The cast of “Friends,” the most beloved show in modern TV history, are famously close, and the six of them will reunite for an HBO Max special whenever it’s safe to film again. But before that, we asked Jennifer Aniston and Lisa Kudrow to talk to one another about their latest TV projects. On “The Morning Show,” Aniston crushed it — winning a SAG Award this year (for best female actor in a drama series) for her portrait of Alex Levy, a star anchor who has to face her own complicity after her co-host, Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell), is fired for sexual harassment. Of late, Kudrow has stolen scenes on two shows — as the wife of Carell’s character on “Space Force” and a harsh mother on “Feel Good.”
Over video chat for Variety‘s Actors on Actors issue, as they discussed their work, Aniston and Kudrow laughed and reminisced. They also discussed the enduring popularity of “Friends,” and why they feel like the show worked so well. At one point, Aniston even referenced this classic bit with Ross, Chandler, Rachel and a couch, which was delightful.
Jennifer Aniston: Do you actually remember when you first met me?
Lisa Kudrow: Yes, I do — at the table read.
Aniston: Do I remember what I was wearing?
Kudrow: You remember what everyone was wearing.
Aniston: I do. You were wearing an appropriate Phoebe Buffay — like a white linen, hippie shirt, and you had a bunch of seashells and necklaces on. And you had your hair pulled up in two little clips, and you had these little blond tendrils.
Kudrow: Oh, God bless.
Aniston: So, so, so beautiful! And Courteney [Cox] had on a pink baby tee with a white trim.
Kudrow: Gee whiz! I was trying to get into the character.
Aniston: I know! Still thought you were auditioning, and you actually already had the job.
Kudrow: What did you wear?
Aniston: That I don’t remember.
Kudrow: And then you did “The Morning Show.”
Aniston: Right after!
Kudrow: I just thought that was a good segue. By the way, it’s my favorite show. Watched all of them the minute we could, my husband and I both. We have a hard time finding shows we can both watch together. And then it’s just so well written. It’s about something; it’s so beautifully performed. You blew me away.
Aniston: Bless your heart. Thanks, honey.
Kudrow: You were so completely “The Morning Show” host that it wasn’t you anymore. I would go, “Wait, that was Jennifer?”
Aniston: Coming from Lisa — I’m speaking to this said audience that is maybe watching this — but coming from you, who, literally, the characters that you portrayed consistently over all of the years of knowing you, I never see Lisa, ever. I’m really moved.
Kudrow: There’s a lot to talk about with “The Morning Show.” Do you mind if I pivot?
Aniston: No, pivot. Pivot, David Schwimmer.
Kudrow: How did you decide that that’s something you wanted to do?
Aniston: I was talking to Michael Ellenberg at my Christmas party, and I’ve known Michael since he was one of the producers on “The Leftovers,” which was one of Mimi Leder’s brilliant, extraordinary shows that she directed. It just came up where I said, “You know, I’m not opposed to going back to television, if it’s a great piece of work.” And he said, “Are you serious?”
And then he gave me the outline, because he had just read “Top of the Morning” [by Brian Stelter], and he just acquired the rights. They came to me, and I said, “Absolutely.” And he said, “Also, and the idea of having you and Reese [Witherspoon] come in to do this together would be brilliant.”
When he pitched the show, it was behind the scenes of the New York morning talk shows and New York media. And then #MeToo happened. We had to stop and refocus and incorporate all of that into the story as well, which sadly fit in quite easily.
Kudrow: Well, you already had Mitch who was crossing lines, so to speak.
Aniston: Yes, yes. And the ageism — for my character, wanting someone new, because after you hit 40, that’s it. We got to find us some new someone. There were a lot of things that were really fun and there to play with.
Kudrow: Your depiction of Alex’s breakdown in that last episode, I’ve never seen anything done like that. It felt so real and — not painful, because she was sort of out of her body. How on Earth did you approach that?
