It seems impossible to think of anyone else in the roles of the Central Perk crew who ruled sitcoms between 1994 and 2004. But when creators Marta Kauffman and David Crane were first casting their pilot script – originally known as ‘Six of One’ – there were other stars who tried out for the iconic parts. Here are eight of them.
Ellen DeGeneres Almost Played Phoebe
Now a celebrated talk show host, gay rights advocate and US entertainment maven, DeGeneres was highly-regarded by the network, even though the producers felt Lisa Kudrow had nailed the part in her audition.
In fact, Ellen was snared by ABC to star in her self-titled sitcom, which premiered the same year as ‘Friends’ and broke new TV ground when DeGeneres’s character came out as a lesbian during an episode.
Craig Bierko Was Almost Chandler
The producers loved Matthew Perry, but he was already signed up to another show – about, er, airport baggage handlers in the future (seriously). So they turned to Bierko (‘Cinderella Man’), who was actually one of Perry’s mates and was coached by him for the audition.
He was offered the part but ultimately turned it down because it was an ensemble show, much to the relief of the show’s creators.
Bierko has since gone on to appear in comedys ‘The Change-Up’ and ‘The Three Stooges’. Fun fact: he also played the character of Lister on the US pilot of ‘Red Dwarf’.
Jami Gertz Was Almost Rachel
Crane has recalled how he received a phone call from NBC telling him they had offered the role subsequently played by Jennifer Aniston to Gertz (‘The Lost Boys’). “Jami Gertz is a really talented actress, but not Rachel,” he said. “We held our breath for 24 hours until she passed.”
She has appeared in shows like ‘Entourage’ and ‘The Neighbors’ as well as marrying a billionaire banker.
Hank Azaria Was Almost Joey
Before Matt LeBlanc was cast, Joey wasn’t the dim bulb we know and love. Which is probably why Azaria – who plays dozens of characters on ‘The Simpsons’ including Moe and Apu – wanted the part so bad.
Despite being rejected once, he begged for another audition, only to fail again at the second hurdle. The producers clearly saw something in him though. He eventually turned up on a few episodes of the show as David, Phoebe’s science guy love interest. You know, the one who goes to Minsk.
More recently, Azaria played Gargamel in ‘The Smurfs’ and its sequel.
Eric McCormack Was Almost Ross
David Schwimmer was always the first choice for Ross, but having just had a difficult experience on a TV series, he initially needing convincing.
In the meantime, the producers auditioned lots of actors, including McCormack who became a star as one of the titular characters on ‘Will & Grace’ (which was co-created by David Crane’s life partner Jeffrey Klarik).
Lately, he returned to TV as the star of kooky detective show ‘Perception’.
Nancy McKeon Was Almost Monica
McKeon was best known for starring in hit series ‘The Facts of Life’ when she auditioned to play clean freak Monica and several NBC executives thought she should have got the role.
Courteney Cox had originally been offered the part of Rachel, but said she preferred the part of Miss Geller, leading to a showdown between her and McKeon. After a walk around the studio, Crane and Kauffman chose Cox.
McKeon has not achieved massive stardom since but still works regularly in episodic television and Lifetime TV movies.
Jane Krakowski Was Almost Rachel
The actress, who played Jenna Maroney on ’30 Rock’ and Elaine in ‘Ally McBeal’ auditioned, but didn’t get very far in the process to play Rachel.
She recently told E!, “I wish I had gotten that one.”
Krakowski now co-stars on Netflix sitcom ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and appeared in Adam Sandler flop ‘Pixels’.
Janeane Garofalo Was Almost Monica
“When we originally wrote the role, we had Janeane Garofalo’s voice in our head,” Crane has said of Monica. “Darker and edgier and snarkier.”
Garofalo (‘Reality Bites’, ‘The Larry Sanders Show’) never actually read for the part, but it would have been a whole different kind of show if the writers had pursued their original vision.
The actress currently features on sitcom ‘The Jim Gaffigan Show’.
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