Jennifer Aniston and Tate Donovan didn’t last — and neither did their Friends characters. The Argo actor guest-starred on the famed NBC comedy for a six-episode arc in 1994. And at the very same time, the now exes were splitting up in real-life.
“I was just happy to be on the team. The only bummer was Jennifer and I were breaking up at the time,” Donovan, 54, recalls exclusively to Us Weekly. “And so that was tricky to sort of act, and act like we are just meeting each other, and falling in love, or whatever, interested in each other, when we’re sort of breaking up. That was just tough.”
Donovan played Joshua, a personal shopping client of Rachel Green’s (Aniston) at Bloomingdale’s. Rachel quickly struck up a crush, handed over her Knicks tickets to him and his nephew (he didn’t know it was a date offer!) and ultimately changed into her high school cheerleader outfit to catch his eye.
“It was just six episodes. I mean, only because we were breaking up. We were like, ‘Hey, can we not keep doing this? ‘Cause this is really painful and tough,’” he recalls of his and Aniston’s feelings about working together at the time. “The people that know that we dated think that we met on Friends. But in fact we had dated for two years before then, and it was over by the time we were on Friends together.”
Donovan’s Central Perk stint was “very interesting” — to say the least. But despite his personal relationship with Aniston, he felt very welcome by her and her costars — Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, David Schwimmer, Matthew Perry and Matt LeBlanc.
“Those six people were amazing to me. They were fantastic. It wasn’t cliquey for me at all. I was lucky,” he adds. “The good thing that came out of it was that everyone was really cool about it, and really as helpful as they could be. In other words, they were just compassionate, very compassionate about the whole breakup. It was sort of like I proved that, hey, I guess I’m a pro. If you can go through a tough breakup, and still do your job, then you’re a pro. It was good. It was really ultimately a great experience of how people can treat you really well, and you still do your job even though you’re sort of dying inside.”
The cast didn’t just crack jokes with Donovan on set, though. They even pranked him before cameras began rolling on his first day.
“They had all of these beautiful dressing rooms behind the stage, and a lot of times guest stars would get the dressing rooms. … But [I was taken on] a 15-minute walk through the back alleys of Warner Brothers Studios. And finally I get to this dumpy wooden trailer from the ’30s. I swear to God. It had carpet that smelled and old fruit that was lying around. It was disgusting — and flies. It wasn’t air-conditioned.”
The crew went on to leave him in the filth for 10 minutes. “Then they came back for rehearsal. They all were looking at me, the whole cast. And I was like, ‘Hey, what’s up guys? How are you doing?’ And they were like, ‘You’re the worst, man. Of course that’s not your trailer,’” he continues. “I didn’t care because I knew I wasn’t gonna spend any time in my trailer. I was like, ‘OK, so it’s a trailer.’ They were trying to play a practical joke on me basically. Like, give him the worst trailer known to mankind. And I didn’t react to it all. I just sort of was like, ‘Oh, OK. Great, fine.’ I didn’t freak out and that’s what they were hoping for, that I would call my agent and say, ‘This is bullsh-t. I’m never gonna work on this show.’”
And from then on, Donovan felt like he was on a “championship” team. “It was like being on the Golden State Warriors,” he says. “They were in their prime doing the greatest stuff.”
He adds: “Those guys were so great to me when they sort of didn’t have to be. They were just really cool.”
Donovan hasn’t run into many of the stars since, but he did cross paths with Perry at the airport once. “He was hilarious. I was doing a play, and I had to get my way home on my own, and I was looking to get a cab. He was doing a television show and he had this huge stretched limousine waiting for him. He was like, ‘See, that’s the difference. You do theater, you have to find your own way home.’”
Years earlier, Friends came to an end after 10 seasons in 2004. Rachel ultimately ended up with Ross Geller (Schwimmer), but Donovan thinks that Joshua turned out just fine.
“Joshua is happily married and has an 18 year-old-kid who is about to go to college,” he envisions. “He’s doing well. He’s doing good.”