Playing Ross Geller on Friends was the role of a lifetime for David Schwimmer, but his sudden rise to fame due to the show’s popularity was something that he struggled with.
During an interview on The Hollywood Reporter‘s Awards Chatter podcast, Schwimmer — who, unlike the rest of his Friends costars, stayed out of the spotlight once the show ended in 2004 — spoke about the difficulty he had adjusting to his newfound fame when the NBC sitcom became a smash hit.
“It was pretty jarring and it messed with my relationship to other people in a way that took years, I think, for me to kind of adjust to and become comfortable with,” he said. “As an actor, the way I was trained, my job was to observe life and to observe other people, and so I used to walk around with my head up, and really engaged and watching people. The effect of celebrity was the absolute opposite: It made me want to hide under a baseball cap, not be seen. And I realized after a while that I was no longer watching people; I was trying to hide. So I was trying to figure out: How do I be an actor in this new world, in this new situation? How do I do my job? So that was tricky.”
Friends was an instant success as the pilot debuted to 22 million viewers. Suddenly, the whole cast became big stars — and Schwimmer wasn’t prepared.
“I didn’t feel like my character had changed, but suddenly people were treating me in a very, very different way, that sometimes was flattering, but mostly very evasive,” he said. “Because you are in their home. There’s something very approachable about actors on television, and I think especially in a half-hour comedy, where there’s something very comforting about it.”
After Friends ended, his fellow costars immediately went on to big-budget films or their own TV shows, but Schwimmer went on a different path, including time performing on stage and directing. This year, he made his big TV comeback as Robert Kardashian on American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson, which earned him an Emmy nomination.
“Hopefully I’ll change some people’s minds,” he said, “but others will just see Ross in World War II in Band of Brothers.”