No Stars, Just Friends: How the ‘Friends’ Cast Bonded at the Show’s Inception and Became a Family

The friendship and loyalty between the six co-stars has spanned decades and has been evident in the wake of Matthew Perry’s death.The casting of Friends was lightning in a bottle. Six relatively unknown, very attractive and talented young actors — Matthew Perry, Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Matt LeBlanc, Lisa Kudrow and David Schwimmer — were hired to play a group of pals living in NYC. The show, which ran from 1994 to 2004, catapulted them to superstardom, they became very, very rich as well as tabloid fixtures.

Taking the show’s famed theme song to heart — “I’ll Be There for You” — they navigated it together with what became an all for one, one for all mentality. Perry — who died suddenly on Oct. 28, leaving the remaining members of the famed sextet “devastated” — wrote in his 2022 memoir, Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing, that they knew the show was going to be “something very, very special” and heeded the advice of James Burrows, the co-creator of Cheers who directed the Friends pilot and 14 other episodes, to bond before the cameras started rolling.

Perry wrote that they met on the set of Monica’s apartment with the instruction to just talk to each other — and it was a natural flow. “We talked and joked, about romance, our careers, our loves, our losses,” he wrote. “And the bond that Jimmy knew would be critical had begun.”

It was cemented at lunch when Cox, who was arguably the most well-known of the gang at the time, said to the others, “‘There are no stars here. This is an ensemble show. We’re all supposed to be friends… Let’s really work and get to know each other,’” according to Perry. Cox said that was how it was done on megahit Seinfeld, which she had recently shot an episode of.“So we did what she suggested. From that first morning we were inseparable. We ate every meal together, we played poker,” Perry wrote. While they had their own dressing rooms, they were often all together in one. They walked to their cars together and said goodnight. Perry recalled going to bed thinking that he couldn’t wait to get back to the set the next day. “That would be true for the next decade.”

LeBlanc told Oprah in 1995, “I think we all came together with an open mind to get along and bond as quick as possible — and I think that’s what happened. We all hit it off right away.”

Of course, it helped that show creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman envisioned Friends as TV’s first “true ensemble,” Crane has said. They felt giving the characters equal screen time would give the show legs.

Right before the show premiered on Sept. 22, 1994, Burrows flew the cast to Las Vegas, gave them $100 each to gamble and told them to enjoy their final days of anonymity. Perry recalled of the trip, “Six new friends got drunk and gambled and wandered through the casinos.” Cox later shared a photo of them taken on the private plane.The cast’s on-screen chemistry was clear from the start, propelling Friends to No. 1. At the start, the cast would get together each week to watch the show. Despite the heights to which each actor went on to soar — or dip, in some cases, especially as Perry struggled with addiction — that bond remained strong. So much so that — now 20 years after the show ended — Cox, LeBlanc, Kudrow, Aniston and Schwimmer collectively reacted to the shocking news of “family” member Perry’s death in a joint press statement.

Here are some memorable ways they stars banded together through the years…

The one where they insisted on doing press together at the start of FriendsDuring the show’s first few seasons, the six actors insisted on appearing together on magazine covers while doing press for the show to keep with the ensemble spirit. Fans seeing that real-life camaraderie made the reel friendship even more believable, helping cement the sitcom into pop culture history.Veteran actor Tom Selleck, who played Monica’s boyfriend during the second season of friends, admitted last year that he was “scared to death” coming in because the cast worked so well together and were so tight. “That group is just an incredible group of friends. They obviously became friends in life as well as on the show, and it shows. It was a wonderful place to work.”

The one where they teamed up during salary negotiationsDuring the show’s third season, the super six entered collective negotiations so that each person would earn the same salary. By Season 8, they were each making $1 million an episode.

Aniston said to WSJ Magazine in August, “It would’ve destroyed us, I think, if someone was soaring financially.”

