First (and Nearly Last) Day on Friends
By Lauren Tom
the summer of 1994. I am an out of work actress sitting in my home in
the Hollywood Hills watching an episode of a new sit-com, Friends,
on NBC. I seem to be having a mild crush on one of the characters, Ross.
I distinctly remember thinking, "I'd love to work on this show. And
I'd love to play my scenes with that guy. I'll wait to see what his name
is in the end credits. David Schwimmer. Got it.
The next morning, I'm walking on my treadmill while eating a Krispy Kreme
when my agent, Leslie, phones. "Lauren, I have a job offer for you."
"A 'what' offer?" I say, slowing down the treadmill.
"I know, it's been awhile," she says in a dry, flat, tone. Even
when Leslie was a fledgling agent, she always sounded like she had seen
it all, heard it all, and done it all before. Most people are afraid of
her, including myself. "The producers of Friends want to know
if you'd like to do a six episode arc on the show starting next week-playing
I stop the treadmill and nearly trip off of it. "Wait, is that the
guy, David Schwimmer?" I say, nearly choking on my last bite of donut.
"Yeah, he's a client of mine too."
"You got me this job?"
"No, one of the producers loved you in The Joy Luck Club.
So you want to do it?"
"Well hmm, let-me-think-about-that-for-a second-YES."
"Okay. I'll call you when I have more details. Congratulations,"
she says as if she works at the DMV and she's calling the next person
"Leslie, this means you're not allowed to call me 'Loser' any more."
"Exaaactly," she says and hangs up.
What the hell? Could this mean what I think it means? This is the break
I've been waiting for my entire career. I'm about to become a hip, trendy,
great hairdo wearin' Friend. I'm crossing into the mainstream, I'm finally
going to be one of the "in" crowd, a popular white girl. Hell,
if I play my cards right, who knows? Maybe I'll become a regular on the
show and then I'll be a gazillionaire just like them! How could this have
happened to me? I better write down everything I did, said, wore, and
ate the night I seemed to have manifested this job.
But wait, I've never been on a sit-com before. What if I'm not funny?
What if I show up and the producers look at me and say, "Oh, not
her. We meant the other Asian girl-geez, they all do look alike."
Or "Oh, we didn't realize you were Chinese, we were looking for someone
White, and well
younger. What are you 35?" Oh My God, what
if they ask me how old I am? I start to panic. Lottery winners often lose
every dime they make because their systems can't hold all that abundance.
Their brains haven't caught up with their reality. Is it my destiny to
manifest incredible events only to screw them up?
By the time
I show up for my first day of work, I am convinced I will be fired.
As I sit at a table with the cast of Friends I try to imagine them
all in their underwear but this doesn't help one bit. I feel like I want
to throw up.
We're in a sound stage at Warner Bros. Studios about to read through the
script for the producers and the network executives -- the "suits."
They sit in folding chairs directly behind us silently making notes in
their scripts. The other contributors to the show -- the costumers, the
make-up artists and set designers, sit in the audience bleacher seats.
The temperature is about 60 degrees, a strategy to keep the lights cool,
and the cast alive and perky. I look around and see the various sets for
each scene: the main apartment, Joey's apartment, an airport waiting area,
the café. My heart beats a little faster. I cross my legs and squeeze
them-- partially because I'm giddy, and partially because I'm freezing.
David Schwimmer sits to my right. He seems relaxed and confident. His
large brown eyes slant down at the outer edges even as he smiles. He extends
his hand as he introduces himself, "Hey, welcome to the cast."
My palms are soaked with sweat, I give them a quick wipe on my micro-mini
blue jean skirt before I place my hand in his. "I'm Lauren,"
I say, smiling way too hard, my teeth almost chattering from the cold
air and my lack of clothing. Why didn't I wear pants? No one can even
see my legs underneath this table. Geez, I'm going to have to kiss this
person in about an hour when we start rehearsing. What if I faint?
I'm prone to fainting when I get nervous. I just fall down on the ground
and leave the planet. I turn away my head to avoid that embarrassment.
To my left is Michael McKean, a guest star for this episode who will play
Courteney Cox's boss. He gives me a big toothy grin. His eyes are clear
"Do you remember me?" he asks.
You mean besides the fact that you're famous for Laverne and Shirley,
Spinal Tap and about 1,000 other jobs? I crinkle my brow, unsure.
I do not have a good memory. I think I may have contracted Alzheimer's
at the age of seven. There are whole trips to foreign countries I can't
recall, so remembering people's faces and names is pretty much hopeless.
Not a good quality to have considering this kind of thing happens all
the time in show business. I'm an ant compared to the career of Michael
Mckean so I'm going to try extra hard to make him believe that I remember
everything about him. I giggle and wait.
