There’s something to be said for the way sudden fame bonds you with the people experiencing it alongside you.
Nothing can prepare you for the ways in which life changes when you go, seemingly overnight, from struggling actor to global superstar, and there are very few people in your life who will be able to relate, so you look to the people going through it with you for support and hope that they’ll be there for you. And in the case of the sextet at the heart of Friends, it turned out that they were.
“It’s scary, it’s jarring, it’s not what you thought it would be,” Lisa Kudrow, one-sixth of that iconic ensemble that ruled television for a solid decade after debuting in 1994, recalled of her instant ascent during a 2015 appearance at Vulture Festival. “And then, thank god, there were six of us together at the same time going through it.”
From the jump, Kudrow and her co-stars Courteney Cox, Jennifer Aniston, Matthew Perry, Matt LeBlanc and David Schwimmer were clued in to the fact that life was about to change and that they’d come to rely on one another in ways they’d probably never even imagined. Before Friends even began airing, famed director James Burrows gathered the group in Las Vegas for one last outing enjoyed via the protection that only anonymity can provide and told the fresh-faced sixsome what they needed to do to survive the ride they were about to embark on.
“‘This world can be pretty dark, and you guys gotta really stick together and take care of each other,'” Aniston recalled Burrows saying during a June appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. “And we took that to heart for sure, obviously. And then he handed us each a couple hundred bucks and said, ‘Now go into the casino and go gamble because this is the last time you’ll be able to walk into a casino anonymously.’ And we had no clue what he was talking about…and sure enough, that was the last time we were able [do that].”
“I think it was unspoken but we instinctively felt like we need to be friends, we need get along, we need to connect,” Kudrow recalled on NBC’s Must See TV: An All-Star Tribute to James Burrows in 2016. And Burrows was more than willing to help the along in the process. “We started playing poker and Jimmy gave us his room so we could have a bigger hangout room for us,” she continued.
And it worked. As LeBlanc gushed to Katie Couric during a Today interview in that first year on air, “We’re a really tight ensemble, we get along really well. It’s just a real productive environment and a great time.” Added Aniston, “We communicate well, we have a great time at rehearsal, and it’s just the entire combination that makes it jell.”
The bond formed between the six proved unbreakable during their decade on air. Not only did they gather together to watch the show each week, but they also revolutionized the way TV co-stars handle contract renegotiations by forming a bloc and negotiating in tandem with one another, assuring that no one piece of the puzzle could be pitted against another and each would make what the other was making—which by the show’s final season was an unprecedented $1 million per episode, up sharply from the $20,000 per episode they were earning as unknowns a decade prior.
Theirs was a bond that no one, not even the creatives working on Friends behind the scenes, was allowed to get too close to. Take their famed pre-show huddles, for example. For each and every of the show’s 236 episodes, the cast would gather tightly together backstage just before taping began and exactly what went on in that powwow remains a mystery to everyone except the six who lived it. “That’s one thing that has stayed consistent for 10 years, is that nobody knows what goes on in that huddle,” Friends producer Kevin S. Bright recalled. “Nobody gets near it—I don’t think you’re allowed to be within eyesight.”
But 15 years later, that bond looks a little bit different, doesn’t it? When you see headlines about a mini-Friends reunion these days, you can almost always expect the photo featured as you click through to involve some sort of variation on a theme: Aniston and Cox, Cox and Kudrow, Kudrow and Aniston, or, in the case of June’s girls’ night and celebration of Cox’s 55th birthday, all three ladies.
What we’re trying to say is the women of Friends seem to have been the only ones to truly take that iconic theme song by The Rembrandts to heart. While the ladies thrill us with selfie after selfie and keep their connection alive via a group text chain that we’d kill to get even a quick peek at, despite Cox and Kudrow admitting the text chain is “too much pressure” and “a lot,” respectively, to Us Weekly in 2018, the gentlemen seem to have happily gone their own way as they’ve carved out careers separate from the group.
After all, it’s been three years since any of the male Friends stars were photographed with another of their co-stars and that same year, when the entire cast was supposed to come together for the first time since filming wrapped on the show to fete Burrows for his big NBC special, Perry, who turns 50 on Monday, Aug. 19, couldn’t even get away from the play he was working on in London, sending in a pre-taped message instead.
As Cox admitted to David Letterman in 2014, it’s proven incredibly difficult over the years to get all six stars in the same room for a meal. “There’s six friends, and I have been trying to put together a cast dinner for ten years,” she told the former late-night host when asked about a rumored Friends movie. “It doesn’t happen. I mean, I can get the girls to come, maybe Matthew Perry. Matt LeBlanc cancelled last time, Schwimmer lives [in New York City,] so it’s just not going to happen.”
While Perry, LeBlanc and Schwimmer certainly have never had anything negative to say about their time on the show or the co-stars they’ll eternally be connected to, their responses when asked about the revival that everyone seems to want despite the show’s co-creator Marta Kaufman saying unequivocally, in no uncertain terms, that it’ll never happen tend to read a bit different from their female counterparts.
