Five huge actors almost cast in ‘Friends’
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Five huge actors almost cast in 'Friends'

It was the biggest TV show of the 1990s and when it aired its final episode in 2004, many people heralded Friends as the ultimate sitcom. 20 years have passed but, thanks to Netflix, the show’s popularity seems impossible to curtail.

It’s safe to say that when Marta Kauffman and David Crane set out to cast the beloved Friends ensemble, they struck gold. Without Lisa Kudrow, David Schwimmer, Matthew Perry, Matt LeBlanc, Courteney Cox, and Jennifer Aniston, the show would be a far cry from what it turned out to be, so much so that it’s almost impossible to imagine.

When Kauffman and Crane were looking for the six perfect actors to bring to life Ross, Joey, Chandler, Rachel, Monica and Phoebe on screen, they auditioned many actors – some of whom needed to return multiple times to convince the co-creators they were the ideal fit for the part. The crux of the search was to locate six young and attractive unknown actors who also had chemistry and charisma on screen. Unlike some sitcoms, the Friends casting was so significant because it would end up largely dictating the direction of the show.

Although they expressed being open to diversity during the process, the natural inclination of comedy being less integrated than other genres like drama and the creators’ desire to launch a show that didn’t necessarily challenge audiences effectively shoehorned it into a white, middle-class cast early on. Moreover, when NBC ordered the show after seeing its pilot, they didn’t exactly send the creators off with a list of notes other than suggesting minor edits to broaden its appeal.

Although regarded as largely outdated by today’s television standards, Friends remains a staple of comfort TV, with the performances of its cast playing significant in its enduring appeal. Other actors could have tried their luck at playing the six friends on-screen, but chemistry and authenticity is difficult to fabricate. Thankfully, it seems like Kudrow, Schwimmer, Perry, LeBlanc, Cox, and Aniston had it engrained before they even set foot on set.

Actors who were almost cast in Friends:

Vince Vaughn

Ellie Kanner, who was the casting director of Friends, once described Vince Vaughn as a “handsome and tall and a good actor”, traits that match well with the attractive and playful Joey Tribbiani. However, she also recalled that he didn’t fit the role as well as Matt LeBlanc did, which is understandable considering the fact that LeBlanc’s looks largely factored into his getting the part.

In fact, there were a number of instances that won LeBlanc the role of Joey; firstly, he had a natural charm that could be detected just from his demeanour. Although he claims to be more reserved than his character, LeBlanc once admitted that sheer honesty is what sealed the deal among the show’s co-creators.

The night before his final audition, for instance, he got so drunk that he ended up blacking out and hitting his face on his toilet seat, resulting in a large gash that the Friends crew would obviously notice. After “telling the truth” about his physical altercation, Kauffman and Crane decided that he was Joey through and through and gave him the part.

Louis Mandylor

Remember ‘The One With The Unagi’ where Joey enlists another person to “play” his twin for a medical study? The actor who plays his lookalike, Carl, was apparently an early contender for the real Joey. Louis Mandylor had auditioned for Joey a few years earlier but, of course, lost out to LeBlanc. This puts an even funnier spin on his appearance in the show as he tries but fails to imitate Joey despite making all efforts to do so.

Mandylor may have seemed the perfect fit for the Joey character on paper, given the fact that he also has dark hair, an attractive face, and that familiar New York-Italian swagger, but LeBlanc seems to pull all of this off in a more effortless and understated way. Perhaps if Mandylor wasn’t trying to appear awkward in his portrayal of Joey’s twin, he could have showcased a more natural take on Joey, but it’s difficult to see past the comedic stiffness.

Elizabeth Berkley

With the character Rachel, the show’s creators wanted someone who was able to effortlessly balance warmth and vulnerability with sensibility and determination. Jennifer Aniston was the perfect candidate to nail these traits in hindsight, but Elizabeth Berkley also seemed to fit the part, which led to her being a serious contender.

There’s no denying that Berkley could have portrayed a well-liked version of Rachel, bringing her extensive range to a character who embarks on a monumental transformation from a sheltered bride-to-be to an independent woman. However, Aniston seemed to possess an innate ability to embody all elements of Rachel in ways that most others would find difficult.

Mitchell Whitfield

When Rachel first appears on the show, she shows up at Central Perk after making the life-changing decision to leave her fiancé, Barry, at the alter. Although Barry provided a solid foundation for Rachel’s character, setting the scene for her transformative story arc, he also came considerably close to playing her other love interest, Ross Geller.

According to Whitfield, Barry was “the impetus for the show”. It’s easy to see why he holds such a strong opinion, given the fact that his character gives Rachel her freedom in more ways than one, though unintentionally. However, Whitfield also got to the final round of auditions for Ross but lost out when David Schwimmer turned up. Unfortunately for Whitfield, Ross was written with Schwimmer in mind, so when he decided he wanted in, it was over for everybody else.

John Favreau

For those unfamiliar with John Favreau’s work outside of Friends, it’s perhaps more interesting to compare the fact that he auditioned for the part of Chandler with the part that he got, Monica’s love interest, Pete Becker. Of course, Pete and Monica’s relationship came to an end when he proved an insatiable desire to become a fighting champion, much to Monica’s dismay, but he initially showed interest in being on the show long-term.

While the actor allegedly turned down the offer to play Chandler, his career entered a different direction as he focused on co-producing, writing, and starring in Swingers, which established him as an ingenious creative in the film industry. That said, Chandler is and will always be a product of Matthew Perry’s genius as a comedic force, something that no other actor could have lived up to.