Friends is a cultural institution whose impact on modern culture can’t be overstated. Since its 10 year run ended on NBC in 2004, much has changed drastically in the world of television and yet Friends endures as one of the last great sitcoms in the era of "Must See TV." Whether you ask those who watched the series during its initial run and went from their 20s to their 30s with the main characters or the millennials who found it after in reruns and streaming on Netflix, everyone will tell you that there will never be another show like Friends. They’ll also probably tell you to “PIVOT!”
But in our current age of TV reboots and franchise revitalizations, we’re left wondering what Friends would look like in today’s world of big-name TV stars and huge-budget prestige series. And while the original cast of Friends is wholly irreplaceable and 100% key to the series’ original and enduring success, we couldn’t help but dream up who would now play the characters we came to know and love in TV’s foremost romanticized version of Manhattan.
So, What If Friends Was Cast Today? Let’s take a look and find out who we’d be hanging out with at Central Perk in 2016.
Phoebe Buffay could’ve been a one-note caricature of the dumb blonde had Lisa Kudrow not stepped into the role and made it her own. While in the early going of Friends, Phoebe was little more than a character used to deliver one-liners at the end of scenes, but Kudrow’s charm and intelligence helped her gradually evolve into a complex person with a personal life as interesting as anyone else’s on the show.
Hannah Murray – best known for her role on the U.K.’s Skins and as Gilly on Game of Thrones – would inhabit the role of Phoebe in a way that would make Kudrow proud. Playing similar characters in Skins and Thrones, Murray knows how to take a character that others underestimate and turn her into a fully-formed human being. Furthermore, having often been the source of levity in the serious scenes she finds herself in, Murray would be able to handle the enormous task that Phoebe often had; taking the serious beats in Friends and getting out of them with a joke. Look no further than the infamous scene in the Season 7 finale when Chandler ran away and left a note reading “tell Monica I’m sorry.” It was a dark moment, perfectly capped off by Phoebe reading the note and saying, “Tell her yourself.” If you can imagine Murray deadpanning that then you know why she’d be the perfect Phoebe.
Could there be a more obvious choice to play Chandler Bing? Honestly, there probably could be. There are any number of talented and proven comedians who could fill the impossibly large shoes of Matthew Perry and provide a dead-on impression of Friends’ (arguably) funniest character. But we’re not looking for a perfect Chandler Bing impression. We want someone who could bring a fresh take to the most insecure and deadpan member of the group and we think that Logan Lerman would be perfect.
Ever since breaking out of his teenage heartthrob role in Perks of Being A Wallflower, Lerman has chosen consistently difficult and surprising roles and he’s aced every single one of them. With commendable comedy chops demonstrated in the past, as well as the good looks and shy demeanour that would be required of Chandler Bing, Lerman could play the sarcastic Bing in an unexpected way that still feels so right.
The role of Rachel Green requires a movie star caliber actress and that’s exactly what Friends’ Jennifer Aniston was. Now enjoying the most post-Friends’ success of any of her cast-mates, Aniston played spoiled Rachel Green with a humanity that many wouldn’t have been able to accomplish. Working her way into the heart of Ross Geller – not to mention the hearts of the entire TV watching public – Rachel Green is a key role in the Friends universe and that’s why we think another Jennifer would be perfectly suited to it: Jennifer Lawrence.
Perhaps the brightest star of any young celebrity, Lawrence already has an Academy Award to her name and a delightful friendship with comedy icon Amy Schumer; so she knows how to act, how to be funny, and how to be a good friend – all key ingredients. Lawrence would be the anchoring star for Friends and her ability to play frazzled, tough, and genuinely sweet characters would be perfect for the role of Rachel. Not to mention how she would handle her pivotal on-again, off-again relationship with our next actor’s version of Ross…
Back when Friends was on TV, the characters that played Americans were often American (or Canadian). That all changed with Hugh Laurie’s House and, since then, British and Australian actors have taken over our screens to play Americans better than most Americans can. Now, a new version of Friends wouldn’t be complete without a Brit or two in a main role and since Hannah Murray is from the United Kingdom, we might as well invite her Skins co-star Nicholas Hoult to come along with her.
