Hollywood Reporter – It also turned its six principal castmembers into overnight celebrities — which wasn’t an easy transition for [David] Schwimmer, who was 27. “It was pretty jarring and it messed with my relationship to other people in a way that took years, I think, for me to adjust to and become comfortable with,” he says. “As an actor, the way I was trained, my job was to observe life and to observe other people, so I used to walk around with my head up, really engaged and watching people. The effect of celebrity was the absolute opposite: It made me want to hide under a baseball cap and not be seen. And I realized after a while that I was no longer watching people; I was trying to hide. So I was trying to figure out: How do I be an actor in this new world, in this new situation? How do I do my job? That was tricky.”
TV stardom is different than any other kind, Schwimmer later realized. Actors are piped into a viewer’s living room as the same character for a long stretch of time, so “you lived with us for 10 years, we are part of the family, in a way,” he says. “There’s less of a barrier than there is with, say, a big movie star — you see them in this other kind of a space with a lot of other people on a big screen and you see that their role changes in every movie, for the most part. They’re very different people in very different situations, whereas in our show I’m the same guy for 10 years, you can rely on me to be a certain way and you know me — or you think you know me.”
Another byproduct of this kind of success is that many people — outside and inside of the business — have a hard time seeing the actor as anyone other than the character he or she became famous playing. “I was very aware of the power of the success of the show,” Schwimmer acknowledges, which is why he began planning for life after Friends even while it was still on the air. After shadowing the celebrated directors James Burrows and Kevin Bright and receiving the blessing of his castmates, he directed 10 episodes of the show. And during its hiatuses, he took on other roles, in films like The Pallbearer and TV movies like Band of Brothers, aiming “to play the long game and hopefully change some people’s minds,” while acknowledging that “others will just see Ross in World War II.”
Ross from Friends did a whole interview with The Hollywood Reporter that’s worth a listen since he’s on the awards tour for his work as Robert Kardashian on FX’s People Vs OJ Simpson show. But these are the key takeaways going around the internet, about how the weight of being Ross from Friends kind of stifled him in every aspect of life after the show. And overall I’m conflicted about what he’s saying. In general being an actor and not only getting work, but getting filthy rich off of one of the most successful TV shows ever, seems like something you can never complain about. We’re talking the kind of acting-related wealth that 99% of those in the field will never come even close to achieving between its original run, syndication, and now killing it for another generation on Netflix. Bitching about it seems a little like a slap in the face to all those people who’d kill for the spot and do a comparable Ross.
At the same time, I can completely see why all of these things could be overwhelming and stifling for Ross from Friends. He clearly fancies himself as a man who is an artist and has talents beyond being the nerdy guy on a famous TV show so it must be a downer to not be able to get taken seriously trying to express those parts of things. And, to his credit, dude hasn’t aged at all and just looks like he did when he was unrequited cumming in his lil pantaloons over Jennifer Aniston, but that probably doesn’t help either in this struggle he has. There’s no way for him to really make a clean break besides some potentially doofy-looking thing like growing an evil twin goatee or beard.
But it seems like maybe with this People vs OJ Simpson thing, he’s getting the best of both worlds? He got to show off some of his “dramatic chops” by yelling “Juice” repeatedly in a variety of ways and actually added to the Robert Kardashian role by bring some of that classic Ross from Friends comedy, intentionally and unintentionally, and it got him some award nominations. It seems like the obvious answer to me is to just find more roles like “Ross from Friends is a big city lawyer” or “Ross from Friends is a depressed out-of-work weatherman,” things that capture his general vibe while allowing you to do different things with the role. I’m rooting for Ross to figure it out so he can sleep better on his giant stacks of syndication money.
Also unrelated fun fact from that interview: Friends was almost called Insomnia Cafe? Awful awful name and the show would have been canceled after like four episodes. Ross from Friends should be thanking his fucking stars he’s not Ross from Insomnia Cafe because odds are that would have ended up much poorer and involved a life of regional theatre before teaching drama at Wesleyan talking about how you almost made it.