Some television shows are a breeding ground for future stars. Don’t believe me? Go back and watch just about any episode of Seinfeld and play “Spot the Person You Recognize From That Show You Watched Right Before Seinfeld.”
Friends, which ran for 10 seasons and basically defined the 90s, is certainly one of those shows, as evidenced by the following talent to come out of its supporting cast.
10 – Eddie Cahill
Friends Role: Tag Jones, Rachel’s young and hunky boyfriend.
Tag “Sweet Cheeks” Jones may have been the cutest toosh Rachel ever landed, but Eddie Cahill’s character mainly served as a reminder of how mature (or just plain old) she was becoming. Compared to the immature twenty-something who’s lack of worldliness put Joey Tribianni to shame (think about that for a second), Rachel actually seemed sensible and thoughtful.
After his brief run as Rachel’s love interest of the moment, Cahill showed up on a couple of short-lived TV series (Glory Days, Haunted) before finding a home as the suave and witty Detective Don Flack on CSI: NY.
The two characters have almost nothing in common, with Flack being an intellectual, sarcastic, non-scooter loving professional at the top of his field. So I’m guessing the common thread his characters have is all in the derrière.
9 – Paget Brewster
Friends Role: Kathy, the girl who nearly destroys Chandler and Joey’s friendship.
She was the girl who put Chandler in a box. Kathy began dating Joey, but from the moment he completely nailed her birthday gift (a rare copy of The Velveteen Rabbit, her favorite childhood book–Joey got her a pen), it was clear Chandler was her perfect match. But instead of telling Joey he had feelings for his girlfriend, he kissed her and then told him about the feelings. As punishment, Chandler ended up in a box. It’s all much more heartbreaking than it sounds.
What’s so surprising about Paget Brewster is that Kathy was her first real acting role. (Unless you count the pilot episode of Ghost Cop, which…of course you would.) Paget dwelled in the oblivion of tiny roles in TV movies for a few years after, maybe because people couldn’t stop seeing her as the girl who got between Joey and Chandler.
But eventually her voice started showing up in every animated show ever made, from Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law to American Dad. Her face soon made it to the screen, as well, with a major role as Special Agent Emily Prentiss in Criminal Minds. (She’s a total badass who faked her own death.) Oh, and for extra cool points, she recently appeared in an episode of Community. So you can probably stop hating “Kathy” now.
8 – Anna Faris
Friends Role: Erica, the dopey mother of Monica and Chandler’s adopted babies.
She didn’t realize she was giving birth to twins, because she thought one of the two heartbeats the doctor pointed out in the ultrasound was her own. So you could say she was a very “special” inclusion for the last season of the show.
Before Friends, Anna Faris was best known as the star of the Scary Movie franchise, so you wouldn’t exactly call it a “distinguished career” up to that point.
Her career didn’t completely change direction afterward, reprising her role in Scary Movie 4 and starring in a collection of B-movie comedy romps that are on the extremely low end of the Rotten Tomatoes meter (Waiting, The House Bunny, Movie 43), but she did have a small role in the multi-Oscar winning Brokeback Mountain. And she nailed it as the voice of Sam Sparks in Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. So that kind of makes up for the The Dictator…right?
7 – Tate Donovan
Friends Role: Joshua, Rachel’s Ralph Lauren customer-turned-boyfriend.
Joshua. He was never really as integral to the show as the writers clearly thought he would be. As Rachel’s somewhat boyfriend, he was aloof, often to the point that he felt like nothing more than a convenient plot device to show Rachel’s obsessive, borderline crazy side. Still, he’s one of the only people in the Friends universe who would turn down a marriage proposal from Rachel Green. And could do so in tremendous fashion:
“We’ve only been on four dates. So I’m thinkin’…no. But…thanks?”
