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Actors Who Turned Down Roles On Friends

If a multiverse exists for network television, viewers in a distant alternate reality tuned in to a version of "Friends" in which a Chandler played by "Iron Man" director Jon Favreau married a Monica not played by Courteney Cox because she was busy playing Rachel. That is, of course, if that particular universe didn't already have Téa Leoni or Jami Gertz as Rachel. Television series audition a vast number of actors for their leading roles and turn down many of those hopefuls before they find the right stars for their project. A select number of actors turn down offers to appear in TV series for various reasons, and that includes the 12 talents on this list. Each of them turned down different chances to star on the hit NBC series; some returned in different capacities, while others never looked back. Read on to find out — with spoilers, of course — the actors who turned down roles on "Friends."

Courteney Cox turned down Rachel to play Monica

It's difficult to imagine any other actors playing the roles on "Friends." But it's even harder to wrap your mind around the idea of one of the six leads playing another character on the same show. However, that was almost the case in regard to Courteney Cox. In a 2012 oral history of the series for Vanity Fair, co-creator Marta Kauffman said, "We originally offered Rachel to Courteney Cox." However, the actress not only turned down the offer, but also asked to play a different role on the show — Monica Geller.

As to why she asked to trade characters, Cox gave an explanation on the podcast "Off Camera with Sam Jones" in 2017. "For some reason, I thought I related more to Monica," she said. "I'm very similar to her ... I'm not as clean as Monica, but I am neat. And I'm not as competitive, even though some people [like] my partner, (musician) Johnny McDaid, would say I am." Regardless of the reasons why Cox wanted to play Monica, a legion of fans are glad that she spoke up.

Note: the reference to casting as Rachel on the podcast begins at 33:20

David Schwimmer didn't want another sitcom role

For many actors, landing a leading role on a television series is a dream come true. For David Schwimmer, the news that he had been cast as Ross on "Friends" inspired something closer to dread. He explained his reaction on a 2020 episode of "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon" as a response to his previous experience on a short-lived sitcom called "Monty" with Henry Winkler, which marked his first turn as a series regular. "I felt like a prop, " Schwimmer told Fallon. "They'd say, 'Just shut up and say the lines.'" The experience made Schwimmer swear off future sitcoms — until "Friends."

Director James Burrows, who oversaw countless hours of classic TV comedy, helped reassure Schwimmer about his concerns. In his book, "Directed by James Burrows," he noted that Schwimmer felt shut out of creative conversations by the "Monty" producers. "He was concerned that the show wasn't going to be collaborative, and his ideas wouldn't be welcome," wrote Burrows (via Page Six). "We assured him that this experience would be different and it would be an ensemble."

Jon Favreau passed on Chandler but returned as a guest star

Before Jon Favreau became a major creative force in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Lucasfilm, he was a hard-working actor with film credits that include the 1996 comedy "Swingers" and 1993's "Rudy." And though he's best known today as the director of "Iron Man," executive producer of the "Avengers" films and creator of "The Mandalorian," Favreau's career might have followed a different trajectory had he accepted an offer to star on "Friends."

As Vulture noted, Favreau was chosen to play Chandler on "Friends," but declined the part in order to work on other projects. However, the actor did return to the series in a six-episode arc in Season 4. Favreau played Pete Becker, the millionaire computer software creator whose dream of becoming an Ultimate Fighting Championship brawler upended his chance to forge a relationship with Monica. Courteney Cox paid tribute to her former co-star on an episode of "Hot Ones" in 2022, when she was asked about her favorite on-screen romantic partners on "Friends." While gasping for air after consuming a particularly powerful hot sauce, Cox noted that Favreau is "the best director."

Téa Leoni had a chance to star in her own series

Though Courteney Cox was offered the chance to play Rachel Green on "Friends," she wasn't the first actress to be considered for the role. According to various sources, including Bustle, "Madam Secretary" star Téa Leoni was among the first actresses offered the part of Rachel. At the time that producers were looking to cast "Friends," Leoni was already an established performer with credits that included "Bad Boys," "A League of Their Own," and a short-lived Fox sitcom, "Flying Blind."

The offer from "Friends" also coincided with a chance to star in another series — a breezy comedy about a photographer working at a tabloid newspaper. Leoni signed with the ABC sitcom, titled "The Naked Truth," which aired on the network in 1995. The series underwent near-complete cast and premise makeovers in each of its three seasons, which nearly ground to a halt in Season 1 when ABC pulled the plug. NBC — home of "Friends" — snatched up and retooled the show, which rose to fourth place in the ratings in 1997. However, a second retool appeared to undo that progress, and the ax fell on "The Naked Truth" for good in 1998.

