Did you know that Friends premiered twenty years ago today? How old does that make you feel? If you’re anything like me, the answer is “pretty f*cking old!” As such, we thought it would be interesting to look back and see which famous faces were almost cast as part of one of the most popularly recognizable ensemble casts of all time — if you can even imagine a world in which Jennifer Aniston’s haircut wasn’t one of the biggest game changers of the ’90s. Here are the duds, in no particular order:
Tea Leoni was the producers first choice to play the role of Rachel Green, however she passed on the role to star on ABC’s The Naked Truth, which only ran for three seasons after being cancelled by ABC and subsequently picked up by NBC. I don’t remember The Naked Truth at all and looking it up on IMDB did nothing to change that. Leoni apparently chose the role due to the fact that it was a lead role as opposed to Friends, which would have forced her to share the spotlight with five other actors. So it sounds like overall that worked out great for her in the long run.
Courteney Cox, who was the most high profile member of the cast prior to Friends, had originally been brought in for Rachel’s part — but requested to audition for Monica since she preferred a stronger female role.
Jessie Spano (a.k.a. Elizabeth Berkley) also auditioned for the role of Rachel but thankfully that never happened so lets never speak of it again.
While the role of Ross had been specifically written for David Schwimmer, at the time Schwimmer was in Chicago doing a theatrical production of The Master and Margarita and had reservations about appearing on a television series. Typical wishy-washy Ross!
In the meantime producers auditioned Eric McCormack (who eventually went on to do Will and Grace) a few times before Schwimmer finally agreed to take the role.
Hank Azaria first auditioned for the role of Joey Tribiani, and he apparently wanted the role so much that he auditioned twice after being rejected the first time. When Matt LeBlanc finally auditioned, the role of Joey had apparently not been fleshed out very much, so he put a little “LeBlanc spin on it” reading for Joey as an “Italian, kind of dim character.” It helped that he was able to draw inspiration from his short-lived Fox series Top of the Heap (and later the equally short-lived Vinnie & Bobby), a series I have already written many words about.
Jon Cryer was the first pick for Chandler Bing, apparently going all the way back to when the series was originally going to be called “Six of One.” Thankfully, Cryer was in London at the time and didn’t make the casting tape cutoff so he was later able to bring his lowest common denominator comedy skills to Two and Half Men.
Jon Favreau and actor Craig Bierko were also in the running for Chandler, and before Matthew Perry was cast Bierko had been the first choice for the role. In an odd twist, Bierko and Perry were friends in real life and Perry even supposedly coached him for the role.
As I mentioned earlier, Courtney Cox was at the time the most well known actress before Friends premiered, so she had been approached with a role already in mind. However, Leah Remini also auditioned for Monica Gellar.
The role of Phoebe probably had the most number of high profile names in the ring during the casting process. Kathy Griffin, Jane Lynch and Ellen Degeneres — who won the role but later turned it down — all auditioned for Phoebe. I know it was 1995 and everything, but they must have really been going for a crunchy granola lesbian vibe. At any rate, Lisa Kudrow finally won out because the producers liked her guest role as Ursula, the waitress in Mad About You.