Aniston: It was just a boiling point, and I think it was just all of the years. And then Hannah’s death happened, and then all of it kind of boiled and it just exploded, and it happened right when we were on air. I think I did sort of float out of my body and I didn’t give a s—. It was a little bit like, I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.
I think it’s also something about being this age, and having heard these stories over and over, over the last few years — there is such a rage that we as women are carrying, and hearing what so many women walked through and had to deal with.
Kudrow: We’ve all heard stories when they were happening. And you just know, “Oh, my God, there’s no recourse. There’s no recourse. There’s nothing to do. What do I tell my friend?”
Aniston: And it’s too big. What are we going to do? It’s going to be him again, his word against mine. It was quite a fulfilling experience in that sense.
Kudrow: God. That was just so great.
Aniston: I love you. I can’t take it, I’m sweating.
Kudrow: Well, you don’t look sweaty. So with Reese, because you were both producing this — it seemed like the two of you would like finally be allies, and then I don’t know. That was a fantastic roller coaster also. It felt like Alex didn’t have a lot of women in her life.
Aniston: No, no, no. She was in the boys’ club. She reminds me of kind of Shirley MacLaine. It was always hanging out with the Rat Pack. I think she was very determined and she had her family, and her work was No. 1, obviously. Also, when Bradley [Witherspoon] comes in, there’s such a “Whoa!” inferiority, but yet she sort of worships her and thinks she’s awesome. But then she’s terrified and intimidated. It’s such a love/hate. And it really did feel like a love story between two women in a way.
There’s so many dynamics of women and how women treat each other. Women are pretty hard on women, ultimately. That’s something that you and I have never experienced, especially when we had the luxury of shooting our show. We were just girlfriends.
Kudrow: Never understood it. What’s the competition? I never understood that. And luckily, I don’t think I ever experienced it, or I don’t see it.
We’re all doing what we want to do. Where’s the complaint? Where’s the issue? There’s enough. There’s abundance. We’re all here and we’re all doing it.
Aniston: Room for everybody. But I think in that world of broadcasting, it is about relevance.
By the way, the “Space Force” show, wasn’t there a big secret around that? You weren’t allowed to know something about Space Force?
Kudrow: No, not “not allowed” — just dips— didn’t know that it was a real thing. Yeah, no. I didn’t know.
Aniston: I’m sorry you were in jail though. I feel like our life now is kind of like what your character was in a way.
Kudrow: Yes. I had all these wigs.
Aniston: What about the one where you have the cornrows when your daughter came to visit you?
Kudrow: Yes, I did have cornrows. That wasn’t a wig. Of course, I’m asking, “Now, why is she in prison?”
Aniston: Why is she in prison?
Kudrow: I think they just didn’t want to commit to what that was. That’s a fun thing to tease out, I think.
Aniston: Weren’t you so excited, though, to get that job when you heard, oh my gosh, I get to work with Steve Carell?
Kudrow: He’s heaven. He’s great, he’s effortless, professional — he’s a human being, right? It was really fun. I was only there on that show for five days, but every day was —
Aniston: All of your whole body of work was done in five days? By the way, like it. Sign me up.
Kudrow: That’s how I do things. Thanks, Netflix. Yeah, that was like for “Feel Good” too. It was just one week.
Aniston: God, I love that show! I love “Feel Good.” You’re so mean!
Kudrow: Yeah, she’s tricky.
Aniston: Isn’t it fun, though, to play those kinds of people?
Kudrow: Yes, but I get concerned when I really, completely understand and sympathize. Because if my daughter had been an addict, and we had to kick her out of the house, and she’s recovered, and I come to find that she’s not in any addicts anonymous groups? Then yeah, I’d be super freaked and angry. And Mae [Martin] was really, really open, and just gave me a lot of background for that character.
Aniston: When you are producing, you’re there from the ground up, coming up with the idea and the show — and then the scripts and then the crew and then the cast. Do you find that to be more of a comfortable place to work from, or do you enjoy going into an already formed family and you’re the guest family member for the time?