Hoult has played smart and self-deprecating before with his role as Beast in the new X-Men series, but he’s also capable of being smart and confidently charming when he needs to, as was the case with his role in Skins. And while David Schwimmer brought neurotic New Yorker to the screen better than anyone, we have no doubt that Hoult would be able to play a delightfully nerdy and out of touch Ross Geller in a way that no other actor of his generation could. But perhaps the best part of Nicholas Hoult as Ross would be his relationship with Jennifer Lawrence as Rachel. Not only are the two together in the X-Men franchise, but Hoult and Lawrence dated – or perhaps still do date, depending who you ask – in the real world. They’re the ultimate “We were on a break!” couple, and their chemistry together would make for the perfect Ross and Rachel of a new generation.
Monica as a character is among one of the most complex and original in Friends. She’s loyal, talented, and smart, but she’s also jealous, neurotic, and obsessive. Courteney Cox brought a high energy sense of humor to the role and her Monica eventually evolved into the show’s beating heart. With a hilarious backstory and a deep connection to all of the characters, Monica needs to be played by an actress with everyday charm, as well as the comedic skills to carry much of the show’s physical and verbal comedy.
Anna Kendrick is that actress and a Monica Geller played by Kendrick would be an absolute joy to behold. Pint-sized, yet bursting with energy, Kendrick would be the light at the center of the Friends universe and there’s no denying that she could hold her own against Jennifer Lawrence or any of the other heavy-hitters we’re suggesting. With a track record in straight comedy – we’re looking at you Pitch Perfect – as well as romantic comedy, Kendrick would be the only proper choice to play Monica if Friends were being cast today.
There’s no denying Joey Tribbiani’s importance in the Friends universe. He was the dopey yet lovable glue that held everyone together and his portrayal by Matt LeBlanc was the type of once-in-a-generation performance that explains why even in LeBlanc’s unrelated show Episodes, he’s still known for being the guy that played Joey on Friends. Equal parts broadly hilarious and affectingly sentimental, LeBlanc as Joey can’t be replaced, so a new direction should be taken.
A new generation of Friends means a new type of Joey Tribbiani and perhaps the macho Italian stereotype of the late 90s wouldn’t be applicable to modern audiences, which is why we’d recommend Michael B. Jordan for a new – yet familiar – Joey. Jordan is the type of actor who can handle anything thrown at him and, while we’ve seen him play the heartthrob before, he’s done it with so many variations that to see him play pure stupid eye-candy like Joey would be unmissable. Handling comedy with a cockiness and assuredness that most in this imagined cast wouldn’t dream of, Jordan’s ability to be genuinely likeable would go a long way to making a character such as Joey live and breathe in a new era.
Let’s say we sent a Friends reboot script to Michael Cera and said “Michael, we want you to play Chandler.” Cera would undoubtedly send the script back in a handmade recycled Guava-tree envelope with just the four lines of Gunther highlighted in pink. This would of course be Cera’s way of telling us that he wants to play Gunther and that’s exactly who Cera should play.
Putting a 21st century hipster spin on things, Michael Cera would play the minor role of Gunther in a major way. Alternative, ironic, and definitely with a moustache of some sort, Cera would be in the background of every Central Perk scene improvising his own backstory for none of the audience to see. When his character does end up speaking, Cera’s lines will be delivered perfectly and will steal the episode out from under everyone else, and internet recaps everywhere will hail Cera’s performance as revolutionary. When the Emmy nominations are announced, Cera will be nominated for – and eventually win – all of them; even Best Title Sequence in a Mini Series or Movie. And just like that Michael Cera will quit Friends, walk away from the height of celebrity for the second time in his young life, and go on to live inside a prop windmill on the fourth hole of a mini-golf course.
