Friends may have made stars out of Jennifer Aniston, David Schwimmer, Courteney Cox, Matthew Perry, Lisa Kudrow, and Matt LeBlanc, but the audience at tapings for the beloved NBC sitcom didn’t always give the same love to guest actors.
In honor of the show’s upcoming 25th anniversary on Sept. 22, Today spoke with 10 actors who played notable guest roles on Friends — including Lauren Tom, who recalls being “booed” by the audience as they filmed the show live.
Why were they so upset? Tom played Julie, the fellow paleontologist whom Ross (Schwimmer) was dating at the beginning of season 2, just as Rachel (Aniston) was ready to admit she reciprocated his feelings.
“The fans were rabid,” Tom, 57, told Today. “I wasn’t prepared for the amount of venom I was about to receive in a live audience where they actually booed my character.”
“I think most actors are pretty sensitive. That’s why we’re doing what we do, because our emotions are right on our sleeve,” Tom added. “I just was so shocked that they were booing me. And, of course, I was trying very hard not to get my feelings hurt. I had to get used to that. I did understand intellectually that, you know, the audience was meant to be rooting for Rachel. Even I was rooting for Rachel, on some level, ’cause I was a fan of the show! But emotionally my body didn’t understand that when I heard the booing. So that was tough.”
Julie was designed by creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman to be “the nicest person on the planet,” Tom recalled to Today. “The writers meant to have her that way, so that the joke would play more that Rachel thinks she’s a bitch no matter what she does or says.”
And though the audience had a strong reaction to her when the cameras were rolling at the Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, California, the other actors couldn’t have been nicer, she said.
“The rest of the cast was so welcoming to me,” Tom remembered. “It was very authentic, their friendship. They were very bonded. When I started, it was the point at which they were just taking off like a rocket ship. Sometimes I think that even a success can feel like a crisis, because it’s so huge. And so they kind of really clung onto each other. They would literally walk down the set on Warner Brothers arm-in-arm.”
“I still remember it was my birthday on my first day of rehearsal, and so they all took me out to lunch,” continued Tom, who has had other roles in Andi Mack, Pretty Little Liars, and The Joy Luck Club. “It was very, very fancy, and it was so, so sweet of them to welcome me in that way.”
Other actors in Today‘s guest series include Christina Applegate, Riverdale’s Cole Sprouse, Jessica Hecht, Christine Taylor, and Sex and the City star Kristin Davis — who admits she was so nervous about her guest role that she “lost sleep.”
“Sex and the City was in production, but I was nervous to be the tiny character of Erin, losing sleep, partly because of the live audience, but partly because you’re in this world that has been created that is so alive and so specific and you’re trying to make sure you’re fitting yourself in there properly,” Davis said.
“I remember, like, ‘Will I set that joke up okay? Will Matt [LeBlanc] be happy? Will I just go blank?’ Things go through your head when you’re in those situations that are heightened like that,” Davis added. “Obviously it was the highest of the high at that point.”
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