Jane Sibbett, who played Carol on Friends, recently joined Wiretap and gave us exclusive guest star commentary for her episodes. She also sat down with us to chat about her time on the series.
Friends is, without a doubt, one of the most beloved series to date. Viewers were glued to their TVs each week to follow the ups and downs of Rachel, Ross, Monica, Chandler, Joey and Phoebe throughout its 10-year-run. It’s no secret that fans of the show revisit the series over and over again, and with it streaming on Netflix, it’s still gaining new fans each day.
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It was also a groundbreaking show especially when it came to Ross’ ex-wife, Carol Willick, and her partner, Susan Bunch. Their wedding was the first lesbian wedding on TV, which sparked some minor controversy with network affiliates and some conservative viewers. Carol and Susan were also an important part of the Friends universe because of Ben, the child that they raised along with Ross.
Here are some of the behind-the-scenes stories that Jane shared.
What would you say set Friends apart from other shows you’ve worked on?
I have never worked with such an amazing, amazing team all the way through all the seasons. Marta (Kauffman) and David (Crane), the writers, are the top of the top of the top of the top. I’d been on a regular two series before that besides Santa Barbara, The Famous Teddy Z and Herman’s Head where the lines were very strongly drawn in the sand about actors interacting with the writers. There would be certain notes that would come back and forth, but it wasn’t as if there was input.
And one of the things that I’ve always said is the highest benchmark is Friends because the writers were so graciously confident in their ability to synthesize not only a great story, but the great contributions of the talent of the assembled ensemble and the guests. Every time I would do any other series after that, I would compare it to Friends because there was such a level of love and joy in the process. You would go into everyone’s dressing rooms and everyone would work on it until it was just right. It was never about arrogance. It was never about the Hollywood ego that you hear about. It was always about, “How can we make this the funniest show ever?” And it was always done respectfully and with great fun.
Can you share what it was like performing in front of a studio audience?
I went to UCLA. I was a theater major there. Everyone at that point really wanted to be a dramatic actor or actress. Drama was the thing, and I didn’t realize drama was the thing because it’s easier. Comedy is the hardest of all, and sitcoms are one of the very hardest things. Not only are you doing this in front of an audience but you have to deliver, with timing and when people are laughing. So you have to learn how to hold the jokes. It’s music. It can be incredibly terrifying.
They say that actors that perform in front of live audiences, the endorphins that are released and the terror that’s released is every bit as much as one who rides rollercoasters. They’re thrill seekers because it is really like jumping off a cliff. You just don’t know. With Friends and with any really good series, if the joke doesn’t fly, the writers will be right there. You will be handed another joke and you will expected to memorize it and get the timing down with no rehearsal and deliver it again. That would often happen.
I loved the thrill of working in front of those audiences. It was a blast! Still scary to this day to do a sitcom, but I’d love to go back.
Carol and Susan’s wedding in “The One with the Lesbian Wedding” was only the second same-sex wedding on television, and the first lesbian wedding. What can you share with us about being a part of TV history?
It was a beautiful thing. I was really honored to be part of it. [Jessica Hecht] and I were really excited, but we were sad that we didn’t get our kiss. And those hats! Jessica hated her hat as much as I hated mine. We loved the wedding and we loved our costume designer, but we did not like our wedding outfits. Especially the hats.
[The officiant was] Candace Gingrich. [Her brother] Newt Gingrich was the face of hate for the LGBTQ community, and was so conservative. It was very clever [casting] at the time. Very discreet. Candace and I have remained online friends. I appreciate her and her work. She’s amazing.
I didn’t really bounce up against people opposed to Carol and Susan’s relationship until this episode when a couple of network affiliates blacked it out. My own father, who has since passed, he actually held Bible studies on the night that Friends aired so that his friends wouldn’t see the show. He did that for years, and then people started passing him articles. So he started to adjust his heart a little bit, and not to be so protective. He didn’t cut me off, but he was very concerned about appearances.
Tell us about working with all of the kids who played Ben over the years. Were there any challenges?
David was really great about working with the kids. He and I had a discussion about what we’d seen other set parents often do. They can be horrible with their children. I remember coming out of an audition once, and this mother saying to her child as she was going in, “Just be perfect.” I thought, “Oh my God, I can’t even be perfect. How could she possibly do this to her child?”
David was adamant that we would never bribe the child, whoever was playing Ben that day. We never bribed them with candy or treats or anything like that. He wanted them to do it because they wanted to do it. It can be tricky because kids don’t necessarily want to be with strangers, so we spent a little bit of time on the side playing with them and doing what we could to make them feel comfortable. Kudos to David Schwimmer for being of such high integrity. At that point, he absolutely knew that there had to be the utmost respect for this little person.
I understand that you have a funny story to share about something that happened right after you wrapped the episode “The One with the Truth About London.”
[Jennifer Aniston] is an old friend of mine. I had just delivered my baby, Violet, so she was just a few months old at the most. She’s in her little baby bucket seat, and I was walking down the hallway or walking up the stairs when I heard Jen say, “Jane, Jane, come and meet my fiance.” I went in the room and of course there’s Brad Pitt. Oh my gosh. And I totally lost my shit. I couldn’t talk. I hadn’t lost my shit over anyone before. Jen was behind him and said, “What are you doing?” He was just smiling, and I literally held my baby out in her little baby bucket and said, “BABY?!?” I backed out of the room because I was so mortified.
Next time I saw them was at the wrap party. I had a fever, but I was not going to miss that party, not for a million dollars. So, I don’t take meds, I don’t do drugs or anything like that. I don’t get high, I hardly drink, but [that night] I took some Nyquil so that I could get through it. I was higher than a kite from one dose of Nyquil, but my fever was gone. I walked in with my husband, and for two blocks around this hotel, it was completely blocked off. There was helicopter patrol, tight security, a two-story ice tower to pour the martinis through, and Sheryl Crow playing. It was an amazing party. I walked in and saw all of my friends. I was hugging Courtney [Cox], hugging David, hugging Matty [LeBlanc] and Lisa [Kudrow], going down the line. I got to Jen and I hugged Jen. Then I got to Brad and I literally fell into his arms. He was wearing this leather jacket, and I said, “It’s so, so soft.” I lost my shit again! I’ve never had that reaction before or since. I really hope I never see Brad Pitt again.
What would you say is the lasting impression that you have of your time on Friends?
They set the highest standard of joyful co-creation on that set. If everybody could work this way, everybody would have the happiest experience. I think that’s part of the reason why they had their success. There’s a Friends book out, and I think I have one single quote in it book about how [in] that first season, I came around the corner and caught Lisa and Courtney and Jen outside the studio. They didn’t see me. As I came around the corner, they were splashing in a puddle, just joyfully and exuberantly like children, laughing their heads off. I said if they could catch this in a bottle, they’ll have success forever. This is before it even aired.
On Friends, by what they created and the joy that they created, and the commitment to fun, to integrity, to a chosen family. The chosen family is often the deepest one, and they created that. They did that from the inside out. They made a family. They worked together, impeccably and beautifully and cohesively. I love it and embrace it, and I wish more shows could be so cohesive and really working for the highest good of everyone, not just the star. That’s what I’ve learned from Friends. If I ever get the opportunity to be on another show again, or even create my own show, I would like it to be at that standard.
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