By Seija Rankin
September 12, 2019 at 09:00 AM EDT
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It all started with a place card. A place card at Monica and Chandler’s wedding, that is, and perhaps the only meet-cute in television history to involve the name-dropping of Mona Klerklekken, the famous botanist. It was the Friends season 8 premiere, which saw the first non-disastrous wedding on the beloved sitcom and the very beginning of Rachel’s pregnancy with maybe-Tag’s-but-actually-Ross’ baby. Bonnie Somerville, who would go on to play perhaps Ross’ most undervalued girlfriend, had auditioned for what was supposed to be a single day’s worth of filming as a friend of Monica’s (from her rest-aur-ant).

“My agent said, ‘They’re casting episode 1 and there’s a small role that has maybe a couple of lines,’” Somerville tells EW. “I went in and [series creators] Marta [Kaufman] and David [Crane] were in the room, and it was over in a second. Then my agent called and said, ‘You got in, you’re going in to work on Monday.’”

By the time Somerville came aboard as Mona, Friends was the biggest show on television and the actors were about to be some of the highest-paid in history. The soundstage on the Warner Bros. lot was appropriately grandiose, with personalized parking spots and elaborate breakfast spreads (bagels and lox, to be exact). Somerville sat down for her first table read — she jokes that the crew members and executives were so excited to be back in the room after summer break, and so taken with the main casts’ chemistry, that they barely noticed her contributions — and says that David Schwimmer made her feel so comfortable that she was able to ad-lib right off the bat.

“I think back now like, who do I think I was?” Somerville says, laughing. “But we had a really good banter and somebody said, ‘You’re really funny, we should have you back.’ I was like, yeah right.”

The next day Somerville’s agent called to tell her she was booked for three more episodes. As Mona and Ross continued to deliver on the laughs, the writer’s room continued to build out their relationship. The actress says she was never privy to the grand plan for the characters’ relationship, and she would get a script delivered to her house in a manila envelope every week, requiring her to frantically skim to see Mona’s story line.

“Our relationship just kind of kept going, and eventually I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to be the seventh friend,’” she deadpans. “I’m going to be a regular! That didn’t happen.”

What did happen was that her entire career changed in an instant. Matt LeBlanc warned Somerville about the Friends phenomenon, telling her she’d notice a difference with the airing of a single episode.

“I said, ‘No one’s going to care [that I’m on one episode of Friends],’” she recalls. “But then the morning after that first episode, someone came up to me at the grocery store and said, ‘Are you that girl who was on Friends last night?’ I got work right away after that.”

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