"We worked together on the film Man Trouble a few years ago,
"Of course! It's good to see you again!" I squeal, having absolutely
no clue. He seems to be buying it. The 45 minute reading goes well and
the room erupts in applause. This is a good sign -- it means I'm probably
not fired yet. After a few minutes, Kevin Bright, the producer, says,
"Okay gang, good job. We want to tweak the script a bit more, so
we'll be breaking for the day. See you all tomorrow." Hmmm, breaking
for the day? Maybe it didn't go that well. But at least I didn't get fired
today, and I won't have to kiss David Schwimmer until tomorrow. Courteney
Cox, her black shiny hair framing porcelain skin and shockingly blue eyes,
(is she wearing colored contacts?) is even more beautiful in person than
she is on TV. She gives me a small wave and says, "Hey Lauren, we
heard it was your birthday today and we all wanted to take you out for
Did I just become a Make-a-Wish Foundation recipient? Just last week I
was standing in the unemployment line wondering if I would ever work again.
I'm practically speechless. "Great!" I say.
I follow the cast to the commissary. They chatter on like they are truly
best friends. The three girls walk arm in arm down the street. The theme
song from The Monkees pops into my head. I used to watch that TV
show when I was a kid; I was in love with Davy Jones. A teenage girl rushes
up and asks for the gang's autographs. She looks at me as if she's confused,
decides I'm not famous, and then runs off. The group starts to walk again
and this time, I walk slightly behind them. Why am I acting like I'm some
sort of Japanese Geisha girl walking behind my master? I'm a good three
to ten years older than most of these guys. I was in The Joy Luck Club
and When A Man Loves A Woman. It's not like this is my first job,
and yet, I feel like an awkward geeky, loser who's just transferred from
a different junior high school.
At the commissary, a private room awaits us, seven chairs ringing a table.
Did Courteney Cox call and arrange this ahead of time? How can she be
that pretty and that nice? How did she know it was my birthday and why
would she care? The table is set with a crisp white tablecloth, fine china
and wine glasses. I'm sandwiched between Lisa Kudrow and Matthew Perry.
I pick up the oversized menu and clench it so tight I start to get a cramp
in my thumb. I have no clue what to say to these people. I concentrate
on relaxing my shoulders. They drop about an inch. I put the menu down
and shake out my hands.
what are you doing?" It's Lisa Kudrow, she noticed me shaking my
hands and now she's talking to me. She is my favorite actress on the show.
My mouth has no moisture.
"Oh nothing," I laugh.
Lisa is wearing a skin tight multi-colored top. I had no idea her boobs
were so big. Maybe they just look bigger in that top. Did she have them
done? Her nose looks like maybe it was done too. Why am I being so judgmental?
She's a comic genius. Maybe I can learn more about comedy from her. I
try not to look at her nose, concentrating my gaze on her eyes.
"What are you having?" she says brushing her long blond hair
away from her face.
"Uh, I don't know, what's good?" I ask, smiling. I have no clue
what she says next. I'm too busy trying to come up with something to say
to her after she's finished speaking. Let's see, I guess I could say 'what
are you having?' No, that's mundane. Well, I know she graduated
from Vassar College. I blurt, "You know, you're not nearly as dumb
as you seem on TV." Did I just say that? I want to physically catch
the words in the air and stuff them back in my mouth. I could've farted
and it would've been better. It's official: I'm fired.
She shifts in her chair, blinks several times and lets out a tiny laugh,
her mouth in a crooked sneer.
We both turn away from each other. I look at Matthew Perry as he talks
to Jennifer Aniston. I take in his clear blue eyes, his black V-neck T-shirt,
the light brown hair on his arm, his right hand. Oh my God. He's missing
half of his middle finger on his right hand. I try not to look. He catches
me and quickly places his hand on his lap. I'm about to be served my pink
slip, I can feel it.
"So you're going to be with us for awhile, huh?"
"Yep," I say, my face flooding with warmth. Is this just cursory
or is he actually a sweet guy?
"Where are you from?"
Geez, he has really blue eyes too, is that a requirement on this show?
No wait, I'm safe, David has brown eyes. "I'm from Highland Park,
a small suburb of Chicago."
"Oh, that's not so small. I have a friend who went to high school
Uh-oh, I'm going to have to tell him how old I am. He'll see me as this
ancient dragon lady.
"Do you know Jonathan Penzer?" he asks biting into a long bread
"Uh, no, I was probably in school way before him." Here it comes.
Three, two, one
"Yeah? When did you graduate?" He takes a sip of water.
" and then I cough as I say "78."
He laughs and lets it go. The waiter comes to take our order. Thank God,
that'll take up at least three minutes. This is almost unbearable. I want
to take a nap from all this fun.
Jennifer Aniston orders a salad for an appetizer and fish for a main course.
