It’s been an incredible 22 years since Friends debuted on our TV screens, and even more incredible, is how popular the show remains. It’s common to turn on the TV today and still witness re-runs of the show, as it seems no matter how often people watch it, Friends is a show that pleases. Part of the show's charm most certainly is down to its tremendous characters. Monica, Chandler, Rachel, Ross, Phoebe and Joey.
The success of these characters is definitely due to the actors that portray them. But have you ever considered a world where things were different? Where it was alternative actors portraying the parts of some of the most loved characters in TV’s history. It’s a hard thing to do. Even replacing one actor in the role of one of the Friends gang seems to change the whole dynamic of the show.
This list will show you just how close some actors in the business were to playing one of the leads. It’s crazy to think how different Friends would have been if these stars had secured a part. It also makes you wonder if the show would have had the same success.
15 Tea Leoni (Rachel)
First up on our list is Tea Leoni, who was actually offered the role of Rachel Green. It’s unbelievably hard to imagine anyone but Jennifer Aniston in this role, as the actress went on to win the hearts of people everywhere due to her excellent portrayal of Rachel. Things could have been very different though if Leoni had accepted the offer. The actress chose to decline as she was also offered a role in The Naked Truth. Leoni opted to go with this offer, however, The Naked Truth was cancelled after its third season due to low viewership. As we all know, Friends went on to be one of the biggest TV shows in history. An unlucky choice for Leoni but these things happen; after all, there was no way she could have possibly known the immense success Friends would have. Along with this, Leoni has had no trouble getting roles in the acting world since this point. The actress has starred in a string of movies including The Family Man, Bad Boys, Jurassic Park III, Fun with Dick and Jane, Spanglish and Tower Heist.
14 Jami Gertz (Monica)
You may recognize Jami Gertz from a number of different roles, as the star has appeared in numerous TV shows and movies over the years. In an alternative universe, you may have even recognized Gertz as having played the role of Monica Geller on Friends. It is claimed that the only reason Gertz was not cast in this part is that she decided to turn the role down. We can’t help but wonder if this is a decision Gertz regrets due to the unbelievable reception Friends received and the millions of fans who remain dedicated to the show even today. However, we can’t say for certain that Gertz regrets turning down Monica and it goes without saying that she has had her fair share of successful appearances on movie and TV screens alike. Gertz has appeared in movies like Sixteen Candles, Crossroads, The Lost Boys and Twister, as well as TV Shows like ER, Ally McBeal, Modern Family and The Neighbors.
13 Janeane Garofalo (Phoebe)
Janeane Garofalo is most widely known for her stand up comedic performances, as well as her endless appearances in comedy movies. But did you know this comedy star auditioned for the role of Phoebe Buffay? That’s right, back in 90s Garofalo hoped to gain a part on Friends. However, during this time the character of Phoebe was still in early production and it seemed likely that our favorite hippie was actually going to be a ‘goth girl.’ As we all know the role later went to Lisa Kudrow who captured the free-spirited nature of Phoebe perfectly. Garofalo, on the other hand, went on to have a great career of her own. She has done stand-up comedy on numerous shows including The Larry Sanders Show, The Ben Stiller Show and Saturday Night Live. Garofalo has also appeared in a staggering 50 movies including Wet Hot American Summer, The Matchmaker, The Truth About Cats and Dogs and Reality Bites.
12 Kathy Griffin (Phoebe)
Another star Lisa Kudrow beat out in her quest to be cast as Phoebe on Friends was none other than comedian Kathy Griffin. It’s clear that although Griffin was not successful in securing the role, she went on to have a great career on her own. During the 90s, the star began working as a stand-up comedian and between the years 1996-2000 she starred in the NBC sitcom Suddenly Susan, for which she received good reviews. During the 2000s the star had her own show on Bravo titled Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List; the reality show became an instant hit for the network and even earned the star two Emmy Awards for Outstanding Reality Program. Moreover, Griffin has received six Grammy nominations, one for each comedy album she has released. Griffin has also released numerous stand-up specials for networks such as HBO and Bravo. In fact, Griffin’s work for Bravo earned her a Guinness World Record due to having recorded over 16 stand-up specials for the network. This made her the first comedian in history to have aired such a high number of specials for the same channel.