Don’t ever change, Michael.
For a character that only appeared in 19 episodes, the girlfriend that Chandler can never seem to shake – Janice – made a huge impact on Friends and its legion of fans. Actress Maggie Wheeler brought the grating quality of that ex that everyone is ashamed of to TV and throughout every season of Friends one constant was always looking forward to the moment that Janice would appear and say “Oh. My. God.” Janice was a singular character, which is why she would need to be played by a singular actress in 2016. And that actress is Rebel Wilson.
Although she couldn’t be more different from the original Janice, Rebel Wilson’s Janice would still be the exact type of character that everyone can relate to wanting to hide from. Abrasive, unrelenting, and most of all laugh-out-loud funny, a Rebel Wilson-ified Janice would be the breakout delight of a new cast of Friends. Just think of the incredibly Australian way she would say “Oh. My. God.” Just think of skinny little Logan Lerman being embraced by Rebel Wilson and of all the Pitch Perfect crossover potential when you discover that the two loves of Chandler’s life were members of the Barden Bellas. Just think of the fan fiction that would spawn online with fans shipping Janice and Gunther. If this isn’t everything you’ve ever wanted, you need to get yourself checked.
Ross and Monica’s parents Jack and Judy Geller were standouts in their respective 20 and 19 episodes on Friends. Providing the perfect origin story to Ross and Monica’s neuroses, Jack Geller was the type of warm, funny, and yet totally embarrassing dad that everyone could relate to. Elliott Gould brought a veteran comedic sensibility to an already outstandingly talented cast and that’s exactly why we’d bring in a similar performer if Friends was cast today.
Billy Crystal is the type of actor that can anchor a scene and provide value and comedic potential with just a simple look or a line reading and he’s more than capable of filling the large shoes of Elliott Gould. With the ability to go broad or quietly hilarious, Crystal has shown all throughout his career – but mostly on his tragically cancelled show The Comedians – that his big-screen persona feels right at home on television and we’d love to see him as the father figure to Anna Kendrick and Nicholas Hoult.
Judy Geller remains a bit of an enigma on Friends; her character was at once a loving mother and a wealthy materialist who pointed out the flaws in her children. Portrayed commendably by Christina Pickles, Judy was the source of many laughs over the course of Friends as well as a relatable point of entry to those of us who have a parent exactly like Judy. But if Friends was cast today, we have a feeling that to fit modern comedic sensibilities Judy would become a more absurd character and that’s why we think Carol Kane would be the perfect choice to play her.
A singular comedic voice – literally and figuratively – Carol Kane would best be known to modern audiences for her role as Lillian in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt; a part that circles off into insanity in an already off-the-wall-insane show. As Judy Geller, Kane would be the perfect unsporting yet loving mother, as well as the perfect partner and foil to Billy Crystal’s Jack. And if that pairing sounds familiar, it’s because Kane and Crystal played Valerie and Miracle Max, respectively, in what is arguably the best part of The Princess Bride. Their comedic timing was outstanding then and we have no doubt that it would steal the show if they were put together on the set of a modern-day Friends.
Although Phoebe’s one-time boyfriend and one-day roommate was only in a total of four episodes, Michael Rappaport’s Gary made quite an impression on fans of Friends. Originally a purely nice guy who only wants Phoebe to be happy, Gary seemed like the kind of character that would get along well with the central group of friends, and things were certainly going in that direction until he shot a bird outside of his and Phoebe’s bedroom window.
We could imagine an actor like Josh Gad – also spectacular co-starring alongside Billy Crystal in The Comedians – bringing his own unique spin to this bit part. Gad is certainly a big enough name that he would be a worthwhile guest star, not to mention that we can see him as an overly nice but simultaneously shouty guy who would lean out his bedroom window and shoot a bird. Considering that Josh Gad is the exact type of actor that would have appeared on Friends were he around in its heyday, we have no doubt that he’d make for a memorable addition in 2016.
