Jennifer Aniston and David Schwimmer Reveal They Nearly Had a ‘Friends’ Romance
“We were both crushing hard on each other, but it was like two ships passing,” Schwimmer says in the new “Friends” reunion special.
Warning: This story contains spoilers from HBO Max’s Friends: The Reunion, which premiered Thursday.
About an hour and 20 minutes into Friends: The Reunion, James Corden asks what he calls a “cheeky” question. The cast were all good-looking, charismatic, and young when filming began. It’s “inconceivable” to him that there was never an off-screen romance in some permutation. Did anyone hook up?
The camera instantly trains in on Jennifer Aniston, who shoots a kind of mischievous look down to the other end of the couch where David Schwimmer is sitting. “I mean...David?” she says, having him take the floor.
It turns out that for Aniston and Schwimmer, life nearly imitated art. While playing the Ross and Rachel will-they/won’t-they arc in the first seasons of the show, they both had crushes on each other. But an actual romance never materialized, they said, for a slew of reasons.
The news is as far as any “bombshell” goes in the much-anticipated Friends reunion, which debuted Thursday on HBO Max.
Largely a rehash of classic stories the cast and creators have told before, the special was light on news and long (very long) on sentimental nostalgia. A slew of the show’s beloved guest stars (Tom Selleck, Maggie Wheeler, Christina Pickles, and Elliot Gould) made drive-by appearances, while bigger, more utterly random famous people like David Beckham, Malala Yousafzai, and BTS talked about their favorite moments from the show.
The juicy gossip that Aniston and Schwimmer had feelings for each other will likely tantalize devoted fans of the show. The revelation was also among the three biggest moments from the reunion, all of which journalists and critics were forbidden from spoiling before its release. The others: a bonkers-turned-surprisingly-emotional duet of “Smelly Cat” between Lisa Kudrow and Lady Gaga, and a fever-dream fashion show of the show’s most memorable costumes, featuring the likes of Cara Delevingne modeling the Holiday Armadillo and Justin Bieber dressed as Spudnik.
Superfans of shows like these love to imagine the passion from the series’ star-crossed characters bleeding off screen to the actors’ real lives. (Let’s not forget the fleeting mania when it was insinuated that John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer were “genuinely in love” during The Office.)
“The first season, I had a major crush on Jen,” Schwimmer says. Aniston nods and says, “It was reciprocal.”
“At some point we were both crushing hard on each other, but it was like two ships passing, because one of us was always in a relationship and we never crossed that boundary,” Schwimmer says. “We respected that.”
After Matt LeBlanc jokingly coughs, “Bullshit,” Aniston goes on to say, “Honestly and I remember saying one time 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. But we just channeled all of our adoration and love for each other into Ross and Rachel.”
At this point, Corden leads the crowd in mind-blown applause.
The reunion then cuts to one of its stronger segments, where the cast gathers on a recreated set of Monica’s apartment and talks about their memories, sans interviewer.
Courteney Cox talks about watching Ross and Rachel’s coffee shop kiss recently and “weeping.” Effusive, she says, “The tension, it just was palpable. It was just perfect.”
Schwimmer and Aniston reminisce about the first few seasons, when they would spoon together on the set’s couch during rehearsal breaks. We see adorable archival footage of them cuddling together back in 1994.
“I’m thinking, how did not everyone know we were crushing on each other?” Schwimmer says. Cue Matthew Perry and Cox in a chorus of “We knew.”
The climax of this portion of the reunion special comes when Aniston and Schwimmer do a table read of that classic kissing scene. Ross and Rachel get into a fight about how each has been hurt by their unrequited feelings for each other while it’s pouring rain outside. After Ross storms out, Rachel melts into tears on the couch. When she gathers herself and stands up, she sees that Ross has returned to the window.
The scene transitions into one of the show’s scattered few moments when the camera breaks from its proscenium, multi-cam style. It follows Rachel in a more cinematic mode as she goes to unlock the door, Ross walks in, and they passionately kiss while music swells.
It was one of those squeeze-the-arm-of-the-couch-for-support while swooning and screaming moments when it aired two decades ago and, watching it again now, it certainly holds up. Watching Aniston and Schwimmer perform the dialogue again, all these years later and knowing that there was simmering romantic tension between them, is one of the surreal delights of the Friends reunion special. (From a critic’s point of view, they nailed the delivery, even after all this time.)
While this was an admittedly uneven reunion special at best, give credit where it’s due. It’s been 27 years and, thanks to this news, we’re all still obsessing over Ross and Rachel.