11 Jon Favreau (Chandler)
You may recognize Jon Favreau as having appeared in movie such as Rudy, Swingers, The Break-Up, Very Bad Things and Chef. However, back in the day Favreau auditioned and missed out on the role of Chandler Bing on Friends. Despite not receiving the role, the actor did make an appearance on Friends at a later stage; in season three of the show Favreau could be found playing the part of Pete Becker, Monica’s millionaire boyfriend. In real life, the star has had immense success both on screen but also behind it. Favreau can also be credited with having directed some immensely successful movies including Elf, Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Cowboys & Aliens and The Jungle Book. It’s clear that the actor has many talents and can both deliver a strong performance on-screen, as well as encouraging others to do the same from behind the scenes.
10 Eric McCormack (Ross)
Eric McCormack is one of the most surprising stars on our list; this is because when the producers of Friends came up with the character of Ross, they actually had David Schwimmer in mind. Despite this, auditions were still held in the early stages and McCormack actually auditioned several times, hoping to win over producers and earn himself the role of Ross Geller. However, this never happened and eventually Schwimmer agreed to take the part, making him the first member of the gang to be cast. This was not all bad for McCormack, because as we all know, he went on to have an immensely successful sitcom of his own, Will and Grace. McCormack played the part of Will in the successful comedy that ran from 1988-2006. In September 2016, McCormack, along with the other cast members of Will and Grace, appeared in a 10 minute online special, urging Americans to vote in the presidential election. Due to the success of the online clip, the producers of Will and Grace decided to put the show back into production. It was revealed on January 18th 2017, that the show would be returning for 10 episodes in the 2017-2018 network season.
9 Elizabeth Berkley (Rachel)
You may recognize Elizabeth Berkley as having played the part of Jessie Spano on Saved by the Bell or she may appear familiar due to her role in the 1995 film Showgirls. What you may not have known, however, is that Berkley was in the running to play one of TV’s most iconic roles. It is not commonly known but Berkley came relatively close to portraying Rachel Green on Friends. Eventually, when auditions got into later stages Berkley lost the part to Jennifer Aniston. We are certain the actress doesn’t take this casting personally, as after all, it’s unlikely anyone could have brought this role to life in the way Aniston did. In recent years Berkley has made appearances in sitcoms such as Melissa and Joey and New Girl; along with this the star also starred in the 2013 season of Dancing with the Stars.
8 Craig Bierko (Chandler)
It may come as a shock but before Matthew Perry received an offer to play the part of the witty Chandler Bing, the role was actually offered to Craig Bierko. Controversially, Bierko declined the role after glancing over the script; apparently, the actor didn’t see the show’s potential for success. We’re sure Matthew Perry was happy with Bierko’s decision. Strangely, Bierko actually had his big break alongside Perry in 1990 when the pair appeared in the CBS Comedy Sydney. However, the show was soon cancelled after just 13 episodes. After this, Bierko went on to make appearances in numerous shows such as Ally McBeal, The Powers that Be and Sex and the City. Bierko is probably most recognized for his movie appearances including The Long Kiss Goodnight, Cinderella Man, Scary Movie 4 and The Music Man.
7 Leah Remini (Monica)
Another actress almost cast in the role of Monica Geller was Leah Remini. You will instantly recognize Remini from her own comedy show The King of Queens, which was a huge hit among audiences. Nevertheless, before being cast as Carrie Heffernan on the show, Remini was actually a strong contender to appear in Friends. After auditioning in 1994, the actress learned the part had gone to Courteney Cox instead. However, there was no hard feelings as Remini actually went on to make an appearance in a 1995 episode of the show, ‘The One with the Birth.’ Remini plays the part of a pregnant woman Joey befriends and ends up accompanying through labor. Just three short years later, Remini’s life changed forever after she was cast to play a starring role alongside Kevin James in The King of Queens. The show had a lengthy and successful run, appearing on TV screens from 1998-2007. From 2010-2011, Remini acted as a co-host on The Talk. More recently, in 2015, the actress starred in the show Leah Remini: It’s All Relative; along with this the star released a memoir titled Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology.
6 Jane Lynch (Phoebe)
Jane Lynch may be a hero in the comedy world in her own right, but did you know that back in the day the star actually auditioned for the part of Phoebe? That’s right! There’s no denying Lynch would have certainly made an interesting addition to the cast and it’s fun to imagine the actress alongside the rest of the gang. As we all know, Lynch didn’t go on to play the part of Phoebe, but this did not slow the star down one bit. Lynch is probably most well-known for having played the part of the villain Sue Sylvester in the hit TV show Glee; the star’s role on this show earned her an Emmy Award, Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild Award and a place in the hearts of fans everywhere. Apart from her role as Sue Sylvester, the actress has also appeared in the likes of Two and a Half Men, Role Models, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Desperate Housewives, Arrested Development and Wreck-It Ralph. Interestingly, Lynch also appeared in an episode of Friends titled ‘The One Where Estelle Dies.’
