Friends Celebrates 20 Years With Pop-Up Central Perk in SoHo, James Michael Tyler Reflects On Gunther Role

James Michael Tyler
James Michael Tyler, who played Gunther on Friends, reflected on the comedy during its 20th anniversary Pop-Up Central Perk event in NYC on Tuesday, Sept. 16 

Grabbing a good ole’ cup of joe with Gunther! James Michael Tyler, who played Rachel Green’s boss at the gang’s Central Perk hangout on Friends, chatted with Us Weekly about his famous role in honor of the sitcom’s 20th anniversary. To celebrate the milestone, a Friends-themed Central Perk Pop-Up Shop will be serving free cups of Eight O’Clock Coffee’s signature Central Perk Roast in NYC through next month.

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Tyler admits he often waited around each week to deliver his “few words” during the series, while stars Jennifer Aniston (Green), Courteney Cox (Monica Gellar), Lisa Kudrow (Phoebe Buffay), David Schwimmer (Ross Gellar), Matthew Perry (Chandler Bing) and Matt LeBlanc (Joey Tribbiani) managed to rehearse and film in front of a live audience within just four days.

Gunther was a “key player in retrospect,” but he “developed organically,” Tyler, now 52, told Us on Tuesday, Sept. 16. “He just appeared and they kind of kept him. And then they kind of upgraded Gunther as time went by, but still, he remained a mystery. Nobody really knew much about him.”

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Because of this, Tyler created his own backstory for the Rachel-obsessed coffeehouse manager to help him get into character. “Initially I thought maybe he stayed in the back of Central Perk and slept on a cot, because he was always there. He never went home and they never followed him home,” he said with a laugh. “And then I thought, ‘Maybe the reason Gunther is so upset and angry and just kind of blank is because he has a really long commute with a lot of different stops on a lot of different trains just to get to Central Perk.'”

Friends ran an incredible 10 seasons from 1994 to 2004, with the main stars reuniting time and again since its emotional series finale. For Tyler, it’s pretty obvious why a show about six friends living in the Big Apple and catching up at their usual coffee hangout became so successful.

Gunther on Friends
Tyler and Aniston

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“The jokes are very character-driven and they are rooted in things that people go through in real life — they managed to bring some humor and levity into situations that could be difficult if they really happened,” he told Us.

“I can see parts of myself personally in all of the characters, both male and female, and I think that’s why it maintains the sort of focus that it does even today,” he continued. “And here we are, 20 years removed from the premiere, and it’s airing in different languages and different cultures, which is rare. But that’s just great writing, honestly.”

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The Central Perk Pop-Up Shop — with its own authentic orange couch like the one in the original series — will be open for customers at the corner of Lafayette and Broome in SoHo through Oct. 18.

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