Since his stint as one of the many men that somehow couldn’t measure up to Ross, Tate has landed starring roles in numerous TV series. You’ve either heard his voice as the animated Hercules, marveled at how terrible of a father he was on The O.C., or perhaps you’re one of those fancy people who watch adult thrillers like Damages or the short-lived Deception. But somehow–somewhere–you’ve been experiencing Joshua all this time while thinking “Don’t I know that guy from something else?”
Yes. Yes you do.
6 – Adam Goldberg
Friends Role: Eddie, Chandler’s psychotic roommate, briefly.
A short-term replacement as Chandler’s roommate after Joey moved out to pursue the trappings of his lavish, soap opera star lifestyle, Eddie was a goddamn weirdo. I mean, a true weirdo creep. He stole all of the insoles out of Chandler’s shoes. Out of spite. He was a self-proclaimed fruit “dehydrating maniac” who routinely watched Chandler sleep. He stole a mannequin head from Macy’s to keep as a trophy and eat chips out of. And he wouldn’t move out. He was a cartoonish nightmare and a real treat for everyone who wasn’t named Chandler Bing.
Adam Goldberg was far from an unknown quantity in 1996 when he showed up as the creepy–or deranged or demented or whatever else you call someone who watches you sleep without your permission–roommate. (The dude had been in Dazed and Confused, after all.) But things really took off quickly after his guest spot on Friends.
Saving Private Ryan, A Beautiful Mind, Deja Vu, and Zodiac followed. Adam Goldberg quickly became the go-to guy when you needed a moderately handsome fellow who was just a bit left-of-center. (He starred in the TV series, The Unusuals just to be super on-the-nose about it.) Goldberg isn’t a leading man by any means, but he’s become such a consistent “that guy” over the last decade that you’re guaranteed to see his mug at least once a year.
5 – Christine Taylor
Friends Role: Bonnie, Ross’ momentary girlfriend who shaved her head bald.
Bonnie is Phoebe’s hot friend that used to shave her head. Shortly after Ross and Rachel’s big break-up, Phoebe sets Ross and Bonnie up. But it was Bonnie with a full head of hair, which Rachel did not care for. Through a series of amusing contrivances, a very jealous Rachel ends up convincing Bonnie to shave her head again. She does, Ross breaks up with her, and that’s basically all you need to know about Bonnie.
Married in real-life to Ben Stiller, Taylor is one of those “that girl” actresses whose name you probably can’t remember. Before her guest spots in Friends, you likely knew Taylor one of two ways: from her role as a scrappy young dude ranch employee on Nickelodeon’s Hey Dude, or as the newly-renovated Marcia Brady in the big screen reimagining of The Brady Bunch. But after she was inserted as one of Ross Gellar’s many romantic foils, Taylor popped up in a slew of big box office comedies (many of which were not-so-coincidentally helmed by her husband).
She was Drew Barrymore’s ditzy but well-meaning sister (The Wedding Singer), the earnest reporter/love interest trapped in a sea of dumb sexuality (Zoolander), and then the earnest attorney/love interest trapped in a sea of dumb machismo (Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story). She also returned to television as Sally Sitwell, the earnest heir to her father’s real estate enterprise/love interest trapped in a farcical family drama involving Jason Batman and Will Arnett (Arrested Development).
So…yes, she may have been slightly typecast somewhere down the line.
4 – Aisha Tyler
Friends Role: Charlie Wheeler, archaeologist who romantically tangled with both Joey and Ross.
One of the few black women to penetrate the whitest depiction of life in New York City ever produced, Aisha Tyler was the much-needed chocolate syrup on Friends’ vanilla sundae. She was smart, sexy as hell, and a little sardonic. (And just doofy enough to seem like a good fit for Ross and his ever-growing list of neuroses.)
Prior to her role as one of the last remaining obstacles in the will they/won’t they relationship drama of Ross and Rachel, Tyler’s highest-profile gig was as a short-term host of Talk Soup (which you now know simply as The Soup, hosted by Joel McHale). In the last decade, however, she’s highlighted her non-comedic acting abilities by appearing in some rather dramatic serials (24, CSI, Ghost Whisperer).