5 Hank Azaria (Joey)
If you are a big Friends fan, then you will already be familiar with Hank Azaria as having played the part of Phoebe’s boyfriend David on the show. But did you know that Azaria tried on more than one occasion to earn himself the role of Joey Tribbiani? That’s right! After messing up in his original audition, the actor pleaded with the show’s producers to give him one more chance. Although Azaria was still unsuccessful in securing the role, he did eventually gain the role of David, well that is until he left for Minsk. Interestingly, at the time of Azaria’s attempts at gaining the role, the character of Joey was not the one we have come to know and love today. Originally, Joey was just going to be an all-round guy’s guy, with a strong affection for women. It wasn’t until Matt LeBlanc auditioned that the character really fell into place. The show’s producers have talked about how he channeled the same ‘dim Italian’ character Vinnie Verducci, that he portrayed in Vinne and Bobby (1992). It’s clear the show’s creators loved this and utilized it in creating the Joey we are familiar with today.
4 Jane Krakowski (Rachel and Phoebe)
Actress Jane Krakowski could have played the part of more than one of the Friends leading ladies. Krakowski originally auditioned for the role of Rachel Green, however, after not making it too far into the audition stages, she opted to try her luck at Phoebe instead. Speaking about her attempts the actress stated: "I, like almost every actor in the world, auditioned for Friends," she said. "I wish I had gotten that one. I actually auditioned for Rachel and didn't go very far.” Krakowski’s honesty is refreshing as it’s quite clear many actors in the business would have been delighted to have played a part on the show. Since this point, Krakowski has starred in numerous things including her role in 30 Rock which earned her four Primetime Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. Another successful performance was the star’s Golden Globe nominated role in Ally McBeal. More recently Krakowski has been nominated for an Emmy due to her role as Jacqueline White in the Netflix original comedy series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
3 Jon Cryer (Chandler)
You will instantly be familiar with Jon Cryer as having portrayed the role of Alan Harper in Two and a Half Men. Cryer plays the part of Charlie Sheen’s younger brother, who comes to live with the womanizing Charlie, with his son Jake in tow. Many years before being cast as Alan though, Cryer actually had a chance to appear on Friends as Chandler Bing. Recounting the incident, the actor stated: “I was doing a play in London and got a call at 3 a.m. saying ‘We’ve got this show called Six of One, and we’d really like you to audition for it,”’ recalls Cryer. “So, they faxed me the script…I went in and read with a British casting person; they took the tape and said they’d get it to L.A. So, I went home, and a few days later was told the tape didn’t get there in time for the network executives to see.” In case you didn’t realize Friends was originally titled Six to One. So, can you imagine what might have happened if that audition tape had reached LA in time? Cryer may have gotten the part and brought a completely different element to Chandler’s character. Would he still possess his sarcastic and witty humor? Also, if Cryer had gotten the part it is unlikely he would have played Alan on Two and a Half Men, as when the show started filming Friends was still on its last season. This would have meant extreme difference for two major TV sitcoms.
2 Ellen DeGeneres (Phoebe)
Phoebe Buffay is by far the wackiest of the Friends group and this is a part that Lisa Kudrow succeeded in delivering exceptionally well. So well in fact, that it’s very hard to imagine a world in which Kudrow was not the one portraying Phoebe. Nevertheless, this was nearly the case as comedian Ellen DeGeneres was close to playing the part. DeGeneres was the personal favorite of the show’s producers, who were extremely eager to get her to agree to appearing in the show. Despite this, the star decided to turn down the role. It’s safe to say that this is a decision DeGeneres does not regret as she went on to have one of the most successful talk shows in history. The Ellen DeGeneres Show is currently on its 14th season. It seemed to work out well for everyone, as Kudrow went on to win the hearts of audiences all over the world due to her depiction of the unique Phoebe Buffay.
1 Courtney Cox (Rachel)
Perhaps the most interesting case on our list and one that not many people seem to be aware of is the fact that Courteney Cox, who we know as having played the part of Monica Geller, could have played the part of Rachel Green. In fact, Cox was actually offered the role of Rachel but declined as she said she felt the role of Monica was more interesting and suited to her. So, if it wasn’t for Cox’s own decision things on Friends could have been very different. Can you even imagine Monica being Rachel? Would this have then meant that Rachel would have been Monica? This is too much to fathom. A change like this would have changed the whole dynamic of the show. Thankfully, each character ended up playing who they did and it seems this is the way it was always meant to be.