Jennifer Aniston and David Schwimmer almost hooked up and other bombshell revelations from 'Friends' reunion

Move over, Bennifer 2.0: the throwback romance we're all obsessing over now is the unrequited love story between Jennifer Aniston and David Schwimmer. During the long-awaited Friends reunion special that's streaming now on HBO Max, the real-life Ross and Rachel casually dropped a bomb by confirming the longstanding rumors that life almost imitated art. "The first season, I had a major crush on Jen," Schwimmer reveals. "We were both crushing hard on each other." Aniston quickly backs up his version of events, saying that those feelings couldn't be any more mutual.

Unlike their characters, though, the actors never acted on their romantic longing. "It was two ships passing, because one of us was always in a relationship," Schwimmer explains. "We never crossed that boundary — we respected it." At least one cast member seemed to remember otherwise, though: after Schwimmer insisted that he and Aniston never went beyond the pining stage, Matt LeBlanc semi-jokingly piped up with a "bulls**t!"

From left to right: Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Matthew Perry, Lisa Kudrow, David Schwimmer and Matt LeBlanc share memories during 'Friends: The Reunion' (Photo: Terence Patrick/HBO Max)
From left to right: Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Matthew Perry, Lisa Kudrow, David Schwimmer and Matt LeBlanc share memories during 'Friends: The Reunion' (Photo: Terence Patrick/HBO Max)

And the rest of their co-stars — including Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow and Matthew Perry — made it clear they were aware that sparks were flying. "We knew for sure," Cox says, adding that she's retroactively glad the two never acted on their feelings. "If you had, and didn't work out, [the show] probably wouldn't have been as great."

As Aniston points out, the feelings she and Schwimmer had for each other provided the dramatic fuel that turned them into one of the defining TV couples of the 1990s. "We channeled all of that passion and love for each other into Ross and Rachel," she says, adding that things came to a head when their alter egos had their first kiss in the Season 2 episode, "The One Where Ross Finds Out." Recalls Aniston: "I remember saying to David, 'It’s going to be such a bummer if the first time you and I actually kiss is going to be on national television.' Sure enough, the first time we kissed was in that coffee shop."

In reality, both actors moved past their mutual crush and fell for other people. Schwimmer dated singer Natalie Imbruglia in the '90s and later married artist Zoë Buckman in 2007. (They divorced in 2017). And Aniston, of course, has had high-profile marriages and splits from Brad Pitt and Justin Theroux. But there's still a definite spark between them in the Friends reunion. Re-enacting the pivotal coffee shop kiss (sans the actual smooch) in a table read of that script, Aniston and Scwhimmer both regard each other with obvious affection. And Twitter's heart was swooning at the revelation of their secret romance.

But let's take a break from the Ross and Rachel drama — here are the other big moments from Friends: The Reunion.

A "Smelly Cat" is born

Talk about a power ballad: when Lisa Kudrow picked up Phoebe's guitar to strum her way through the immortal "Smelly Cat," she seemed a little uncertain that the ol' musical magic would come back to her. "I should be Phoebe for this," the actress said. Luckily, none other than Lady Gaga promptly popped onto the rebuilt Central Perk set to play back-up. "I was just walking down the street, and I happened to have my guitar," remarked the rock icon. "You mind if I take 'Smelly Cat' for a spin?'"

Naturally, it was a request that Kudrow couldn't (and wouldn't) refuse. After Gaga sang a portion of the song solo, they teamed up for a download-ready duet that smelled like... money in the bank. And the stage got even more crowded when a choir arrived to add some additional musical firepower. That spirited "Smelly Cat' performance sent us all off the deep end.

Huddle up

Here's why maintaining traditions can be important: prior to filming every episode, the Friends cast would assemble for a pre-tape huddle. But the actors skipped that crucial part of the process for the Season 3 episode, "The One Where No One's Ready," due to production delays that held up the start of the shoot. "We were like, 'We're taking too long, and the audience has been waiting — let's just go,'" remembers Kudrow about that fateful decision.

At first, the episode — which took place almost entirely in Monica's apartment — proceeded without any hiccups. But then the cast went for an extra take on a scene where Joey made a flying leap for the couch he and Chandler had been fighting over in a running gag. Never-before-seen behind the scenes footage reveals what happened next: LeBlanc lands badly, and dislocates his shoulder. As he wanders off-stage, his arm visibly drooping down, the on-set paramedics are seen entering the frame and Schwimmer calls, "Cut!" on filming. The cast had to reassemble a few days later to film the remainder of the episode, and shoot a new scene that explained why Joey's arm is in a sling for the next run of episodes.

Years later, LeBlanc blames the lack of a pre-show huddle for his on-set accident. "After that, we were like, 'Do we need to do the huddle?' And he'd say, 'Yeah, because I don't want anything else falling off me,'" Kudrow says, laughing. "After that, we always did it!"

