The one who didn’t enjoy the spotlight. David Schwimmer revealed that he struggled with his overnight fame once Friends became a smash hit after its 1994 debut.
The 49-year-old actor, who only recently made his return to TV (as the late Robert Kardashian Sr.) in American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson nearly 12 years after Friends wrapped, explained why the adjustment to celebrity-dom was so hard.
“It was pretty jarring and it messed with my relationship to other people in a way that took years, I think, for me to kind of adjust to and become comfortable with,” he said during an interview on The Hollywood Reporter’s Awards Chatter podcast. “As an actor, the way I was trained, my job was to observe life and to observe other people, and so I used to walk around with my head up, and really engaged and watching people.”
"The effect of celebrity was the absolute opposite,” he continued. "It made me want to hide under a baseball cap, not be seen. And I realized after a while that I was no longer watching people; I was trying to hide. So I was trying to figure out: How do I be an actor in this new world, in this new situation? How do I do my job? So that was tricky.”
The NBC sitcom — which launched the careers of his costars, Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and Lisa Kudrow — made viewers feel like they really knew the actors. “Because you are in their home, there’s something very approachable about actors on television, and I think especially in a half-hour comedy, where there’s something very comforting about it,” he said. “In our show I'm the same guy for 10 years, you can rely on me to be a certain way and you know me — or you think you know me.” By the show’s final seasons, they were such massive stars that the cast united to negotiate unheard-of salaries of $1 million per episode.
Once the series ended in 2004, Schwimmer chose to act in theater productions and direct smaller films instead of starring in box-office blockbusters like some of his costars. However, even with his post-Friends successes, he acknowledged that some “will just see Ross in World War II,” joking that he could never escape his Friends character, even in settings like HBO’s Band of Brothers.
Schwimmer agreed to sign on for FX’s version of the O.J. Simpson trial and play Robert Kardashian only after finding out about the other talented people associated with the project, including creator Ryan Murphy, Sarah Paulson, John Travolta, Cuba Gooding Jr. and others. He admitted he had “no idea” who Kardashian was, but said “the single most helpful thing” was his long chats with Kardashian’s ex-wife, Kris Jenner. “There were a couple of clues that she gave me,” Schwimmer said. “[Kardashian] had a crisis of faith.”
The portrayal earned Schwimmer his second Emmy nomination, for outstanding supporting actor in a limited series. His first nod was in 1995 for outstanding supporting actor in a comedy series for Friends.
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