Note: This piece was written by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoon) in December 2014 for HT Brunch. Another version of the interview was published in January 2015 in The Sunday Guardian and can be read here: http://wp.me/p3Ysps-oa.
‘You don’t need to see the Friends turning 50!’
On the occasion of the 20th anniversary year of FRIENDS, the creators of the cult show, Marta Kauffman and David Crane, come together for their first-ever India interview to reminisce about the phenomenon and the legacy of their show, and why there won’t be a movie
I have to start by asking you the question that you’re asked the most because it is that important to all of us fans.
Marta Kauffman (MK): The answer is no (laughs). You don’t even have to finish the question. No, there’s not going to be a movie, for so many reasons. We talked about it a long time ago and said that it’s not something we’ll ever do.
David Crane (DC): Our feeling is that when the series ended, we managed to end it just right. We put a bow on it. You don’t need to see the Friends turning 50. It was a perfect time in everybody’s life, and the other thing is that it lives on so much in reruns, syndication and DVDs, it’s not like people aren’t getting enough FRIENDS!
When you look at the legacy of the show and seeing the cultural impact FRIENDS has had, what do you think you guys did so right at the time?
MK: I think part of it was that it was the right show at the right time. We definitely tried making a show that had heart, or have a certain sense of, “I’ve been there”, or “I know these people”. We didn’t want it to be just gags.
DC: I think what we were really willing to have were scenes that ultimately weren’t funny, where you just felt for these guys. I mean, if you look at the pilot, at it breaks for commercial in the middle of the show, the scene is just Ross and Rachel each looking out the window at the rain. There’s no joke, there’s no story point, it’s just us saying care about these two people.
MK: We had said in the beginning that we just wanted to write a show that we would watch, and one that would make us laugh too. (Chuckles) There’s no reasonable explanation to why it took off the way it did.
When you first started writing the show at the pilot stage, what was your idea of the show? And how did it change for you through the seasons?
DC: The one line concept for the show was, ‘It’s that time in your life when your friends are your family.’ And that was, sort of, the guiding mantra of the show, throughout. No matter what we did, even if things evolved and changed, that was always the bottom line that we returned to.
MK: And we learnt some really interesting lessons, that you don’t learn at film or theatre school, where you are told that things have to be dramatized. But with these six, it was always better when they talked about things, then when we saw it actually happen. It became about the six, from, the initial stages, when Phoebe and Chandler were supposed to be more secondary. But then when we cast it, we were like, ‘Oh no no no no!’ they should all be equal. And the audience always wanted all six.
So how did the characters first come about? Which one is you?
MK: (laughs) I think I have elements of all three women in me. I do like shoes, I certainly have Monica’s tendency to be a bit neurotic and make sure that the cap is closed all the way, I do like to mother people, and I certainly have some of Phoebe’s out there notions of, you know, spirits and ghosts. David, you’re just like Joey! (laughs)
DC: Yeah, actually that’s the only person I’m nothing like: Joey. There’s a bit of me in Ross, there’s a bit of me in Chandler as well, but, you know, they were based more on people we know, than on ourselves.
MK: And then, when the actors came in and breathed life into it, they brought things to it that, you know, hadn’t even occurred to us. We, for example, didn’t know that Joey was going to be stupid, but he played it so funny that we took advantage of it.
DC: Yes, Monica in the original was not particularly neurotic, and, then, in the Thanksgiving episode of the first season, we made her kind of crazy, and she was hilarious! And we went, ‘Oh well, let’s do more of that!’ She was also supposed to be much tougher and sarcastic. But when we cast Courtney, she brought in so much warmth as an actress, it defined how the character was going to be.
How did the catchphrases and the mannerisms evolve? What’s the story behind ‘How you doin?’
DC: It certainly wasn’t designed. I do remember very early on, one of the actors came up to us and asked, ‘Am I gonna have a catchphrase?’ And that just horrified me! ‘No! No! No one’s gonna have catchphrases!’ That just felt like old fashioned TV. And yet, when you have a line and it gets a laugh, and you try doing it a second time and it gets a laugh, it sort of evolves.
MK: You know, we were in such good hands, there was never a sense of having to write a catchphrase or writing down to an actor’s ability. We just had to come up with the best stuff.
DC: But I do remember, Matthew had a specific way of delivery. We learnt very early on, that we should never underline a word for Matthew. Because when you underlined a word in a script that we wanted emphasised , he would take that as a challenge, and, invariably would emphasise some other word in the sentence! Occasionally, we would underline a word we didn’t want to emphasise in the hope that maybe he will emphasize the word that we want (chuckles).
Did you set out thinking who would be the best match for whom, or did that write itself as the seasons went by?
MK: That completely evolved. Originally Joey and Monica getting together was in our pitch. But we did one episode about that and the chemistry wasn’t just quite right.
DC: Yeah, we knew, going into the pilot, that Ross is attracted to Rachel. But we had no idea that this was going to become the (chuckles) central theme of our lives for 10 years!
MK: (laughs along) One of the things we learnt was that they were more fun apart than they were together. The characters wanting something was better than them having it. But we knew they had to end up together. You know, truthfully, after you get a show started, it starts to tell you what it wants. You are no longer driving, the show is and the characters are. The Monica and Chandler thing, for example, when we did that, we thought that it was going to be a really fun moment, we didn’t realise it was going to be an arc that would last for the rest of the series, until we saw the audience reaction.
How difficult was it to write that last line and that closing moment of the show?
MK: It was emotionally very difficult, that ‘Oh My God, this is the last line’, but that season, everything was difficult, you know, from the last bagel you would eat at the table reading, everything felt so weighted because it was the last of something.
DC: There definitely was a lot of pressure on that episode to make it as good as it can be. But you know what? We lived with that pressure every week for 10 years. And we loved every minute of it!
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Note: This piece first appeared in HT Brunch in December 2014.
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