You Won't Believe All the Stars Who Were Almost Cast on Friends

The one where we reveal all of the stars that were this close to landing one of the six main roles on Friends, including Tiffani Thiessen, Jon Cryer and Leah Remini.

By Tierney Bricker Sep 18, 2021 3:00 AMTags
Watch: "Friends: The Reunion" Trailer Will Bring You to Tears

Can you imagine Eric McCormack and Tiffani Thiessen as Ross and Rachel? Or Vince Vaughn and Jon Cryer sitting in Joey and Chandler's La-Z Boys? Yeah, we can't either and yet it almost happened.

After the Friends reunion special earned a nomination for Outstanding Variety Special (Pre-Recorded) at the 2021 Emmys, it's hard to see anyone else playing the iconic NBC sitcom's characters. And yet Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matthew PerryMatt LeBlanc and David Schwimmer all had to fight for what would become their breakout roles, competing against fellow up-and-coming actors for their spot on the iconic NBC sitcom, which was then called Six of One

Some stars were already committed to other pilots, while others were brought in at the last minute when the roles were this close to being filled. And one friend almost played a different friend. Thankfully Cox, arguably the most well known of the sextet thanks to her work in Family Ties, Seinfeld and that one Bruce Springsteen video, had to foresight to ask to read for Monica.

According to casting director Ellie Kanner, the plan was to allow the actress to audition for Monica with every intention of casting her as Rachel. But when she "nailed it," Kanner told Huffington Post in 2015 that everything changed.

"We were just blow away," Kanner admitted. "We were like, 'Oh s--t! I guess she's got to be Monica.'"

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Surprising Secrets of Friends' Final Season Revealed

Ahead of the cast's latest reunion at the Emmys, let's take a look at just how different the show could've been if any of these actors had landed one of the six main roles on Friends...

Tiffani Thiessen as Rachel Green

After her stint as Kelly Kapowski came to an end on Saved By the Bell, Thiessen screen-tested for another iconic '90s character.

"Did you know I tested for Friends, for Jennifer Aniston?" she revealed on SiriusXM's You Up With Nikki Glaser in 2018. "I was just a little too young. I was a little too young to the pairing of the rest of them."

Jane Krakowski as Rachel Green

"Well, I, like almost every actor auditioned for Friends," The 30 Rock star told E!'s Giuliana Rancic at the 2015 Emmys. "I wish I had gotten that one…I didn't go very far."

The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt actress said she's not even sure she got a callback for the gig, joking, "My business manager is very sad that I didn't."

Lisa Whelchel as Rachel Green

The Facts of Life alum, who is a devout Christian, explained that her faith kept her from really going after the role

"There were many opportunities I maybe could have pursued, but I didn't feel comfortable," Whelchel said in a 2014 episode of Oprah: Where Are They Now? "I remember reading the pilot episode and I said to my husband, 'This is the funniest script I have ever read and this is going to be a huge hit. But I can tell it's just going to be all about sex and anything to go with that.'"

While Whelchel said, "I don't regret not taking that opportunity," her kids felt differently.

"I remember my daughter once said, 'Are you telling me Brad Pitt could have been my father?'"

Téa Leoni as Rachel Green

Reportedly the first choice for the role, Leoni ultimately passed on Friends to star in another sitcom for NBC, The Naked Truth, which aired for three seasons. 

Nancy McKeon as Monica Gellar

Another Facts of Life star who was considered for one of the main roles, McKeon was actually one of the favorites for the most competitive and cleanest friend, narrowly losing out to Courteney Cox.

"She gave a terrific performance," NBC's then-head of casting Lori Openden said of McKeon in an interview with Vanity Fair. "Warren [Littlefield, then NBC president] let Marta [Kauffman] and David [Crane] make the call. They went off for a walk and came back and said Courteney."

Leah Remini as Monica Gellar

Before landing her big break on The King of Queens in 1998, Remini made it through several rounds of auditions, including going in front of the head of the network, before Cox snagged the part.

"I had auditioned for the role of Monica," she told MediaVillage. "As an actress you go on each audition thinking 'this could change my life. I could get my car out of repo, or get a nice apartment that's not backed up to a bar in Hollywood,' so everything rides on those moments."

Remini continued, "I was devastated that I didn't get it. We all knew it would be a huge hit. We just knew it."

She'd go on to appear in a 1995 episode as a single mom whom Joey helps in the hospital while she's giving birth.

Janeane Garofalo as Monica Gellar

"When we originally wrote the role, we had Janeane Garofalo's voice in our head," co-creator  Crane told Vanity Fair in 2012, though it's never been confirmed if the standup comedian ever auditioned. 

"Darker and edgier and snarkier," Crane described the initial personality traits for Monica, adding that "Courteney brought a whole bunch of other colors to it. We decided that, week after week, that would be a lovelier place to go to."

Eric McCormack as Ross Gellar

Can you imagine Will Truman as the nerdy paleontologist? It almost happened.

