Emily on "Friends" Was Almost Fired for Having No Chemistry With Ross
Guest star Helen Baxendale was "was nice, but not particularly funny," according to one director.
"I, Ross, take thee Rachel" is one of the most memorable lines from Friends, but for actor Helen Baxendale, it was the beginning of the end of her time on the show. Baxendale played Emily Waltham, Ross' (David Schwimmer) British love interest, who he was in the middle of marrying when he accidentally said his ex-girlfriend's name. She appeared in over a dozen episodes across Seasons 4 and 5, but according to one of the show's directors, Baxendale would have been replaced with a different actor if Friends wasn't in a time crunch. In his memoir, prolific TV director James Burrows wrote that Baxendale lacked chemistry with Schwimmer and that she wasn't as funny as Jennifer Aniston, which almost got Emily recast. Read on to find out more.
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Baxendale and Schwimmer didn't have chemistry.
Burrows, whose credits also include Laverne & Shirley, Frasier, Cheers (which he also co-created), and Will & Grace, directed 15 episodes of Friends. In his 2022 book, Directed by James Burrows, the 82-year-old revealed that the Emily and Ross relationship didn't play the way everyone was hoping. He indicated that Baxendale had been miscast.
"She was nice, but not particularly funny," Burrows wrote about the guest star (via People). "Schwimmer had no one to bounce off. It was like clapping with one hand."
Burrows explained further, "In sitcoms and any type of romantic comedy, the funny is just as important as the chemistry. We discovered that any new girlfriend for Ross needed to be as funny as Rachel."
There wasn't enough time to bring in a different actor.
While producers considered recasting Emily, it would have been too difficult to replace Baxendale within the constraints of the show's filming schedule.
"Often, you can't recast, because of tight shooting deadlines or other logistical considerations," Burrows wrote. "You need someone who gets laughs. Sometimes you start an arc and it ain't working out, so you have to get rid of that person. If it's a day player, it's a quick goodbye."
Burrows explains that, on the other hand, "If there's chemistry, the writers go to work to figure out some way of keeping the actor."
It wouldn't have been the first time Friends replaced a recurring guest star. Ross' ex-wife Carol was played by actor Anita Barone for the character's first appearance, while Jane Sibbett played the role for the rest of the run. In that case, it was Barone's decision to leave the series, according to Screen Rant.
Emily was supposed to be around longer.
If another actor had played Emily, it's possible that her storyline would have spanned more episodes. And that's not only because another actor might have been considered better with Schwimmer, but also because Baxendale learned that she was pregnant.
According to the book, I'll Be There For You: The One About Friends by Kelsey Miller, Baxendale found out that she was pregnant the same week that she was cast in Season 4 of the show.
"Emily was never going to be a regular character, but her original arc was much longer," Miller wrote. "The pregnancy meant speeding things up significantly…"
The Season 4 finale revolved around Emily and Ross' wedding. Baxendale appeared less frequently in Season 5 as the characters went through their breakup.
Baxendale didn't want the attention that came from Friends.
In a 2022 interview with The Independent, Baxendale looked back on her stint on Friends. She explained that she didn't want the kind of fame the main cast had.
"I saw those people in Friends, for example, and thought: I don't think that life is really what I want. They were hounded. They weren't able to walk into a supermarket and buy something," she said.
Of the attention she got, even just as a recurring character, she said, "I didn't think what I was doing warranted it. It wasn't about me, it was about this… This thing… this program that I happened to be in for a few episodes. The whole thing was bonkers."
Today, Baxendale is still an actor and works primarily in the U.K. In addition to Friends, she's best known for starring on the series Cold Feet in the late '90s and early '00s. In more recent years, she has appeared in episodes of Poirot, Midsomer Murders, and Law & Order: UK. Her latest role was on the series Noughts + Crosses.
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