Reese Witherspoon adored Jennifer Aniston long before she ever met her. And vice versa.
"I would not stop watching Friends," Witherspoon recalled while honoring Aniston at the 2011 Elle Women in Hollywood event. "They were my friends and there was no taking me away from my friends."
Therefore, playing Rachel Green's self-absorbed little sister, Jill, in 2000 was a must-see-TV coup for the Election and Cruel Intentions star, who was still a year away from the next-next-level status that came with the success of Legally Blonde.
"We were obviously big fans of [Reese]," Friends co-creator and executive producer David Crane told Entertainment Weekly before the episode aired, kicking off February sweeps (remember those?!). "Anybody who saw her in Election would just say, 'Oh my God, yes, get her!"'
And Reese wanted to be gotten, because as a huge Friends fan she made herself available for the two-episode arc, in which she flees to Rachel after Daddy cuts her off financially, then memorably goes out with Ross and is rewarded with an evening of looking at paleontology slides for her efforts.
Just like anybody who guest-starred on the NBC juggernaut, Witherspoon was walking into one of the most well-oiled machines in the business, the six main stars being famously close.
But they didn't just reserve that warmth and familiarity for each other.
When Witherspoon reportedly flubbed a take during a Central Perk scene, Aniston gave her a big hug.
"In all my enthusiasm," Witherspoon continued at the Elle event, "I completely forgot something very crucial—that I had never been on television ever before in my entire life and I never really had been in front of a live audience before ever in my entire life. I panicked. I totally froze. It became immediately clear to me that I had no idea what I was doing and I was completely out of my league."
Enter her TV sister.
Aniston advised her, "'Don't try to be perfect, just be yourself.'"
And they lived happily ever after.
However, eventually there was a rumor that the two didn't get along, and that was why Jill never returned and Rachel's older sister, Amy (Christina Applegate), was introduced a couple years later instead. Because... why would there be a much simpler reason, such as that Reese was busy? Or that it was a sitcom where lots of big stars popped in for small parts and that was it?
The negative version of events somehow got stuck in the lore, but Aniston and Witherspoon have since shown countless times over that they didn't just get along—they actually became...
"There are not that many people, actually, who have this incredible combination of sex appeal and complete lovability," Witherspoon continued to gush about her pal in 2011. "You just want to get your nails done with her and you want to make out with her—at least I do.
"And that's what we do sometimes on Saturdays. First we get our nails done—so cute!—and then we make out. It's totally awesome."
Not long afterward, Witherspoon declared on Conan in 2012, "I have a major girl crush on Jennifer Aniston, but I think that's like"—she made a face that translated to "a given." "Doesn't everybody have a crush on Jennifer Aniston? Like, dogs have crushes on Jennifer Aniston. Those dogs are like, 'I wish it was me in Marley and Me.' She's so cute!'"
Asked if she'd ever declared her feelings out in the open, the Oscar winner explained, "I had to give her an award about six months ago—and I played her younger sister on Friends, mainly so I could meet Jennifer Aniston. She's just so lovable and amazing. Yeah, so I told her sort of publicly, in front of a group of a lot of people, which makes me feel safer."
Well, the feeling was mutual, Reese. (And she knew it, the kidder.)
Since their fateful meeting in 2000, both ladies have been based primarily in Los Angeles (so, their friendship has remained geographically desirable), they love yoga and the beach, and they've been through their share of "let's get a manicure, now!" moments, including respective divorces. They both know the importance of, and have benefited from, having a tight circle of pals around them.
"Female camaraderie is one of the most important themes of this movie," Witherspoon said in an interview with ScreenSlam all the way back when she was making Legally Blonde. "It's really about finding your strength as a woman and then really finding the friends—and enemies—that you do as a woman. I think all women know what it's like to be jealous of another woman, or to be resentful of their relationship, but to be able to surpass that and find a friendship within those confines, I think that's a really great message."
And while that was a film plot, her feelings on the matter have translated into real life as well.
"I am so, so lucky to have girlfriends who, when I was on the floor crying, upset about things that happened in my life, came over, stood me up, put me in the shower, put my clothes on, took my kids to school, brought me dinner," Witherspoon told Glamour in 2015. "You know? I love my girlfriends, and I protect those relationships fiercely."
Aniston, too, has felt lucky to have certain friends to call on over the years—and whom she has been there for in turn—and she treats them like family.
Acknowledging the media's at-times neurotic quest to figure out whether she wanted children or not, Aniston told InStyle last year, "I guess they're feeding into some sort of need the public has, but I focus on my work, my friends, my animals, and how we can make the world a better place. That other stuff is junk food that needs to go back in its drawer."
Witherspoon, meanwhile, is exactly the type of friend who, aside from also being famous and therefore can understand being an object of public fascination, couldn't be more supportive of a woman's desire to press on doing her own thing, blazing her own trail.