Matthew Perry pitched Craig Bierko to replace him

As noted in the Vanity Fair history of "Friends," when Matthew Perry was offered the role of Chandler Bing, he actually turned it down, citing his commitment to a pilot for Fox. However, he offered the producers a compromise — he recommended his friend, actor Craig Bierko, as a substitute. According to Vanity Fair, Perry even coached Bierko on how to play the role. However, the response to Bierko's turn was less than enthusiastic.

"There was something Snidely Whiplash about Craig Bierko," said Warren Littlefield, former president of NBC Entertainment, referencing the dastardly opponent of Dudley Do-Right on the classic '60s cartoon "The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show." Littlefield noted an undertone of anger to Bierko's performance, which helped to eliminate him from consideration. The network and producers were looking for someone very specific for the role but knew it would be a challenge. "The attractive leading man who you love and can do comedy is very rare," said Littlefield. Thankfully, Perry became available, and the rest is history.

Jami Gertz came very close to playing Rachel

As mentioned, dozens, if not hundreds of actors auditioned for one of the big six on "Friends." In typical casting fashion, that number was whittled down to a list of performers that the producers and network thought best suited for the series. Had the final decision been left to NBC, it might have been Jami Gertz in the role of Rachel Green, not Jennifer Aniston.

In the Vanity Fair history of "Friends," the producers were keenly interested in Aniston, who was at the time starring in an unaired series for CBS called "Muddling Through." While waiting for CBS to either cancel the show or release Aniston from her contract, producer David Crane received worrisome news. "An exec at NBC called to say she'd offered the part of Rachel to Jami Gertz. We didn't have a Rachel and Jami Gertz is a really talented actress, but not Rachel," he said.

A long 24 hours would pass until word came down from the network that Gertz had passed, allowing them to eventually hire Aniston. As for Gertz, she told Forward.com that passing on "Friends" was an easy decision. "I wanted another child," she said. "It just wasn't the right time. I've never looked back."

Jane Sibbett had a very good reason to turn down Rachel

Jane Sibbett replaced actress Anita Barone as Ross's ex-wife Carol Willick on "Friends" and reprised the role in 14 more episodes, including Season 2's "The One with the Lesbian Wedding," in which Carol ties the knot with her partner Susan, played by Jessica Hecht. However, in a 2020 interview with news.com.au, Sibbett revealed that she was actually up for a regular role on the series at one point. According to Sibbert, the show's producers wanted her to play Rachel.

However, Sibbett had to turn down the role, though for very different reasons than many of the other actors in this list. Sibbett was pregnant at the time of the offer and asked her agents if they had informed the producers about this news. "They said, 'Oh, no, we thought we'd tell them later,'" recalled Sibbett. "And I said, 'No, you've got to tell them now.'"

Sibbett told news.com.au that she had no regrets about her honesty. "There's no way anybody could have come close to what Jennifer Aniston did with Rachel," she said. "She was so perfect."

Adam Goldberg wanted indie fame, not a Friends guest spot

After Joey 's soap opera role allows him to get a place of his own, Chandler finds a temporary solution to his roommate issue in Eddie Menuek, who quickly becomes a much bigger problem. Not only does Eddie hate all the things that brought Joey and Chandler together (like "Baywatch"), he reveals himself to be combative and deeply delusional. Chandler uses Eddie's confused mental state to convince him that he never lived in the apartment in the first place.

Adam Goldberg played Eddie in three episodes of Season 2, though to hear him tell the story, he might not have taken the role. In an interview with HuffPost Live, Goldberg — whose credits include "Saving Private Ryan" and the "Fargo" TV series and who currently co-stars on "The Equalizer" — recalled that he was reluctant to sign on for a three-episode arc after appearing in Richard Linklater's cult indie favorite "Dazed and Confused." As Goldberg told it, "It made me feel like ... the world is a different place for me now as an actor and I don't want to do television."

However, he quickly came to his senses about appearing on a top-rated series. "The 'Friends' thing was totally fun and completely worth it," he said. "It was idiotic for me to think for two seconds that I shouldn't have done that."

Facts of Life star Lisa Whelchel didn't like the show's content

If it seems like every actor in Hollywood read or auditioned for "Friends," your instincts are correct. Case in point: "Facts of Life" star Lisa Whelchel told Oprah Winfrey in 2014 that she was asked to audition for Rachel Green. Whelchel, who was interviewed for an episode of "Oprah: Where Are They Now?" said (via Huffington Post), "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.'"