Kudrow: I like being the guest family member for the time. When I’m producing my own thing, that’s different, but I have a commitment issue since “Friends,” to be honest with you.
Aniston: Just fear of committing to something because nothing will ever be as good as “Friends”? I understand.
Kudrow: “Friends,” it’s not like, “Oh, it was such hard work for 10 years.” It’s not that. It was that I know that show worked because we all committed to each other too. It wasn’t just committing to a role, committing to a contract. We all still love each other. Our cast is like that, and that’s why that worked. I think part of me died. I can’t do that again.
But when I’ve created something myself — which I have only two shows that I’ve done that with — then I feel like it’s OK. Because I have all the people around, and that makes it OK. Maybe I’m just becoming a f—ing nut as I grow older. That’s possible.
Aniston: Anything’s possible. I love it. I just love your brain. It may be my happy place.
Kudrow: Can I ask you something, Jennifer? So, since we’ve been in quarantine or staying home, have you watched “Friends”?
Aniston: I love it. I love stumbling on a “Friends” episode. This one time I was with Courteney, and we were trying to find something to reference, an old “Friends” thing. And then we stumbled on — there’s bloopers online — and we sat there at the computer like two nerds watching these bloopers laughing at ourselves.
Kudrow: I’ve done it too. I’ve done that, hours watching bloopers.
Aniston: Here’s what I love, is when I watch an episode, I’ll usually remember where we broke during the scene.
You and I would always get into these fits of laughter because you had this wonderful ability to — you were about to hit your punchline, and you would do this adorable thing where you would break. You would say the punchline, and you would always turn to the audience and say, “I’m sorry, it’s really funny.”
Kudrow: If I knew I was going, I wouldn’t say the punchline — I didn’t want to ruin it.
Aniston: You did have an ability to giggle, to break during the punchline. Because you as Lisa also thought it was funny, what Phoebe was saying. Which was so endearing.
Kudrow: Which is a commitment issue.
Aniston: And then I would watch you do that, and then I would break. We were terrible. And then there was the scene when the bagpipes happened.
The bagpipes — where you started to sing full 100%-sounding like the bagpipe — I couldn’t hold it together. No one could hold it together.
Kudrow: I’m coughing, but don’t worry.
Aniston: No, you’re OK, Lis. Want me to check your temperature? You’re totally healthy. Everybody now, if you have a tickle in your throat, you almost feel bad to even make any kind of sound of a cough or just sneeze. God forbid, the allergies. You’re screwed.
Kudrow: It’s true. I know. You’re afraid that someone’s going to think you’re sick and that you’re being really irresponsible, you’re not doing anything to protect them.
Aniston: What are your favorite episodes of the Friendship show?
Kudrow: I don’t watch the show. I’m still not watching it in the hopes that one day we sit down and watch them together.
Aniston: I think it would be a lot of fun for us to do something like that.
Kudrow: When we’re at Ross’ and we’re seeing Monica and Chandler start undressing each other in front of the window. And then, [I’m like], “My eyes! My eyes!” That’s how Matthew Perry said things. I actually asked his permission before we shot it. I was like, “I don’t know if you’ve seen the rehearsals, but I’m saying ‘My eyes! My eyes!’ the way you do. So I just need to know that that’s OK with you. If not, I’ll say it a different way.” And he was like, “Yeah, go for it.”
Aniston: I feel like Matthew required us to ask permission when we borrowed Chandler’s cadence. We were like, “But it’s flattering.” I think it’s going to be really fun also when we, if we ever get out of quarantine, get to do our reunion show.
Kudrow: Yes, that will be really great. I can’t wait to do that. I really can’t wait to do that. Yeah, we don’t know everything about it, we need to say. I think we’re meant to be surprised by some things as well.
Aniston: We know it’s not scripted, that we know.
Kudrow: Yeah, no. I will not be Phoebe.
Aniston: I will not be Rachel, although I kind of am. Well, we’re all sort of little fragments of them. Not really. But yeah.