The monkey was nobody's friend

While he was pining for Aniston during the show's first season, Schwimmer also had to endure a contentious working relationship with another co-star: Marcel the Monkey. Introduced in the 10th episode, "The One With the Monkey," the simian actor made recurring appearances throughout the show's freshman year, but eventually went on to bigger and better things... like starring in a fake Jean-Claude Van Damme movie. And Schwimmer was more than happy to see him go. "It was time for Marcel to f*** off," the actor says in the reunion special.

To be clear, Schwimmer isn't some kind of monkey-hater. "I love animals, and I love primates," he insists, chalking up the animosity to a difference in work habits. "Here was my problem: the monkey was obviously trained, and had to hit its mark. What inevitably began to happen is that we would all have choreographed bits timed out, and it would get messed up because the monkey didn't do its job right. We were about to do something really funny, but the monkey didn't hit its mark, so we'd have to start again."

And then there was the fact that Marcel had literal grubby hands. "When the monkey was resting and waiting for us to roll, it would sit on my shoulder," Schwimmer recalls. "The trainer would come up and give the monkey live grubs to eat. So the monkey would be sitting on my shoulder, take some grubs, break them in half, eat it and then [touch my head]. I had monkey grubby hands all over!"

Rachel was almost re-cast

The cast of 'Friends' gets ready for a round of trivia in the HBO Max reunion special (Photo: Terence Patrick/HBO Max)
The cast of 'Friends' gets ready for a round of trivia in the HBO Max reunion special (Photo: Terence Patrick/HBO Max)

Casting Friends was no easy matter, and getting the right Rachel proved particularly challenging for the show's creators, Marta Kaufman and David Crane. "Rachel was the hardest part to cast, and it was the last part we cast" confirms Kaufman. Adds Crane: "She can be a really unlikable character ... in the wrong hands, you don't like Rachel." After auditioning hundreds of actresses, the duo thought they'd found the perfect person when Aniston walked into the room. There was just one problem — she was already on a sitcom, the little-remembered summertime CBS series Muddling Through.

In fact, Aniston had already filmed six episodes of Muddling Through — in which she played the eldest daughter of a small-town diner owner (Stephanie Hodge) — before she shot a single episode of Friends. "We took this big risk to cast her," Kaufman remembers. "We shared her with this other show, and we'll see who wins." During the summer of 1994, Aniston filmed the pilot, plus two additional episodes of Friends, while Muddling Through aired weekly on CBS. And had the network decided to pick the series up for the fall, Kaufman and Crane would have been forced to reshoot all of their episodes with a new Rachel.

While the network weighed its decision on Muddling Through, Aniston herself seemed to recognize where her future lay, and it wasn't on CBS. "I went to the producer of the show I was on, and said, 'Please release me from this show,'" she remembers. "'I love this show that I'm doing right now.' He said, 'I saw that show. I'm going to tell you something — that show is not going to make you a star. This show is going to make you a star.'" It's safe to say that his thinking was a little... muddled.

Phoebe's living the 'burb life

Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) weds Mike (Paul Rudd) while Joey (Matt LeBlanc) officiates in a Season 10 episode of 'Friends' (Photo: Warner Bros. / Courtesy: Everett Collection)
Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) weds Mike (Paul Rudd) while Joey (Matt LeBlanc) officiates in a Season 10 episode of 'Friends' (Photo: Warner Bros. / Courtesy: Everett Collection)

Even though these old Friends got back together for a reunion special, don't expect to ever see fresh episodes with the gang. Speaking with Yahoo Entertainment for the show's 25th anniversary in 2019, Kaufman and Crane made it clear that there will never be new episodes. And Kudrow speaks for the entire cast when she applauds that decision at the end of the reunion. "I completely agree that they ended the show very nicely. Everyone's lives are very nice, and they would have to unravel all of those good things in order for there to be stories. And I don't want anyone's happy ending unraveled!"

That said, Kudrow is definitely willing to entertain ideas about where Phoebe is now. And, in her mind, she's traded "Smelly Cat" for the sunny Connecticut suburbs with her husband, Mike, played by Paul Rudd. (To the internet's consternation, Rudd is one of the few guest stars who didn't return for the reunion.) "They had kids, and she's the advocate for kids who are a little different," the actress says. Meanwhile, Aniston says that Ross and Rachel are also raising kids, and Cox speculates that Monica is still running elementary school bake sales even though twins Jack and Erica Bing are off in college.

But there's one person that's staying resolutely child-free. According to LeBlanc, Joey's fledgling Hollywood career (as seen in the failed spin-off, Joey) didn't exactly pan out, but he decided to remain West Coast-based anyway. "He probably opened a sandwich shop in Venice Beach," the actor says, laughing. "Why not?" Here's hoping that one of his specialty sandwiches is called the "Joey's Apple."

Friends: The Reunion is currently streaming on HBO Max.

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