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The Worst "Friends" Guest Star Ever, According to the Creators

Apparently, Jean-Claude Van Damme caused all kinds of issues on set.

Twenty-five years ago, on Jan. 28, 1996, the Friends episode "The One After the Superbowl" [sic] aired and became the series' most-watched of all time. Now, the creators of the series and the episode's director and writers are taking a look back at the milestone with The Hollywood Reporter (THR), from how it came to be to the casting of its big-name guest stars. And one Friends guest star in the episode sounds like he was probably the worst in the show's history.

The special hour-long episode features Julia Roberts, Brooke Shields, Chris Isaak, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Fred Willard, and Dan Castellaneta as special guests. But it was action star Van Damme who really caused some issues on set, from showing up late to the way he kissed two of the show's stars.

Read on to find out what those behind the show had to say about Van Damme and his disastrous guest appearance. And for more on Friends, Cole Sprouse Says Jennifer Aniston Made His Friends Role "Quite Difficult."

This Friends episode was high-stakes.

Brooke Shields on Friends
Warner Bros. Television Distribution

The time slot after the Super Bowl is highly coveted since the game draws in so many viewers. So, the creators of FriendsMarta Kauffman, David Crane, and Kevin Bright—had to provide something outside of their usual 30-minute episode.

"We told them it had to be an hour because we weren't going to turn the extra time back to the affiliates," Warren Littlefield, who was the president of NBC Entertainment at the time, told THR. "And we figured that people had been watching TV for eight hours at this point so it shouldn't be the subtlest episode. They had to go for it and have fun."

The creators and writers came up with multiple storylines that would span an hour, deciding to feature the return of Ross' (David Schwimmer) monkey, Marcel, and to cast several notable guest stars.

All the guest stars were great—except one.

Julia Roberts on Friends
Warner Bros. Television Distribution

In the THR story, the crew praises all of the guest stars except one. Director Michael Lembeck said, "Julia Roberts was a joy," and called Isaak a "swell guy," even if his acting was "like working with a salmon" at first. (He is primarily a singer, not an actor, after all.) Kauffman raved that "Brooke Shields hit it out of the park," and referring to Castellaneta and Willard, Bright said, "Their scenes are my two favorite moments."

But Van Damme was another story.

Van Damme was reportedly late and demanding.

Jean-Claude Van Damme on Friends
Warner Bros. Television Distribution

Van Damme was cast to play a comedic version of himself, because the writers wanted Monica (Courteney Cox) and Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) to compete with each other over who got to date a movie star.

"Jean-Claude Van Damme may have fallen into the category of who's more difficult to work with, him or the monkey?" said Littlefield. Bright remembered that the actor arrived to the set three or four hours late, and when Bright tried to talk to him, the Bloodsport star exclaimed, "No! First, I memorize lines. Then you give me the feeling."

One of the episode's writers, Mike Sikowitz, claimed that Van Damme got someone to go on a cereal run for him. "He asked through his manager or some other person who came to the set with him for Cocoa Puffs," Sikowitz said. "I believe a P.A. ran out and got them."

For more on the show Aniston's working on now, check out Jennifer Aniston Shows Off Her New Hairstyle as She Heads Back to Work.

He received complaints about his kissing from two stars. 

Jennifer Aniston and Jean-Claude Van Damme
Warner Bros. Television Distribution

Apparently, both Aniston and Cox told their director to ask Van Damme not to use tongue during their kissing scenes.

"Having completely blown up our shooting day, we had to scramble," Lembeck told THR. "Then he's unprepared and arrogant! But this is the story I want to share: We shoot him and Jennifer first. Then she walks over to me and says 'Lem, Lem, would you do me a favor and ask him not to put his tongue in my mouth when he's kissing me?'" Lembeck says he told Van Damme he was doing great, but since it was a tight shot to not kiss with tongue.

"Then we're shooting a scene later with Courteney," Lembeck continued. "Here comes Courteney walking toward me and saying, 'Lem, can you please tell him not to put his tongue in my mouth?' I couldn't believe it! I had to tell him again, but a little firmer."

Bright added, "Jennifer told me about it, and I remember telling her that maybe he doesn't understand this isn't the movies? But we asked him several times."

THR notes that Van Damme's representatives did not respond to requests for comment.

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The Friends writers still have some mixed feelings about his storyline.

Jean-Claude Van Damme on Friends 2
Warner Bros. Television Distribution

A couple of the Friends writers commented on the Van Damme storyline as a whole, and it seems like it was divisive. "He's not a comedy star, and I think it showed," said writer Michael Borokow. "On the other hand, we didn't need him to be funny. We needed a big Hollywood star that the girls would fight over and he did that great."

Writer Alexa Junge still isn't a fan of this particular plot. "I didn't like that storyline," she told the publication. "I was upset that my Monica and Rachel sold each other out romantically."

Want more behind-the-scenes secrets about the show? Here's The Embarrassing Friends Gaffe You Never Noticed Before.

Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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