Stay with me,” says Jennifer Aniston, as the small actress climbs into her huge Land Rover. ”I drive fast.” Well, yeah, she does. A few L.A. blocks later and — bonk! — she bumps the rear of a Ford Taurus. The other driver jumps out, inspects her own car, and glares at the Land Rover. Aniston opens her door and warily offers apologies. But the aggrieved driver wants more: an autograph. Aniston produces a black-and-white photo and scribbles her name. And all is forgiven. ”Thank God I had head shots in my car, huh?” Aniston says later with a laugh.
Aniston’s insurance company can be thankful that Friends — TV’s much-copied, much-hyped, No. 3-ranked series — has made her so recognizable. Her role as rich-girl-turned-waitress Rachel has put her, with David Schwimmer as mensch Ross, at the heart of TV’s most talked-about romance. Beyond the series, Aniston has become the most sought-after Friend: She just wrapped supporting roles in two movies (Edward Burns’ She’s the One, and Til There Was You—both due in mid-’96), stars in the upcoming indie film Dream for an Insomniac, and will play the leads in Picture Perfect and How to Date a Congressman (no, that’s not the Bob Packwood story).
On top of that, there’s the milk ad with Friend Lisa Kudrow, the Windows 95 video guide with Friend Matthew Perry, and a Steven Spielberg-directed CD-ROM. Even her hair has achieved fame as a popular new ‘do, the ”Rachel.” What’s next, a line of salad dressing?
But for Aniston, life in the fast lane often feels more like a cruise over traffic bumps. During breakfast at L.A.’s soigne Four Seasons Hotel, a mention of the Rembrandts’ ubiquitous Friends theme song grates, as if there were shells in her egg-white omelette. ”Can we not talk about the Rembrandts?” she sighs. ”We’re going to turn into McDonald’s! Man, [the Warner Bros. TV marketers] gotta ease up. They’re taking the class of the show and turning it into a media circus.”
And Aniston, 26, isn’t used to the center ring. ”I’m a little wigged out by it,” she admits. Video paparazzi once ambushed her outside a quiet restaurant, then pursued her by car. ”You think, When is this against the law? Where does my voice count? I was livid. You understand why Sean Penn would beat the s — – out of a photographer.”
Gossip sheets have had her dating, at different times, each of the three male Friends (”It’s such a joke that if we paid any attention to Hard Copy or all that crap, we’d go insane,” says Schwimmer), as well as Single Guy Jonathan Silverman, ER‘s Noah Wyle, and Counting Crows lead singer Adam Duritz. ”Adam was the only true story,” Aniston insists. But the media spotlight helped that brief relationship fizzle. ”Everybody thought we were this hot and heavy couple, and we were just getting to know each other. It took it in a direction I didn’t want…. But I made a wonderful friend,” she says wistfully, ”so that’s good.”
Fortunately, Aniston can vent about such indignities with her five costars. ”You can really talk only with each other,” she says. ”Everybody else has this [attitude] of ‘Oh, yeah, cry me a river, tough life!’ ”
Two years ago, Aniston could have cried herself a lake. Her resume boasted a string of foundered pilots and series. She was ”petrified” to walk into movie auditions—for which she blames her agent at the time, who predicted she’d find fame on TV. ”I hated him for that, because I thought, You have no faith in me,” Aniston recalls. ”It’s like your father, who instilled doubts in you as a kid.”
Indeed, her dad, John Aniston, who plays Victor Kiriakis on Days of Our Lives, says he warned his daughter that ”you always see actors struggling — it’s something you wouldn’t wish on your children.” Jennifer ignored his advice — particularly after her parents divorced when she was 9. Born in Sherman Oaks, Calif., she was raised in New York City by her mom, now a photographer. After graduating from the High School of the Performing Arts, the Fame school, in 1987, she headed to Hollywood (her career choice did please her godfather, Telly Savalas).
Aniston got an agent and some gentle advice: Lose weight. ”I wasn’t fat, I was just Greek,” Aniston protests, ”and Greeks are round, with big asses and big boobs.” As she says this, she scoops out the soft inside of a burnt bagel and eats the remaining shell. Thanks to such tricks, she shed 30 pounds (at 5 feet 51/2 inches, she now weighs 110)—and got parts on short-lived series like Ferris Bueller, The Edge, and Muddling Through.
Then along came a pilot called Friends Like These. Originally asked to audition for the role of Monica, Aniston refused. ”I’m so much more Rachel,” she says. ”More neurotic than Monica, a bit more offbeat.”
A title change and a season later, Friends has proved her ex-agent right. And now Aniston speaks of her longing to ”drive far away and find little antique stores and bed-and-breakfasts and go hiking…and just take some time out for meeting a man.” She confides that her most intense new relationship is with…her computer. Aniston recently discovered the Internet, where she can mingle in anonymity. ”I was up until 3 a.m.,” she says of the previous night’s online session. ”I can’t get away from it. It’s a sickness.”
But not even the Net affords a complete escape from Friends mania: ”This little girl online was like, ‘I just got my hair cut like Rachel’s!’ It’s like when I got the Valerie Bertinelli cut, the coolest thing in the world. And I had all these burns on my forehead from my curling iron.”
Aniston laughs, trying to keep her head about achieving notoriety for her locks. ”It’s just a fad. It’ll go away.” Will her own fame be hair today, gone tomorrow? Unlikely. She may need another stack of head shots—and not just because of her driving.