Mild spoilers for Friends: The Reunion special below (and not for the show itself because the finale aired 17 years ago).
As part of the highly anticipated (and equally hyped) Friends reunion special on HBO Max, castmates Jennifer Aniston and David Schwimmer slowly—perhaps even strategically—release a bombshell: The infamous love story between Ross and Rachel was fueled, at least in part, by their real feelings for each other.
During an interview with late night host James Corden, the Friends crew, including Aniston, Schwimmer, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc and Matthew Perry, gathered on a very Central Perk-esque couch to discuss the show’s outsized impact on American television and pop culture. But Corden treaded into murkier territory when he decided to ask if the actors shared any flings during their tenure on the show.
“It’s inconceivable to me that there weren’t, perhaps, off-screen romances,” he said, after admitting it was a “cheeky” line of inquiry.
At this point, Aniston presses her lips together and stumbles over her words: “Uh, well, I mean…David?”
“Yeah,” Schwimmer cuts in. “Yeah, I mean—”
Aniston: “First season.”
Schwimmer: “The first season, we—I had a major crush on Jen. And I think we both—”
Aniston, frowning: “It was reciprocated.”
Schwimmer: “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. We respected that, and—but we both—”
Then LeBlanc, in a comedic move Joey Tribbiani would whole-heartedly endorse, pretends to cough and mutters, “Bullshit.”
The crowd—and the cast—erupts into laughter as Aniston protests, “No, no! No. No, no.”
She continues, saying, “Honestly, I remember saying one time to David, ‘It’s gonna be such a bummer if the first time you and I actually kiss is gonna be on national television.’ Sure enough, first time we kissed was in that coffee shop [Central Perk]. So we just channeled all our adoration and love for each other into Ross and Rachel.”
Friends fans have long speculated on whether the chemistry between Aniston and Schwimmer could have ignited real romance, though the two have never before confirmed a connection in such a direct way.
Later in the special, Schwimmer admits he’s surprised this revelation hadn’t come to light sooner: “I thought back on the very first year or two, you know, when we had breaks for rehearsal, like there were moments we would, like, cuddle on the couch or something, and I’m thinking, how did everyone not know we were crushing on each other?”
Here, Perry jumps in: “We knew,” he says. “We knew.”
And Cox adds, “We knew for sure.”
It’s unclear if the cast knew ahead of time that Corden would ask about off-set romance, or if Aniston and Schwimmer wanted their “crush” to become public knowledge for an innocent PR boost. But the revelation nevertheless helps explain why Ross and Rachel became such a sensation over the course of Friends’ 10-year grip on TV. Nothing like pent-up feelings to ratchet up the chemistry. Still, don’t expect a Schwimmer/Aniston romance plot à la Bennifer’s return to the tabloids. It seems clear the two merely regard each other as important friends, their one-time love a treasured precursor to sitcom success.
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