While Aniston told Ellen DeGeneres in June, “Listen, I told you this. I would do it…The girls would do it,” Schwimmer told Megyn Kelly in early 2018, “I doubt it—I really doubt it. But thank you for asking, and moving on!” Perry has spoken about how there are three years of his time on that show that he doesn’t even remember due to his crippling addiction issues—”It was actually a very lonely time for me because I was suffering from alcoholism,” he told The Sun. “I was never high at work. I was painfully hungover. Then eventually things got so bad I couldn’t hide it and everybody knew”—while LeBlanc has flat-out admitted that he hopes a reunion never happens. “I know Matt LeBlanc doesn’t want to be asked that question anymore,” Aniston admitted in an interview with InStyle in September 2018, before admitting she remains ever the optimist. “But maybe we could talk him into it.”
Instagram / Courteney Cox
At a certain point though, it seemed as though the Friends cast’s bond broke, or bent, at the very least, bent along gender lines. For Aniston’s 2015 wedding to Justin Theroux, Perry and LeBlanc openly admitted they didn’t even score an invite, while Cox was in the wedding party and Kudrow was in attendance. And as both Cox and Aniston have weathered disappointments in love over the years, they’ve always had the other to rely on.
“We just have fun, we laugh, we’re inseparable and it’s great,” Cox reportedly told TV Week about Aniston, who had also done a guest appearance on Cox’s show Cougar Town, as she was separating from David Arquette in 2010. “It’s funny, a lot of really close friends are kind of going through this right now or like Jennifer, [who] has gone through it. I don’t know what’s going on in the planets or what, but things are being shaken up and I don’t know what’s going to happen, but, yeah, Jennifer has been amazing for sure.”
And as Aniston made clear in a 2014 profile on Cox in More magazine, the feeling is mutual. “There’s absolutely no judgment in Court,” she gushed. “You’ll never feel scolded. She’s extremely fair, ridiculously loyal and fiercely loving. I’ve slept in her guest bedroom a lot. Without giving away too much of my private stuff, all I can say is she’s been there for me through thick and thin.”
While it just might be the natural strains brought on by time, distance and other focuses that have separated the men from the women, the ladies’ ability to keep their bond so tight all these years later might be owed to the fact that they just had a stronger foundation to begin with.
As Cox revealed during NBC’s 2016 tribute to Burrows, she and her female co-stars spent their lunch breaks together “every single day and we ate the same food—a Jennifer salad.” (For those wondering, that’s a Cobb with turkey bacon and garbanzo beans added in the mix.) And while Friends guest star Lauren Tom, who stood in between Ross and Rachel in season two as Julie, told Today earlier this summer that the cast “really clung onto each other” and “would literally walk down the set on Warner Brothers arm-in-arm,” it’s an anecdote from fellow guest star Jane Sibbett, who recurred as Ross’ ex-wife Carol, who painted a clearer picture of the ways in which the three women were so connected.
“I’d come back from the commissary at Warner Brothers and I came around the corner and I saw Courteney and Jen and Lisa splashing in a puddle,” she told the NBC morning show. “It was raining. They were splashing in the puddle like children and laughing. No one could see them. And literally, it was between sound stages in this little area. I get choked up when I think about it. I said, like, if they could capture that, that’s lightning in a bottle. If they could capture that kind of freedom and that friendship, this show is golden.”
And for the three of them to manage to cultivate that friendship all these years later, well, that’s even more golden.
“Jen and Courteney had an incredible bond from the beginning and are, of course, best friends for life. They have dinner and socialize with Lisa and see her often,” a source close to the stars tells E! News. “They all live within a few miles of each other and never let too much time pass without getting together and catching up. Lisa and Courteney are also very close independently from Jen. The girls just hit it off from the beginning and have their history. They grew up together and went through this formidable life experience that was Friends. Geographically its not hard to be at Courteney’s Sunday dinners or at a pool party at Jen’s house. They all feel incredibly close and always will be.”
As for the fellas, our insider tells us that they were “never as close” as their female co-stars, “although they remain friends and can pick up where they left off when they do talk.”
“They didn’t have the tight bond on the show or after,” the source continued. “They’ve gone in separate directions but they all have love for each other and for that time in their life. It’s just a different kind of friendship with the guys. They are doing their own thing in different parts of the world.”
While the guys are off on their own, the tight bond between Aniston, Cox and Kudrow has allowed for them to fantasize a way to work together again even if those pesky boys want nothing to do with them or the project. “Courteney and Lisa and I talk about it. I fantasize about it. It really was the greatest job I ever had. I don’t know what it would look like today, but you never know. So many shows are being successfully rebooted,” she told InTouch. “We just give it some time and then Lisa, Courteney and I could reboot The Golden Girls and spend our last years together on wicker furniture.”
(This story was originally published on June 25, 2019 at 11:46 a.m. PT.)