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Best known for playing Phoebe Buffay on the now-iconic NBC sitcom Friends, Lisa Kudrow’s quirky character is one of the many reasons millions of fans still enjoy watching reruns of the show today. Like the fictional folk-singing massage therapist she once played — who ultimately fell in love with Mike Hannigan (Paul Rudd) — Lisa also fell for her real-life husband, Michel Stern, in the most unexpected way off screen.
Lisa and the French-born L.A. advertising executive first crossed paths in the 1980s when he was dating her roommate. Despite having an instant crush on him, Lisa respected their relationship and kept mum about her feelings.
"I was living with a French girl and he had just moved here and they were dating when we first met," she said, according to The Daily Mail. "But I'm freakishly polite, so I saw him and went, 'Well, he's the perfect man and it's all ruined because now they're together and I can't [try to start something with him].’”
She continued: “I thought that that's not nice to flirt. But the minute I saw him I went, ‘Well, that's it, there he is.’ When he'd come to pick her up, he'd say, 'Oh, hello Lisa,' and I'd say, 'Hi,' and I'd go and leave the room and he thought I was a freak."
Two and a half months later, Lisa’s roommate and Michel ended their relationship, and the former couple stayed friends. This would later turn out to be an important connection. “Six years later I met him again at her birthday party and we just never stopped,” she said.
A week after the first season of Friends wrapped up, Lisa married Michel on May 27, 1995. From the beginning of their union, the duo made a pact that they would always work hard on their relationship.
"When [Michel and I] decided to get married, we understood [that] we're not promising to love each other forever because you can't do that, but we are promising to work on whatever problems come up," she told Glamour in 2014.
On May 7, 1998, the couple welcomed their first and only child, a son named Julian Murray Stern. When Lisa announced her real-life pregnancy, the writers of Friends worked it into Phoebe’s season 4 storyline to explain her growing belly. Fans now know this as the time that the Central Perk singer became a surrogate for her brother’s triplets.
Decades later, the Emmy-winning actress recalled a special ritual that the Friends cast did, which eventually included her son, Julian.
"The six of us would do a huddle backstage and just say, 'All right, have a good show, love you, love you, love you, love you,'" she told People in 2018. "And when I was pregnant, then they would say, 'Have a great show, love you, love you, love you, little Julian!' Cause we knew it was a boy and that was his name. So sweet, they included my little fetus in the huddle."
Coincidentally, HBO Max’s special Friends: The Reunion debuts on Lisa and Michel’s 26th wedding anniversary. Last year, the couple wasn’t able to celebrate the day together because the coronavirus pandemic forced them to quarantine separately. Still, it didn’t take away from how meaningful the milestone was.
"We are so used to not actually being able to be together on our anniversary," she said on Jimmy Kimmel Live in 2020. "We were like, 'Oh, well. Does it matter? I love you. You still love me? Yeah. Great. We're good.'"
In the past, Lisa has opened up about how much they value the importance of individuality in their relationship.
“[Michel and I] respect each other's independence, and I don't mean that as a euphemism ... If he wants to go on a golf trip, he goes,” she told Glamour. “I think people get in trouble [when they assume they're] supposed to be one unit, in sync about everything. [Marriage] is like being on a team. Each teammate is different, but you have the same goal."
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