Casting director Ellie Kanner had a pivotal role in shaping what our collective '90s nostalgia looks like, given that she cast the pilot and first season of "Friends."
Although it may now be difficult to imagine anybody else in the memorable roles of Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Joey, Chandler and Ross, before the series became must-see TV, things looked very different. As today, May 6, is the anniversary of the last episode of "Friends," here are five stories from the early days.
1. A more diverse cast was initially pitched to NBC.
Kanner told The Huffington Post that the casting department and the executive producers, Marta Kauffman, David Crane and Kevin Bright, "were always open to ethnicity" and they tried to cast the series keeping that in mind. "I know some people, maybe they don't believe that, but we actually did try," said Kanner.
Many actors and actresses of various ethnicities, such as Cree Summer, auditioned and some were brought to the network, although ultimately passed over. As Kanner explained, "we tried to find just the funniest people no matter what ethnicity."
Traditional sitcom characteristics, such as age and attractiveness, were considered along with whether they could pass as New Yorkers -- HuffPost found out in a previous interview that much of "Friends" is based off the New York lives with people involved with the show. More "charactery" actors and actresses were auditioned as well, but "Friends" obviously "ended up with a mostly beautiful cast," as Kanner said. "But you know the bottom line was they had to be funny. That was always the most important aspect of it."
2. Vince Vaughn auditioned to be Joey.
Both Kanner and her former assistant had written down that Vaughn had auditioned for the role of Joey in their notes. Kanner remembered him as "handsome and tall" and a "good actor," but that he just didn't fit the way Matt LeBlanc ended up fitting.
Vaughn had yet to have a breakthrough role when he auditioned for the part of Joey and was still an up-and-coming actor. "That would have been a little different," Kanner joked.
"It's just a matter of putting the pieces of the puzzle together," she added.
3. Phoebe, as we now know her, almost didn't exist, as Lisa Kudrow tried to push the character in a different direction. Luckily, she did not succeed.
From the "very first casting session," Kudrow was brought in as a "no brainer" in Kanner's mind, due to her work with Los Angeles improv company The Groundlings and on "Mad About You." Kudrow played the role consistently the same way until the very last moment, when she decided to pitch Kauffman and Kanner an entirely alternate Phoebe.
Apparently, these sorts of ideas from actors happen frequently in the casting world to the dismay of producers, who are expecting one thing and accidentally get another. Thankfully, Kudrow ran the alternate Phoebe by them first, and not after they began shooting. "[It] just wasn't as funny," said Kanner. "It just wasn't the Phoebe that we've grown to know and love."
Kauffman and Kanner both suggested Kudrow go back to the original Phoebe, which she did, and the network approved. Kanner even said that had Kudrow tried out her "new" Phoebe for the network, NBC might not have approved her for the role.
4. Courteney Cox insisted she should play Monica, despite being offered Rachel. The casting team planned to trick her into being Rachel, but then she killed the Monica audition.
The casting team originally wanted Cox to come in and read for Rachel. So, she read for the role and the casting team "really liked her." But then Cox asked if she could read for Monica. The casting team decided to humor her and grant her another audition, having already decided Cox would play Rachel. (They have yet to see Jennifer Aniston.)
Their plan was to have Cox audition for Monica, tell her "we loved you and you got the part," and then add that the part is actually that of Rachel. Plans aside, Cox came in and "nailed it."
"We were just blow away," said Kanner. "We were like, 'Oh shit! I guess she's got to be Monica.'"
5. Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry had both signed contracts for other shows when they were cast. They almost didn't get to play Rachel and Chandler.
The short-lived CBS show, "Muddling Through," from 1994, featured Aniston in its cast and therefore had her contractually obligated to film a certain number of episodes. It was looking like the show was going to be canceled, but according to what Kanner heard, once CBS found out that the "Friends" pilot was getting buzz, they ordered more "Muddling Through" episodes to pull Aniston away.
The casting department had to frantically attempt to recast Rachel after this setback, but decided the only course of action was convincing Aniston to film both shows. And so she did, and thankfully for the "Friends" crew, "Muddling Through" was canceled shortly after.
Perry had a similar problem, as he was tied to a sitcom set in the Los Angeles Airport, called, "L.A.X. 2194," where he was going to play a futuristic baggage handler. The casting team "all loved Matthew Perry" and had him on their lists, but due to this pilot, he wasn't initially available. When the futuristic baggage handler show ended up falling through, Perry was able to sign on with "Friends," in a transition that couldn't be any luckier for the budding actor.
BONUS: The casting team had "Oh my God, that's it!" moments when auditioning the six final friends.
The casting team already had a few of the lead actors and actresses in mind, such as Kudrow and David Schwimmer, who had already worked with Kauffman, Crane and Bright -- but overall they saw "maybe 500 people or more" doing different versions of the dialogue. "Casting is sort of like putting a puzzle together," said Kanner.
Eventually, all of the pieces clicked, according to Kanner. "That one person like Matthew Perry or Matt LeBlanc come in and they just do a little something different and you're like, 'Oh my God, that's it!'" Kanner said of the process.
When the last role was finally cast -- Joey -- all of the friends had their first table read at NBC, which Kanner attended. As she described, "you just saw that chemistry and it felt right. It doesn't always translate to the screen, but in this case, we all were pretty excited."
From various conversations HuffPost has had with people involved with the show, it seems that excitement lasted until the very last episode, when the Friends finally had to give up their apartment keys.
All images Getty unless otherwise noted.
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