First (and Nearly Last) Day on Friends
By Lauren Tom
the summer of 1994. I am an out of work actress sitting in my home
in the Hollywood Hills watching an episode of a new sit-com, Friends,
on NBC. I seem to be having a mild crush on one of the characters,
Ross. I distinctly remember thinking, "I'd love to work on
this show. And I'd love to play my scenes with that guy. I'll wait
to see what his name is in the end credits. David Schwimmer. Got
The next morning, I'm walking on my treadmill while eating a Krispy
Kreme when my agent, Leslie, phones. "Lauren, I have a job
offer for you."
"A 'what' offer?" I say, slowing down the treadmill.
"I know, it's been awhile," she says in a dry, flat, tone.
Even when Leslie was a fledgling agent, she always sounded like
she had seen it all, heard it all, and done it all before. Most
people are afraid of her, including myself. "The producers
of Friends want to know if you'd like to do a six episode
arc on the show starting next week-playing Ross's girlfriend."
I stop the treadmill and nearly trip off of it. "Wait, is that
the guy, David Schwimmer?" I say, nearly choking on my last
bite of donut.
"Yeah, he's a client of mine too."
"You got me this job?"
"No, one of the producers loved you in The Joy Luck Club.
So you want to do it?"
"Well hmm, let-me-think-about-that-for-a second-YES."
"Okay. I'll call you when I have more details. Congratulations,"
she says as if she works at the DMV and she's calling the next person
"Leslie, this means you're not allowed to call me 'Loser' any
"Exaaactly," she says and hangs up.
What the hell? Could this mean what I think it means? This is the
break I've been waiting for my entire career. I'm about to become
a hip, trendy, great hairdo wearin' Friend. I'm crossing into the
mainstream, I'm finally going to be one of the "in" crowd,
a popular white girl. Hell, if I play my cards right, who knows?
Maybe I'll become a regular on the show and then I'll be a gazillionaire
just like them! How could this have happened to me? I better write
down everything I did, said, wore, and ate the night I seemed to
have manifested this job.
But wait, I've never been on a sit-com before. What if I'm not funny?
What if I show up and the producers look at me and say, "Oh,
not her. We meant the other Asian girl-geez, they all do look alike."
Or "Oh, we didn't realize you were Chinese, we were looking
for someone White, and well
younger. What are you 35?"
Oh My God, what if they ask me how old I am? I start to panic. Lottery
winners often lose every dime they make because their systems can't
hold all that abundance. Their brains haven't caught up with their
reality. Is it my destiny to manifest incredible events only to
screw them up?
the time I show up for my first day of work, I am convinced I will
As I sit at a table with the cast of Friends I try to imagine
them all in their underwear but this doesn't help one bit. I feel
like I want to throw up.
We're in a sound stage at Warner Bros. Studios about to read through
the script for the producers and the network executives -- the "suits."
They sit in folding chairs directly behind us silently making notes
in their scripts. The other contributors to the show -- the costumers,
the make-up artists and set designers, sit in the audience bleacher
seats. The temperature is about 60 degrees, a strategy to keep the
lights cool, and the cast alive and perky. I look around and see
the various sets for each scene: the main apartment, Joey's apartment,
an airport waiting area, the café. My heart beats a little
faster. I cross my legs and squeeze them-- partially because I'm
giddy, and partially because I'm freezing.
David Schwimmer sits to my right. He seems relaxed and confident.
His large brown eyes slant down at the outer edges even as he smiles.
He extends his hand as he introduces himself, "Hey, welcome
to the cast."
My palms are soaked with sweat, I give them a quick wipe on my micro-mini
blue jean skirt before I place my hand in his. "I'm Lauren,"
I say, smiling way too hard, my teeth almost chattering from the
cold air and my lack of clothing. Why didn't I wear pants? No one
can even see my legs underneath this table. Geez, I'm going to have
to kiss this person in about an hour when we start rehearsing. What
if I faint?
I'm prone to fainting when I get nervous. I just fall down on the
ground and leave the planet. I turn away my head to avoid that embarrassment.
To my left is Michael McKean, a guest star for this episode who
will play Courteney Cox's boss. He gives me a big toothy grin. His
eyes are clear blue.
"Do you remember me?" he asks.
You mean besides the fact that you're famous for Laverne and
Shirley, Spinal Tap and about 1,000 other jobs? I crinkle
my brow, unsure. I do not have a good memory. I think I may have
contracted Alzheimer's at the age of seven. There are whole trips
to foreign countries I can't recall, so remembering people's faces
and names is pretty much hopeless. Not a good quality to have considering
this kind of thing happens all the time in show business. I'm an
ant compared to the career of Michael Mckean so I'm going to try
extra hard to make him believe that I remember everything about
him. I giggle and wait.
"We worked together on the film Man Trouble a few years
"Of course! It's good to see you again!" I squeal, having
absolutely no clue. He seems to be buying it. The 45 minute reading
goes well and the room erupts in applause. This is a good sign --
it means I'm probably not fired yet. After a few minutes, Kevin
Bright, the producer, says, "Okay gang, good job. We want to
tweak the script a bit more, so we'll be breaking for the day. See
you all tomorrow." Hmmm, breaking for the day? Maybe it didn't
go that well. But at least I didn't get fired today, and I won't
have to kiss David Schwimmer until tomorrow. Courteney Cox, her
black shiny hair framing porcelain skin and shockingly blue eyes,
(is she wearing colored contacts?) is even more beautiful in person
than she is on TV. She gives me a small wave and says, "Hey
Lauren, we heard it was your birthday today and we all wanted to
take you out for lunch."
Did I just become a Make-a-Wish Foundation recipient? Just last
week I was standing in the unemployment line wondering if I would
ever work again. I'm practically speechless. "Great!"
I follow the cast to the commissary. They chatter on like they are
truly best friends. The three girls walk arm in arm down the street.
The theme song from The Monkees pops into my head. I used
to watch that TV show when I was a kid; I was in love with Davy
Jones. A teenage girl rushes up and asks for the gang's autographs.
She looks at me as if she's confused, decides I'm not famous, and
then runs off. The group starts to walk again and this time, I walk
slightly behind them. Why am I acting like I'm some sort of Japanese
Geisha girl walking behind my master? I'm a good three to ten years
older than most of these guys. I was in The Joy Luck Club
and When A Man Loves A Woman. It's not like this is my first
job, and yet, I feel like an awkward geeky, loser who's just transferred
from a different junior high school.
At the commissary, a private room awaits us, seven chairs ringing
a table. Did Courteney Cox call and arrange this ahead of time?
How can she be that pretty and that nice? How did she know it was
my birthday and why would she care? The table is set with a crisp
white tablecloth, fine china and wine glasses. I'm sandwiched between
Lisa Kudrow and Matthew Perry. I pick up the oversized menu and
clench it so tight I start to get a cramp in my thumb. I have no
clue what to say to these people. I concentrate on relaxing my shoulders.
They drop about an inch. I put the menu down and shake out my hands.
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