‘Friends’ Director Says Actress Who Played Emily Was Not That ‘Funny’

Rachel Green wasn’t the only person who wishes Ross Geller’s wedding to Emily never happened.

James Burrows, who directed more than 200 episodes of Friends, revealed in his book that he didn’t think Helen Baxendale, who played Emily, was that funny. Baxendale, now 53, joined the NBC sitcom in season 4 as the love interest of Ross (David Schwimmer).

“She was nice but not particularly funny,” Burrows, 82, wrote of Baxendale in his memoir, Directed by James Burrows: Five Decades of Stories from the Legendary Director of Taxi, Cheers, Frasier, Friends, Will & Grace, and More, which came out in paperback this summer. “Schwimmer had no one to bounce off. It was like clapping with one hand.”

Burrows said that part of the issue was his belief that Baxendale didn’t have the same snappy comedic timing as Jennifer Aniston who played Ross’ off-and-on girlfriend Rachel. “In sitcoms and any type of romantic comedy, the funny is just as important as the chemistry,” he wrote. “We discovered that any new girlfriend for Ross needed to be as funny as Rachel.”

David Schwimmer and Helen Baxendale of ‘Friends,’ 1998.
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Burrows hinted that he considered recasting the role of Emily, but the rigid production schedule of TV made that a difficult prospect. “Often, you can’t recast, because of tight shooting deadlines or other logistical considerations,” he explained. “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. The reverse is also true. If there’s chemistry, the writers go to work to figure out some way of keeping the actor.”

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Baxendale ultimately left the show in season 5 after the now-infamous moment where Ross said Rachel’s name during his wedding vows. Emily and Ross still got married, but their relationship was short-lived — in part because Baxendale was pregnant in real life and unable to travel to the U.S. from her native U.K. for filming. As Friends fans know, Ross and Rachel eventually got back together and ended the show as a couple in season 10.

Baxendale, for her part, wasn’t too disappointed to leave American fame behind after her turn on one of the most popular sitcoms of the 1990s. “You couldn’t walk down the street to buy a pint of milk. In fact, you couldn’t go anywhere,” she told the Daily Mail in 2012. “It was impossible to mix with the crowd, and do what ordinary people do. I saw it as a gilded prison. It was something I wasn’t prepared for.”

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