Both have formed production companies, won major awards, negotiated massive paychecks and, as their clout in Hollywood grew, worked on doing their part to open doors for and lift up their fellow women.
Last year the actresses were instrumental in launching Time's Up to combat sexual harassment and gender inequality in the entertainment industry and beyond; they were among the power players—a group that also included Meryl Streep and Shonda Rhimes—who donated $500,000 each to the cause.
"It was emails and friends telling friends, and everyone getting to each other through Reese," Allison Janney described the start of the movement to ET at the 2018 Palm Springs International Film Festival. "A lot of friends, and [Reese's] friends, told their friends. It was sort of a network of women who found out. So, yeah, it happened like that."
Witherspoon and Aniston's paths have now been crisscrossing for two decades, often purposely, such as at Jen's 50th birthday party in February, and sometimes coincidentally.
Both sorts of interactions are always welcome.
"Oh! Hi, honey," Aniston exclaimed, turning her head mid-interview with E!'s Ryan Seacrest as Witherspoon gave her a little pinch on the rear as she passed by on the red carpet at the 2015 Oscars.
Aniston then blew her pal a quick kiss as Witherspoon squeezed her wrist by way of hello, a tacit promise to catch up later.
"Look at her, she's so cute," Aniston also noted to Entertainment Tonight as they gazed at Witherspoon posing and waving during the step-and-repeat. "Oh, so pretty."
Answering in the affirmative that she and Reese were friends, Jen nodded affectionately, adding, "She was my little sister—even if she's my TV sister."
Later that year, Aniston returned the feting favor, honoring Witherspoon at the 29th American Cinematheque Awards as a self-described fan, friend and, for two episodes, "loving TV sister."
"Even before Reese played my lovely, albeit somewhat spoiled, sister Jill, she somehow felt like family to me," the Emmy winner began. "Reese's amazing talent, both professionally and personally, has long made her a very strong and welcome presence in my life—and I'm sure in many people's lives in this room.
"Reese is not only an extraordinary actress, she also knows how to make a really excellent first impression," Aniston continued, recalling Witherspoon's big-screen breakthrough at 14 in the tear-jerker The Man in the Moon and calling her performance "absolutely extraordinary."
Consider the sisterhood intact.
And now, more than a year after the faintest outline of the plan first surfaced, Aniston and Witherspoon can add The Morning Show to their list of shared interests. The series is in production for Apple TV+, Apple's offering to the subscription-service gods that is launching this fall, and its estimable cast also includes Steve Carell, Billy Crudup and Gugu Mbatha-Raw.
In addition to co-starring, Aniston (Echo Films) and Witherspoon (Hello Sunshine) are executive producers on the project, which, to hear them talk about it, is right in their wheelhouse.
"Reese and I are so proud to be a part of this exciting launch with Apple, officially announcing our new project, The Morning Show," Aniston said Monday at the hotly anticipated kickoff presentation for Apple TV+.
In the series, "we pull back the curtain on the power dynamics between men and women in the high-stakes world of morning news shows," Witherspoon continued. "It's a real insider's view into the lives of the people who help America wake up every day." Added Aniston," And through the prism of those under-slept, over-adrenalized people behind and in front of the camera, we take an honest look at the complex relationships between women and men in the workplace, and we engage in the conversation people are a little too afraid to have unless they are behind closed doors."
This also marks Aniston's return to TV (or at least Emmy-eligible programming, if not quite old-fashioned "TV") in a regular role for the first time since Friends ended almost 15 years ago.
So, why did these longtime pals decide to embark on this journey together?
Surely they'll be answering those questions in more detail in the months to come as The Morning Show's as-yet-unannounced premiere date approaches, but so far, it sounds as if they just really, really wanted to work together.
"I'm excited, 'cause I get to work with Jen every day for a long time," Witherspoon told Extra when their in-the-works TV project was first announced in 2017. Acknowledging that it would be Aniston's big return to television, Reese added, "She was a big part of why I ended up doing it and we both were really part of getting the project going from the beginning."
And once she got the approval from Ellen DeGeneres, it was full speed ahead.
"I know about this 'cause Jen is a close friend of mine," Ellen pointed out to Reese on her talk show in 2017.
"Right," Reese noted. "I mean, she's better friends with me, but..."
"No," Ellen deadpanned. "I know you thought that, and so why I'm pointing it out is because I don't want you to get hurt. But she's my best friend."
"Well, she actually told me that she says that when you're around," Reese countered, "but we're actually, we're close, that's why we're doing a show together."
"Right, well, I have a show," Ellen pointed out, "so I can't do it with her, because I have this show. She said, 'well if you can't do it, Ellen, I'll ask Reese.' And I said, 'you should, she needs the work.'"
"She said you would say that!" Reese said, laughing.
Well, sometimes a little competition among friends is OK.