. While the casting director was impressed with his acting, he wasn’t what they had envisioned for the part (via The Huffington Post). Interestingly, LeBlanc’s audition didn’t initially fit Crane and Kauffman’s vision for Joey either. Crane told Vanity Fair that “Joey was never stupid when we pitched the show,” but LeBlanc played dumb very well. This led to the creators realizing that Matt LeBlanc’s portrayal of Joey in Friends as someone simple-minded but with a big heart worked in the sitcom’s favor.
Chandler Bing turned out to be the hardest part to cast. The creators needed someone who could deliver dry humor without coming across as a jerk. While Matthew Perry was considered early on for the role, he was committed to another pilot about baggage handlers, a show called LAX 2194. Perry coached Craig Bierko for the role of Chandler since he didn’t think he was available for Friends. His coaching proved to be helpful since the producers offered the part to Bierko, but Bierko turned it down. Luckily for Friends, Perry’s sitcom failed to launch, and he was able to take the role (via Vanity Fair).
Two & Half Men’s Jon Cryer also auditioned for the part, but his audition tape got lost by the carrier and was never reviewed (via Page Six). Jon Favreau also almost played Chandler, but he turned it down to focus on writing, co-producing, and starring in Swingers (via Esquire). Favreau eventually appeared on Friends as Pete Becker, Monica’s rich boyfriend. After his role in Friends, Favreau continued to grow his career both in front of and behind the camera. He has been an important figure in the early MCU as well as the Star Wars universe, with his CV including directing Iron Man and creating The Mandalorian.