For fans of Friends, the hit ’90s sitcom was rather close to being very, very different. There was almost no smelly cat and no blonde ponytails, because Lisa Kudrow wasn’t originally cast in the role.
On the Jess Cagle Podcast with Julia Cunningham, Kudrow spoke about how she nearly missed out on the role of Phoebe Buffay because of a previous misunderstanding with the show’s director, James “Jimmy” Burrows. In fact, she was asked to audition for the role twice, something that none of the other cast members had to do.
Burrows, who directed Friends, was also a part of another New York-based sitcom, Fraiser. And while he was casting the show, he chose Kudrow for the role of Roz in 1993, but he fired her after filming the pilot episode.
“I was… mistakenly cast. I didn’t know that at the time,” she told host Julia Cunningham. “I knew that Jim clocked that I was wrong from the table read and so I thought, ‘Oh he doesn’t like me or what I do.’”
Thankfully, Burrows wasn’t quick to forget about Kudrow. But one year later, when she went for the role of Phoebe Buffay, it still wasn’t as easy for her to get the part.
“I had to do a special audition for Jim Burrows. You have to do auditions for producers and studio, network but in between all of that, I had to go in and read for Jim Burrows,” Kudrow explained.
Initially, Kudrow figured that the amount of hoops she had to jump through was just part of the process. Later, she found out that she was the only one from the cast who had to do a special audition.
“Just to make sure that it was all ok with Jimmy that I played Phoebe,” she said. But, even after he came around to having Kudrow play the guitar-playing masseuse, he still seemed to have a gripe with her which left the 58-year-old feeling defeated.
“[On set for the pilot] I said ‘ugh, f–king Jimmy Burrows is directing this. It was more like in defeat than anger.”
At first, she felt as if Burrows was doing all he could to make her job as difficult as possible, particularly after he made her read a monologue from underneath a table.
“We were getting ready to do a run-through and I have to do my Phoebe monologue and he’s like ‘Lisa, sit under the table to read the monologue, do it under the table, she’s out there,’” Kudrow explained.
And while she didn’t agree with his direction, she followed Burrows instructions and completd the scene.
“I just went, ‘My God, I can’t connect with anyone. If you need to demonstrate how much my character doesn’t belong with these people…’,” she recalled.
“I did the best I could and then after the run-through, David Crane [Friends co-creator] says, ‘Lisa, it’s fun that you’re under the table’—as if it was my idea—‘But I’m not sure that it works.’”
Thankfully, Burrows finally made peace with Kudrow and clearly the two were amicable enough to create one of the most successful sitcoms of all time.
“I just went ‘OK, yeah,’” Kudrow explain about the direction from Crane, adding, “But Jimmy admitted it was his idea and then I knew I could trust him”.
And clearly, the rest was history.