Despite that glowing review, Whelchel turned down the opportunity due to her faith. Whelchel is a devout Christian and rejected the chance due to what she considered to be adult content in the script. "I can tell it's going to be just all about, you know, sex," she told Winfrey. "There were many opportunities I maybe could have pursued, but I didn't feel comfortable."

In an ironic twist, Jennifer Aniston replaced Whelchel as Blair Warner on a 2021 "Live in Front of a Studio Audience" special which featured live re-stagings of episodes of "Facts" and "Diff'rent Strokes" with actors like Aniston, Jason Bateman, and Gabrielle Union playing the series roles. Whelchel also appeared in the episode to sing the series' theme song and reunite with co-stars Mindy Cohn and Kim Fields.

Janeane Garofalo was a big influence on Monica

A hugely popular comedian and actor during the 1990s and early 2000s, Janeane Garofalo drew praise for her biting wit and deadpan delivery on series like "The Larry Sanders Show" and films like "Reality Bites." Garofalo, who remains a critical and audience favorite on the comedy circuit today, occasionally flirted with mainstream fare, including the 1996 comedy "The Truth About Cats and Dogs." She was also reportedly considered for the role of Monica on "Friends."

Co-creator David Crane told Vanity Fair in 2012 that Garofalo was an influence on their concept for Monica. "When we originally wrote the role, we had Janeane Garofalo's voice in our head," she recalled. However, their initial idea for Monica — "darker and edgier and snarkier," as Crane described it — fell by the wayside when Cox auditioned for the role. "Courteney brought a whole bunch of other colors to it. We decided that, week after week, it would be a lovelier place to go."

Tom Hanks might have played Sandy the manny

Of the many offbeat characters that orbit the Central Perk crew on "Friends," Sandy the nanny remains one of the most memorable. The character is directly referenced by the title of the Season 9 episode in which he appears — "The One with the Male Nanny" — and provides not only excellent care for Emma but also Ross, who becomes so in touch with his feelings as a result of Sandy's influence that he bursts into tears. Freddie Prinze Jr. played Sandy in "Male Nanny," and told Entertainment Weekly that the producers originally wanted Tom Hanks to handle the character.

Unfortunately, Hanks had to turn the offer down due to his commitment to a film project. Prinze's agent contacted him with the good news that he'd landed the role. However, there was also bad news — the episode would begin filming the next day. Prinze said that his initial concern over arriving on the day of shooting was allayed by David Schwimmer.

"[He] walked into my dressing room and he was so cool and so passionate and he had so much energy," Prinze recalled. "He was like, 'You're going to love this, man. It's like a little two-act play and the crowd is engaged, and so into it. You'll have a ton of fun, don't worry about a thing.'"

Patsy Kensit turned down Friends to save her marriage

Actress Patsy Kensit's career as a singer and movie star blazed briefly in the '80s and '90s thanks largely to her co-starring role in "Lethal Weapon 2." However, she earned an equal number of headlines for a string of high-profile relationships, including marriages to Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher and Simple Minds singer Jim Kerr. Kensit might have earned another high-profile acting credit had she accepted the role of Emily, to whom Ross became engaged after his breakup with Rachel in Season 4.

In an interview with the Daily Mirror (via Belfast Telegraph), Kensit said that she turned down the role in order to preserve her tumultuous marriage to Gallagher. "'Friends' was an offer you didn't pass up," she said. "But I couldn't commit to it. I knew I needed to be at home if my relationship with Liam was going to survive." Gallagher's touring schedule and rumors of infidelity on his part put Kensit in crisis mode, which provided her with an answer for the "Friends" choice. "I was madly in love and I chose my marriage over the job," she explained.

Paul McCartney was pursued to play Emily's father

"Friends" managed to book an astonishing number of major stars for guest roles during its 10-season run. Among the big names who turned up for single or multiple appearances are Reese Witherspoon, Sean Penn, George Clooney, Gary Oldman, Brad Pitt, and Helen Hunt. There is, however, one name — one very big, historic name — that was on the show's want list for a cameo in Season 4.

"Friends" casting director Leslie Litt told the Huffington Post in 2015 that she wanted Paul McCartney to play the father of Ross' fiancée, Emily, in a two-part episode. "I went through his manager and gave him all the details," recalled Litt. Her pursuit eventually generated a faxed letter from the former Beatle himself. Unfortunately, his reply wasn't the answer Litt was hoping for. "He thanked me for my interest and said how flattered he was, but it was a very busy time for him," she explained.