As she speaks to the waiter she picks up a bread roll and gouges out the
center leaving a pile of soft white bread on her plate. Then she takes
a small amount of butter and spreads it on the inside of her crusty bread
shell. Her hair has golden highlights and her skin looks wrinkleless and
tan. Her eyes, of course, are blue. Before rehearsal I saw her drive up
in her Land Rover. Her parking space is right in front of the set. My
space is in New Jersey. The walk gave me time to collect myself.
"What did you just do to your bread?" I ask.
"Oh, there's too many carbs in the roll, so I just gut it. We all
do that, especially with the bagels at the craft service table,"
she laughs. Courtney and Lisa nod their heads.
"I'll have to remember that. Is that how you stay so thin?"
I ask picking up a bread roll and copying her creation.
Courteney says, "that, and working out after lunch. Do you want to
join us? They have a gym right here on the lot."
"Uh, no, I have to go home and feed my dog. Plus, I hate to exercise."
"I'm with you." My head turns towards the voice. Thank God,
Matt Le Blanc has brown eyes too. He is studied casual-bedhead hair, five
o'clock shadow, rumpled T-shirt and black jeans. He looks like he's been
partying since he could walk. I like his easygoing smile.
"I guess I'm sort of a princess" I say, "I don't like to
"Really? You're a princess?" he asks cramming almost the entire
bread roll into his mouth. "Of what country?"
He's joking right? "Well, of Highland Park, Illinois. I guess. I'm
sort of a Chinese American princess. A CAP."
"What do you mean?" he asks, his eyebrows scrunching into a
unibrow. "You're a princess from someplace in China?"
"No, I'm not a real princess, it's just sort of a tag line-like,
you know, 'JAP'."
"JAP? Isn't that sort of offensive?" he asks, still chewing
his mouthful of bread.
"Well, uh, I was trying to make a joke -- like instead of Jewish
American Princess, Chinese Amer
He's looking at me as if I am, in fact, speaking Chinese. "Oh never
mind," I say, waving my hand in the air and shaking my head. I take
a deep breath. I'm an idiot. I should just stop talking now.
Much to my surprise, the next six weeks of taping the show proceeds pretty
uneventfully. I even start feeling comfortable enough to work out at the
gym with the girls a few times. But I never did become a regular member
of the cast -- not surprising since I spent most of my energy on being
"nice" and "easygoing" so they wouldn't fire me. What's
there to fire? I was Ms. Cellophane. Plus, my role was to play the "other
woman," the opponent whom Jennifer Aniston's character, Rachel, had
to conquer in order to win Ross. The joke was that no matter how "nice"
my character, Julie, was, Rachel still thought she was a bitch. Audiences
hated Julie because they wanted to see Rachel and Ross finally get together.
I was actually booed by the live audience at the tapings. Still, when
it comes time to film my final episode, I cry because I don't want to
leave -- I feel as if Ross and the show are dumping me. That my 'family'
is kicking me out of the house. The cast and producers give me a tearful
group hug, and a pair of sneakers with the words "Friends -- Second
Season" embroidered on them.
So I am shocked when, the next day, The National Enquirer runs
a story on the front page with the headline, "Friends Actress FIRED!"
That would be me. The article went on to say that Jennifer thought I was
a bitch -- making star-like demands, acting in an arrogant manner, etc.
-- and that we had a cat fight on the set, ending in her marching to the
producers and demanding that I be fired from the show. What? "No,
no, no that was the storyline," I want to shout, "not real life!
I was only contracted for six episodes! We all liked each other! They
took me to lunch! We hung out in each others dressing rooms!"
Befuddled and hurt, I call a lawyer who demands that the National Enquirer
retract the article. But the magazine stands by their story, stating they
had an "extra" to verify all the details, and my lawyer says
it isn't worth it to sue them. I always thought there was a grain of truth
in those stories in the Enquirer and that a tall tale was spun
around that kernel, but now I know that sometimes, there isn't any truth
at all in them. That's like asking Noah Wyle or Anthony Edwards for medical
advice because they play doctors on E.R.
My friends try to comfort me by suggesting that any publicity is good
publicity and that a picture is worth a thousand words. Except there was
no picture. At least not of me. There was a nice shot of Jennifer though.
But as I think about it some more, I realize that I may have been responsible
for the whole shebang. Manifesting the job, doing a respectable if unspectacular
job, and then creating the headline, "Actress Fired." Maybe
my thoughts were potent little buggers. But if that's true, then the possibilities
seem endless. I just have to be careful what I think about.
That should be easy since I'm not neurotic in the least.
So last night I am watching this incredible show on HBO, Six Feet Under.
I seem to be having a mild crush on this character, Nate, and I think,
I would love to be on that show
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