Production went to great lengths to make sure the cast didn't run into each other before cameras started rolling.

By Samantha Highfill
May 28, 2021 at 08:00 AM EDT

"Will there be a Friends reunion?" has to be one of the most asked questions of the past dozen or so years. It's certainly one that executive producers David Crane, Kevin Bright, and Marta Kauffman have had to shoot down more than once. But when the series celebrated the 25th anniversary of its debut back in 2019, a reunion no longer felt like a moo point. "The idea of everybody getting together again was thrilling," Kauffman says. "The question was: How do you do that well?"

The answer was a nearly two-hour HBO Max special complete with interviews, guest stars, table reads, and even the Holiday Armadillo. The emotional event marked only the second time that stars Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, and David Schwimmer had all been in the same room since they walked out of apartment 20 in May 2004. EW takes you inside how it all came together, from rebuilding the instantly recognizable sets to who was in the audience — and much, much more.

Friends: The Reunion
The cast of 'Friends' now: (top) Matthew Perry, Matt LeBlanc, and David Schwimmer; (bottom): Courteney Cox, Jennifer Aniston, and Lisa Kudrow
| Credit: HBO Max

On a Break

The reunion special was originally set to shoot on March 22, 2020. But just as the sets were being loaded back onto Stage 24 of the Warner Bros. lot, the nation shut down due to COVID-19, and suddenly the reunion had to…pivot! "During COVID there were conversations with Warner Bros. saying, 'Do you have to be on Stage 24?'" Crane recalls. "We were like, 'Yeah. And there has to be at least part of this where there's an audience because laughter is so much a part of the DNA of the show.'"

Not From Pottery Barn

Once it was time to film, they rebuilt the show's biggest sets: Chandler and Joey's apartment, complete with the foosball table; Monica and Rachel's apartment, complete with the yellow picture frame around the peephole; and Central Perk, complete with the iconic orange couch. "They pulled those out of storage," Crane says of the sets. "It all had to be reconstructed. They pulled props from the Warner Bros. tour, Friends pop-up experiences. They wanted all the original pieces." Production designer John Shaffner and art director Greg Grande both returned to ensure everything was exactly where Monica left it. And if it wasn't, well, there's always the internet. "Anything that was missing, Greg found on eBay," Bright says. "Including the cookie jar in Rachel and Monica's kitchen, which Lisa took home at the end of the show."

Friends: The Reunion
David Schwimmer leads his former costars in a quiz about the show
| Credit: Terence Patrick/HBO Max

Like I've Been There Before

Creating the magic of the reunion's first moments — with the cast entering the stage one at a time and seeing the sets (and then one another) — wasn't easy. "I always wanted them to be apart that morning," director Ben Winston says. So imagine his panic when he showed up and their trailers were lined up right next to one another. "I was so upset. I really wanted that moment to be real. So I immediately got the team and we built tents outside of their doors so that they wouldn't see each other." Winston then texted the cast, begging them to avoid their fellow Friends. "Luckily they played along, so that moment when they see each other on set is the first time they've all six been together [since the show ended], apart from one dinner at Jen's house," he says.

Friends of Friends

Strangely enough, the very first thing shot for the special, roughly a year and a half before it aired, was David Beckham's testimonial. He, along with a handful of other famous fans — including BTS and even Malala Yousafzai — shared their love for the show. "I knew that BTS were huge fans, because I shot a Carpool Karaoke with them and the first thing RM said when he got in the car was 'I learned English through watching Friends,' " Winston, a Late Late Show With James Corden executive producer, says. "I was already talking about [the special] at the time."

Friends: The Reunion
The cast of 'Friends' read through classic scenes during the reunion special
| Credit: Terence Patrick/HBO Max

Best Seats in the House

Getting a seat in the studio audience for the Friends reunion was all about luck. "We were very low-key about what they were doing," Winston says. "An audience company found us an audience, but they didn't know until the day before what they were going to be watching, because we didn't want any leaks. So we found huge Friends fans but they didn't know what they were seeing until everybody could go through the COVID protocol."

Friends: The Reunion is available to stream on HBO Max now.

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