Often considered the “seventh friend” by fans, Paul Rudd’s Mike Hannigan finally gave Phoebe the love that she deserved. Introduced to Phoebe by Joey in an attempt to cover for the fact that he forgot to arrange a blind date for her, Mike was as kind and genuine as Phoebe, with a lot of the weirdness that made her so endearing. Played to perfection by Paul Rudd, before he turned into a breakout A-lister, if Friends was cast today we’d have a tough time seeing anyone else as Mike other than Rudd.
One thing working in Rudd’s favor to reprise his role as Mike is that he’s ageless. And while it might be weird to see Paul Rudd’s Mike end up marrying Hannah Murray’s Phoebe, Mike was just such a good guy that we wouldn’t want to see Phoebe end up with anyone else. These two were meant to be together and we see no reason why Paul Rudd should be replaced with a younger model when Paul Rudd already is the younger model.
It’s a testament to the Friends writers – as well as Danny DeVito’s performance – that a minor cameo involving a male stripper would be remembered so fondly all these years later. With sweat, tears, and denial, Danny DeVito entered Friends history in "The One Where The Stripper Cries," and his performance remains one of the standout moments throughout the entire 10 year history of the series.
Fast forward to today and DeVito is still churning out one of the funniest performances on television and it happens to be on a show that debuted only a year after his turn as Officer Goodbody on Friends. But appearing with DeVito in that show – It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – are four more actors giving the best comedy performances on television and one of them just so happens to be perfect for the role of Goodbody.
Rob McElhenny as a male stripper would be hilarious, but an overweight Rob McElhenny would be way funnier. Taking over from his co-star Danny DeVito, McElhenny would be the clueless and hopeless stripper that no one wants at their party. He would also do karate, he’d probably wear cat eyes, and he might end up inadvertently hitting on Chandler. Sign us up.
If you don’t remember much about Ross’ pet capuchin monkey Marcel, then you might be surprised to find out that several key scenes in the series revolved around him. One of Ross’ first true loves at a time when everything else was going wrong for him, Marcel was the emotional core to many episodes – which is strange considering that we’re talking about a monkey.
Nonetheless, if you need a monkey to give an impactful performance in 2016 there’s only one person that you can turn to: Andy Serkis. There’s literally no one – and no thing – that Andy Serkis can’t play and we know for sure that he can play “monkey” like none other. So why would you want a real capuchin on set when you can just stick some ping pong balls on Andy Serkis and let him roll around on the floor and do his thing? You wouldn’t and we’re certain that Serkis would find a way to bring an Emmy-worthy performance to a pet that throws his feces as people.
Ross and Rachel may be Friends’ lasting legacy – the thing that people will point to in 100 years as the catalyst for every other comedy that followed after it. And while will-they-won’t-they relationships were certainly nothing new when Friends began, the chemistry between Schwimmer and Aniston were a main draw for fans of the series. If Friends was cast today, the one thing that would be of prime importance in a TV landscape resurgent with romantic comedies would be two actors to play Ross and Rachel who can light up any scene they’re in.
So if we’re looking for perfect chemistry between a modern-day Ross and Rachel, we would seriously consider What If? co-stars Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan. This is the type of role that we’ve seen Radcliffe play before and Kazan’s closest part would be playing the entitled Audrey in The Pretty One – a character she so expertly brought to life that we can see her committing to Rachel with everything she’s got. While Radcliffe would embody the intelligent neuroticism of Ross perfectly, Kazan would be able to show her full range as the spoiled and occasionally bratty Rachel, and the two of them would bring something thoroughly enjoyable to such a huge part of this series.
Which of these castings would you most want to see? Who do you think would play these parts if Friends was cast today? Let us know how you doin’ by sounding off in the comments!