Perry said that it was Schwimmer’s suggestion, writing, “His decision served to make us take care of each other through what turned out to be a myriad of stressful network negotiations, and it gave us a tremendous amount of power. We had David’s goodness, and his astute business sense, to thank for what we had

been offered.” (Schwimmer and Aniston actually took a pay cut amid the deal because they had earned more than the others in the show’s second season after Ross and Rachel took off.)

Friends has remained a tremendous source of income for the stars. They each earn $20 million a year in syndication income from Warner Bros. for playing Monica, Rachel, Phoebe, Chandler, Ross and Joey.The one where they banded together for Emmy considerationIn the early years of the show, the cast only submitted their names in the supporting actor/actress categories for the Emmys, feeling no one person was the lead. Kudrow was first to win in 1998. In 2000, there was a big to-do when Perry’s team accidentally submitted him in the lead category. His publicist issued a statement saying he was removing himself from the running completely over the snafu, and said it was “very important to Matthew and to me that the correct message be sent to his co-stars and the Friends audience that he considers himself part of the ensemble.” In 2002, they all started submitting themselves under lead. Aniston won, as lead, in 2002.The one where they held an intervention for PerryPerry was candid about his addiction, estimating he spent over $9 million on treatment to kick alcohol and opioids. He said he never drank during work, but came to set hungover. When he started taking painkillers — after a 1997 Jet Ski accident — things got worse. He said Aniston expressed concern, saying she smelled alcohol on him. Kudrow did too. After slurring his words during a run through, he got back to his dressing room and the cast was there to stage an intervention. He said ultimately it didn’t work because he physically couldn’t quit drinking — no matter who was asking him to. Perry went to rehab for the first time, at age 27, “because I weighed 130 pounds and I was very, very ill … and on Friends at the same time.” He was “living in rehab” in 2001 when shooting Monica and Chandler’s wedding. He was allowed to leave for a few hours, with sober companions, to shoot the scenes, then was taken back to treatment.

Perry wrote of his co-star’s loyalty: “They were understanding, and they were patient. It’s like penguins. In nature, when one is sick or very injured, the other penguins surround it and prop it up and walk around until that penguin can walk on its own. And that’s kind of what the cast did for me.”The one where they finally agreed to a reunionIn the years after Friends, there were many mini reunions on-screen and off. They’d pop up on each other’s projects and support one another on the red carpet. A few would gather to do a funny bit on a talk show or they’d welcome each other to Instagram. Aniston is godmother to Cox’s daughter. Kudrow wrote the foreword for Perry’s memoir. But after years of saying no to a reunion, they finally agreed to one on Max in 2021. They all dropped the promo on social media at the same time. On the special, it was noted they had only all been together in the same room once since Friends ended, but their bond ran deep.

“The best way that I can describe it is after the show was over, at a party or any kind of social gathering, if one of us bumped into each other, that was it,” Perry said during the reunion. “That was the end of the night. You just sat with the person all night long and that was it. You apologized to the people you were with, but they had to understand you had met somebody special to you and you were going to talk to that person for the rest of the night. And that’s the way it worked. It’s certainly the way it worked with all of us. It’s just the way it is.” By the end, Perry — and several of the others — were in tears.Earlier this year, Aniston said they will “never shake each other. We’re in each other’s lives forever. Family forever.”

The one where they issued a joint statement on Perry’s deathWhen Perry was found dead on Saturday, the show creators, Kauffman and Crane released a statement, but it was crickets from the cast. Burrows said he texted “the girls” immediately after hearing the news, sharing, “They were destroyed. It’s a brother dying.” Kauffman said this week that it seemed especially sad because Perry, who said last year that he had been sober for 18 months, was finally “in a good place.”

Three days after Perry’s death, the cast broke their silence — together — about the loss of that important member of their Friends family.

“We are all so utterly devastated by the loss of Matthew,” the statement, released by each actor’s rep, said. “We were more than just cast mates. We are a family. There is so much to say, but right now we’re going to take a moment to grieve and process this unfathomable loss. In time we will say more, as and when we are able. For now, our thoughts and our love are with Matty’s family, his friends, and everyone who loved him around the world.”

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