"I got a couple of auditions in," the Will & Grace star told Access Hollywood Live in 2018. "I got to the studio level and I didn't make it past."

McCormack then detailed an interaction he had with James Burrows, who directed the first 12 episodes of Friends, recalling, "I said, 'Y'know Jimmy, I came pretty close on the Ross role.' Jim says, 'Honey, you were wasting your time; they wrote the part for Schwimmer!'"

Of course, McCormack would go on to land his breakout role on another hit NBC sitcom, Will & Grace, in 1998. And when it returned for its revival in 2018, a full-circle moment occurred: Schwimmer was brought in as a guest star. 

Mitchell Whitfield as Ross Gellar

Remember Dr. Barry Farber, Rachel Green's orthodontist ex-fiancé, whom she left at the altar on their wedding day in the pilot episode? Well, he was almost cast as her lobster before producers pivoted towards David Schwimmer. 

Early on in the casting process, Whitfield read for Ross and Chandler, telling The Guardian in 2019, "I went back multiple times, and then they realized Ross was the role for me."

He recalled making it to the final round of auditions and screen-testing for the network until, "At the last minute, they said, 'We're bringing in one more guy to read,'" Whitfield said. "That guy turned out to be David Schwimmer."

Jon Favreau as Chandler Bing

While he'd later join the show for a six-episode stint in 1997 as Pete Becker, Monica's rich boyfriend, the Marvel fan-favorite and Mandalorian showrunner was initially considered for the part of Ross' college bestie, but passed early on. And casting Chandler proved to be one of producers' biggest challenges.

"We brought everybody in," co-creator David Crane told Vanity Fair in 2012. "We were so sure that Chandler would be the easiest part to cast. It's got the most joke jokes. It's sarcastic and kind of quippy, but no one could do it. No one."

Jon Cryer as Chandler Bing

While working on a play in London, the Pretty in Pink star received a phone call at 3 a.m. asking if he'd like to try out for an upcoming sitcom. 

"I had to audition the next morning with the casting director who was in the U.K.," Cryer explained to James Corden in 2015. "But she woke me up at 3, so I had to work on that scene from that time to about 10 a.m."

He continued, "I went in and I did my best and she packaged up the tape of me doing my best Chandler Bing, sent it to Los Angeles and it got stuck at customs."

So, producers didn't get to see Cryer's audition before casting Perry. The ultimate what if moment, though, Cryer has taken it in stride. Though we'd guess that has a little something to do with Two and a Half Men, the CBS comedy that would earn him an Emmy in 2012. 

As he told Corden, "It's OK, it's all for the best."

Craig Bierko as Chandler Bing

In a weird twist, the Unreal star was this close to becoming one-sixth of the cast after his good friend, Mathew Perry, helped coach him though the audition process. But when Bierko passed on the role to join another pilot--coincidentally titled Best Friends--Perry was brought in after the show he was previously attached to wasn't picked up. And it couldn't have been more obvious he was perfect.

"Thank God!" former NBC president Warren Littlefield said in a 2012 interview with Vanity Fair. "There was something Snidely Whiplash about Craig Bierko. He seemed to have a lot of anger underneath, more of a guy you love to hate. The attractive leading man who you love and can do comedy is very rare."

Vince Vaughn as Joey Tribbiani

The Swingers star almost made so much money and he didn't even know it when he lost the role of the goofy struggling actor. 

Casting director Ellie Kanner revealed to the Huffington Post in 2015 that she recalled Vaughn being "handsome and tall" and a "good actor" in her notes from his audition, but he didn't end up fitting the role quite like Matt LeBlanc did.

Hank Azaria as Joey Tribbiani

"I auditioned for Joey, and didn't get it, and I was like, 'No, no, I have to go back, I have to try again,'" The Simpsons star revealed during a TK appearance on The Late Late Show. "So I bulled my way back in for a second time and they were very kind and watched my audition, and then threw me out. Spoiler alert, I didn't get the role of Joey."

But Azria would eventually land a recurring gig as David, the scientist boyfriend of Phoebe Buffay.

Jane Lynch and Ellen Degeneres as Phoebe Buffay

OK, this one actually didn't almost happen.

While many reports claim the Glee star and the daytime talk show host were in consideration for the "Smelly Cat" singer, both have set the record straight in respective interviews.

Degeneres denied ever auditioning for or passing on the role of Phoebe during a 2015 chat with Howard Stern on his radio show, while Lynch said it was a "Hollywood myth" that she almost joined Friends.

"I would have loved that audition," the Emmy winner told HuffPost Live that same year. "At that time in my life I wasn't getting that level of audition, that's for sure!""

And casting director Ellie Kanner confirmed as much, telling Huffington Post that it was clear from the "very first casting session" that Lisa Kudrow was a "no brainer" for the role.

Friends: The Reunion is streaming on HBO Max.

 (Originally published on Friday, May 26 at 3 p.m. PT)

Visit E!'s 2021 Emmy Awards page for a recap of TV's biggest night.