Hot, wired 'Friends' off to a fast start

Here on the set of "Friends": David Schwimmer is fussing with his monkey, Courteney Cox and Jennifer Aniston are having a personality crisis, and "E.R." stars George Clooney and Noah Wyle are playing doctor.

The joint is absolutely jumping as the cast of NBC's hit sitcom -- an energetic bunch to begin with -- goes through some final rehearsals on the show's recent two-parter, called "The One With the Two Parts."


Everybody seems to be gathering around "Friends" these days. A high-energy sitcom about a group of twentysomethings living in New York, the show has been gaining momentum since its debut this fall.

"I knew from the day that I read the first script that it was at least something different, that it had a shot at being something really great," says Matthew Perry, who plays the detached but intelligent Chandler. "It has just been -- across the board -- good news, good news, good news, good news."


"Friends" was rated No. 3 in last week's TV ratings, as it moved to the time slot between "Seinfeld" and "E.R."

"It has turned into something really spectacular," says Matt Le- Blanc, otherwise known as struggling actor/ladies' man Joey. "We're really in a good groove now."

No wonder the mood is so up on Stage 5 at Warner Bros. Studios.

It's not just the byproduct of all that coffee so conspicuously consumed at Central Perk, the fictitious coffee bar where the friends of "Friends" hang out.

It's the sweet smell of success.

"It's working for a bunch of reasons, thankfully," says Mr. Perry, who, like most "Friends" cast members, has been on his share of TV bombs. "I think the general dynamic of the show, and what is most interesting about it, is that it's just six people, six different kinds of characters who just walk into a room and talk to each other."

Adds Mr. LeBlanc: "I think as characters we all operate independently of one another in our lives, but when we all get together, that's when it gets real special."

"I've got a group of friends like this," says Ms. Cox, who, as the romantically wrong-headed Monica, started out as the star of this ensemble cast.


The actors also have gained an affinity for each other. "We definitely don't run away from each other when they say 'Cut,' " says Ms. Cox, who regularly watches the show with her "Friends" friends.

Things are going well enough that the actors are starting to take their characters, even in this early stage, to heart.

Mr. Schwimmer, cast as Ross, Monica's eternally vulnerable older brother, is a prime example.

"The one thing I'm determined to have Ross share with me and that I pride myself on is my fierce, fierce loyalty to my friends," he says. "Like, my friends can come and stay with me. I've got two buddies living with me right now -- from Chicago -- because they don't have enough money to pay rent. . . . I've got an open door for anyone, anyone. They know they can count on me because I really believe my friends are the relationships that are going to last for life."

Ms. Aniston says she fashioned Rachel, the show's rich-girl-come-down-to-earth, after "many women I've grown up with," pointing, like most of her colleagues, to the ability to listen as one of the most important qualities in a friend.

And there's nothing like a good cup of coffee to warm up a conversation, right?


So does anybody on "Friends" really drink the stuff?

"No," says Ms. Cox. "I quit about a year ago."

"Sometimes," says Lisa Kudrow, who plays slightly airheaded Phoebe. "When I'm in the mood. I drink a lot of hot chocolate."

"We like to think that sometimes it's decaf," jokes Mr. Perry.

"I drink coffee every morning," Mr. LeBlanc happily volunteers. "I drink a lot of coffee in the morning. It's like a defibrillator for me."

And the sleepy-eyed Mr. Schwimmer? "Oh, without question," he says. "All the time. In fact, that's my one vice. I drink too much coffee. I have at least three cups a day, and usually one of those is a big latte."


So much, in fact, that it sometimes worries Ms. Aniston, who says, "I drink a lot more coffee now that I work here.

"I yell at David, Matt and Matthew all the time because they drink way too much coffee. Especially toward the end of the day, when they're ricocheting off the walls, I kind of say, 'OK, guys. Ease up on the coffee. It's just a television show. It's not real.' "