Friends star Lisa Kudrow hated playing Ursula and 4 more things you didn't know about the NBC comedy
Friends exec producers David Crane, Marta Kauffman and Kevin S. Bright shared behind-the-scenes stories about the classic comedy at the Tribeca TV Festival.
The theater was packed on Friday the 13th for a special screening — not of a slasher film, but of two classic Friends episodes, as part of the Tribeca TV Festival. After a back-to-back showing of “The One With the Embryos” and “The One Where Everybody Finds Out,” co-creators Marta Kauffman and David Crane joined executive producer Kevin S. Bright on stage to share memories of making the hit NBC sitcom and to answer fan questions. Star David Schwimmer, wearing a baseball cap pulled way down over his face, attended the screening but slipped out of the theater before audience questions began. Here are five things we learned from Bright, Kauffman, and Crane.
Lisa Kudrow was not a fan of playing Phoebe’s twin sister, Ursula
The character of Ursula originated on NBC’s Mad About You — she was the flighty and somewhat rude waitress at Paul and Jamie’s favorite diner — and when Lisa Kudrow got the part on Friends, Crane and company got the idea to bring Ursula over as Phoebe’s twin. “My husband Jeffrey [Klarik] was on Mad About You as a writer. We had to go to [creators] Danny Jacobson and Paul Reiser to get their permission, and amazingly because of that relationship… they were incredibly generous and let us do it, which is nuts,” says Crane. “I wouldn’t let anybody do that with a character on our show!”
Bright, who directed many Friends episodes, recalled that Kudrow did not enjoy the process of filming scenes with her TV twin. “Lisa really did not have a good time doing them. She did not like acting with a double, and in a way she might have made it more difficult for herself because her double was her actual sister, [Helena],” said Bright. “I think feeling the [stress] she put her sister into by being the double was more in her head at the time, so those scenes were a little bit tricky to shoot. But it ended up being a lot of fun when you put it together.”
NBC censors just said no to condoms and nipples (and sometimes to “penis”)
Over the course of 10 seasons, the Friends team had to negotiate with NBC’s standards and practices team over a variety of issues — like Monica’s liaison with Paul the wine guy in the pilot — but the battle Kauffman remembers the most was over a condom. “We had an episode where Monica and Rachel are arguing over who gets to use the last condom [season 2, “The One Where Dr. Ramoray Dies”]. Both of them wanted to have sex that night, they were both in relationships, it was a big night for both of them, and there was one condom left. We could show the box, we could shake the box so you could hear the condom, but we couldn’t say condom,” she recalled.
“It was this crazy world, like where when we first started you could say ‘penis,’ but then three years after we started they decided that you couldn’t say ‘penis,'” added Crane.
“You couldn’t say ‘nipple’ in the beginning. You could say ‘penis’ but not ‘nipple,'” Kauffman added. “And then ‘penis’ came back in, like, season 7,” said Crane with a laugh.
Lots of people wanted to play Ugly Naked Guy
In addition to being the best episode of Friends ever, “The One Where Everybody Finds Out” also marks the second and final actual appearance of the gang’s neighbor Ugly Naked Guy (played by Jon Haugen). Casting an actor to personify the usually-unseen character was easy, Kauffman reported. “Surprisingly, there are people who want to play ‘Ugly Naked Guy.’ They do. It’s just [shot] from the back, they don’t have any lines, it wasn’t an audition — it was just about, physically, what do we imagine?” Bright, who screened UNG candidates with Kauffman back in the day, explained, “Nobody had to disrobe. They just walked in the room, we said hi, very nicely.” Joked Crane, “I’m very happy I was not there.”
Matt LeBlanc made one actor break in “The One Where Everybody Finds Out”
The season 5 episode centers on Phoebe and Rachel’s (Jennifer Aniston) elaborate scheme to mess with Monica (Courteney Cox) and Chandler (Matthew Perry), who are secretly dating. (“They don’t know that we know they know we know!”) In an effort to speed along Phoebe’s fake seduction of Chandler, Matt LeBlanc‘s Joey pulled off a little sleight-of-hand with her button-down top, flicking it open in one smooth motion.
“The moment I remember the most is Matt LeBlanc trying to undo her shirt, because we did that quite a few times before it actually worked,” said Kauffman. And when it did work, added Bright, “it surprised Lisa so much the first time that she laughed out of character, so we had to do it again.”
And Gunther’s last name is…
Unfortunately for Friends‘ beloved Central Perk manager, not even the show’s creators know for sure. “Does he have a last name?” wondered Crane. Added Bright, “He’s like Cher.”