Because another TV pilot died, Jennifer Aniston's role on Friends got to live. During the Television Academy presents An Evening Honoring James Burrows at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences on Monday, Oct. 7, the 44-year-old actress recalled landing her breakout role as Rachel Green on the 1994 NBC sitcom Friends after shooting five other TV pilots.
When Friends director Burrows had his first audition with Aniston, she was on CBS sitcom Muddling Through at the time. "We took her in second position," he explained of hiring the actress for Friends, "so [when] that show was cancelled, we were able to use her."
"Not knowing that though, I had to sit out when we were doing our cast photos," Aniston recalled. While they were filming the pilot, the actress said she was asked by a man on set, "'Who are you? What's your story?' And I said, 'Well, I'm doing a bunch of pilots and this is just my sixth pilot and I'm just hoping that it goes.' And he said, 'But you're on another show' and I said, 'Yeah.' And he said, 'You know they're going to pick that show up just to try to mess with Friends because this is going to be a great show.' And I was like, 'No. They would never do that.' And sure enough I remember we were at the upfronts and they literally came out with the announcement that they picked us up for three episodes."
"When we were shooting the first grouping of cast photos [of Friends] in front of that fountain, I was asked to step out of a bunch because they didn't know if I was going to be still playing Rachel," Aniston explained.
Of course, Aniston did land the role and starred opposite her now real-life friends Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer. Before the six actors made it big, Burrows treated them to a trip to Las Vegas because he "had a feeling about the show."
"I took them to Vegas. We ate at Caesar's Palace in Spago. I had me and six of them and I said -- I don't know why I said this -- I said, 'This is your last shot at anonymity," he recalled. "I said, 'Once the show comes on the air, you guys will never be able to go anywhere without being hounded.' I knew the show had a chance to really take off. So I did that and then I said, 'Do you want to gamble?' and they said, 'Yes.' I said, 'Okay, go ahead.' And all six of them didn't have any money so they each wrote me checks for $200 and I cashed them. And that was it. They came back and premiered and they don't have a shot of anonymity anymore."
Aniston said being a part of the three-camera show was one of her "most energizing experiences to date." She explained, "The energy of an audience, that sort of opening night jitters every Friday night or Tuesday night -- depending on when we were filming. Not knowing when that was going to happen and just sort of allowing that night to sort of be totally spontaneous -- of course knowing that we knew what we were supposed to do -- but there would always be surprising fun moments. It's an energy that film or single-camera now that is so popular is just not the same."
The We're the Millers actress confessed that she misses Friends and would "honestly go back to it" if there was a reunion.
"If we could, I would," she said, but added, "I don't think people would want to see us today."