She returned to her comedic roots by lending her voice as the “monster-handed” moral compass of the animated spy spoof Archer. As top agent Lana Kane–whose bust size is only outmatched by her sarcasm–Tyler routinely gets to say things like “epic poon-houndery” and “at least my ex-boyfriend isn’t a noose I made out of an extension cord.” We should all be so lucky.
3 – Jon Favreau
Friends Role: Pete Becker, Monica’s millionaire boyfriend and Ultimate Fighting enthusiast.
Pete Becker helped mark a big transition for the show, which was becoming more serialized and finding a host of new romances for the characters to play around with. Ross and Rachel broke up (gasp!) for the first of many times, Chandler and Janice had an actual, adult relationship, and Monica begrudgingly started dating a millionaire philanthropist. The courting didn’t last long, as Pete soon proved he was a crazy bastard who believed he could buy enough training to become the Ultimate Fighting Champion. But it sure was a lot of fun watching him get crushed into the steel cage.
Jon Favreau is another actor who was tapped to appear in Friends right as he was on the cusp of becoming a well-known actor. He’d just written and starred in the ultra low-budget, critical darling Swingers (not to mention his meaty role in Rudy), so it seemed Friends was a good stepping stone to a sturdy career full of sidekick roles and bit parts.
But then Elf happened. One of his first major directorial efforts (giving himself one of those aforementioned bit parts to keep his face in the public consciousness) positioned him as a viable behind-the-scenes guy, which then led to his directing Iron Man. Ya know, that little superhero movie that raked in 140 million dollars at the box office? So now, aside from appearing in every movie that his friend Vince Vaughn stars in (The Break-Up, Couples Retreat), he can also direct just about anything he wants.
2 – Giovanni Ribisi
Friends Role: Frank Jr., Phoebe’s peculiar brother.
Season(s): 2-5, 10
Is it a coincidence that two of the most successful careers post-Friends can be linked to Phoebe Buffet? Probably.
Initially just an extra with a single line at the end of Season 2’s “The One With the Baby on the Bus,” (something to do with accidentally dropping a condom in Phoebe’s guitar case while she’s busking) Giovanni Ribisi ultimately came to be known and loved as Phoebe’s long-lost bonehead of a brother, Frank, Jr.
Although he played an airhead on Friends, the majority of Ribisi’s roles afterward ranged from action heavy (Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Gone in Sixty Seconds, Avatar) to subtly dramatic (Saving Private Ryan, Cold Mountain), neither of which seemed like a possibility for Friends-era Ribisi, whose character liked to “melt stuff” and really disliked “stuff that doesn’t melt.”
But if you squint hard enough, you can see traces of Frank, Jr. in some of the things he’s done since, like his portrayal of a loony deadbeat reported in The Rum Diary.
1 – Paul Rudd
Friends Role: Mike, one of the only men weird enough to marry Phoebe Buffay.
Sure, Paul Rudd had moderate success before Friends (you may remember him as the older brother in Clueless), but he didn’t really become a recognizable star until joining the cast in the eighth season. Introduced in a ridiculous subplot that found Joey scrambling to find a blind date for Phoebe (after lying that he set her up with an old friend named Mike, despite not knowing a single person by that name), Rudd eventually became Pheobe’s husband and was widely considered to be the honorary “seventh friend.”
Fast-forward a decade and Rudd is known as a consummate straight man with just enough oddball weirdness that let him move seamlessly from the ridiculousness of Anchorman and Role Models to more reserved roles in indie fare like The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Can the world get enough of Paul Rudd? Judd Apatow certainly can’t, featuring Rudd in just about every movie he’s been attached to.
If the script calls for a lovable, middle-aged man who’s both dorky and mildly charming, you don’t even have to pick up the phone to call him. Paul Rudd is already in wardrobe.