James Michael Tyler is back to blond and back at Central Perk in honor of the 20th anniversary of the premiere of Friends. The actor who played coffee shop manager Gunther for 10 seasons of the NBC comedy is in New York promoting the Central Perk pop-up shop in SoHo in honor of the milestone. He sat down with BuzzFeed News to discuss the scenes we didn’t see, the coffee that got him the job, how the bleached hair became his signature look, and much more.
1. James Michael Tyler was a real-life barista when he got the job on Friends.
“I had a job at a coffee shop called The Bourgeois Pig in Hollywood, which is still around and one of the last independent coffee shops that hasn’t been taken over or whatnot. I was one of their first baristas — I think I started there in 1990 or so.”
2. He was only there to play the non-named “coffee guy” so that Central Perk would look “authentic.”
“I’d worked with the assistant director, Joel Wang, and he gave me the call. He said, ‘Hey, do you want to come on and be in the background in a coffee shop? I would love you to just stand by the espresso machine and pretend like you’re actually really working it, just so it would look authentic. The show will probably go about six episodes at least.’ No one really expected until after that first season that it was going to continue. And 10 years! Who would have thought?”
4. But the sextet were really drinking coffee on set.
“Craft service would make the main cast members an espresso or cappuccino or latte backstage and put it in the cups.”
5. Gunther’s blonde hair became a part of the character by accident.
“I had a friend who wanted to be a hairdresser and wanted to practice bleaching someone’s hair, so I offered what hair I had left at the time. It came out white and that was the night before I was called in for the first day of shooting the first season.”
6. And that led to him bleaching his hair every week for a decade.
“I wanted to go back many times. I bleached my hair every week for 10 years. I did it myself after a while. It was just easier instead of coming in early to do it. I would just do it the night before.”
7. The street outside Central Perk looks different in Season 1 and this is why.
“For the first season, we shot on a different soundstage, which was much smaller and the street outside was actually a backdrop. There was not a street in front of it, and if you look at some of those first episodes and compare them out the window to later episodes, it’s completely different.”
8. He didn’t have a speaking line until halfway through Season 2.
“Marta Kauffman actually walked up to me one afternoon when I was outside in between takes and she asked me if I had any acting experience and I said, ‘Yeah, I have a Master of Fine Arts in acting, actually. I’ve done a lot of stage, theater stuff, and things like that.’ And she said, ‘That’s really good to know.’ With no explanation! But the next week, I came in and she said, ‘Your name is Gunther.’ I said, ‘Excuse me? What?’ And she said, ‘Your name is Gunther now.’ I still didn’t get it. Then, she said, ‘Oh, that’s your character name. And you get to say, ‘Yeah’ today. So, we’re giving you a line.’”
9. For the first four seasons of Friends, he kept his day job.
“I kept my job at The Bourgeois Pig for the next four years. So I kept my day job, in other words, because I never knew if they were going to bring me back… But once Gunther was more established and they would have me on all week, not just one day a week, basically, I thought, OK, I don’t really have time for this. The Bourgeois Pig managers and owners said, ‘Honestly, you’re only here like one or two shifts,’ and there were other employees who were friends of mine. I loved it for the social aspect — it was like my way to see everybody in the neighborhood — but I’m like, I really should give these shifts up. Because it just didn’t seem right.”
10. Marcel was played by a female monkey.
“Her name was Katie, and she was notorious for doing everything perfectly in rehearsal and when it would come time to shoot in front of an audience, she would not do things perfectly. That made for some long nights while we had Marcel.”
11. And Mrs. Whiskerson was actually a really sweet cat.
“I love cats. It was a really, really sweet cat, but it was odd to the touch, is the best way I could put it. It was kind of like holding a warm football… It did have a tendency to want to scurry because we shot in front of a live studio audience. And when they would laugh or react, the cat was a little nervous so they had a collar on it that was actually hooked to the pillow, in a very humane way.”
12. Someone from the Dutch Embassy came to the Friends set to teach the cast all about “ezel.”
“I’m pretty good at language and picking things up and I speak a bit of German, which is not Dutch by any means, but they had someone from the Dutch Embassy come onto the set that week and told all of the actors how to at least say things remotely effectively.”
13. It was an unspoken rule not to sit on the orange couch.
“I only sat on the couch twice. It’s like sitting on Game of Thrones’ Iron Throne. Seriously. Something you do not do. No one should sit there except for the six. Whether consciously or unconsciously, I don’t think anyone relaxed on this couch except the main six actors.”
14. Gunther and Joey were supposed to kiss!
“Early on, second season, is an episode where the last scene, Joey is trying to learn how to kiss or Ross kisses incorrectly, so David [Schwimmer] and Matt [LeBlanc] kiss at the end of the episode. Originally, that was supposed to be Gunther, from what I understand from some of the writers. That didn’t make it in.”
15. And Lisa Kudrow’s husband was there when Gunther and Phoebe kissed.
“I love Lisa, but it was weird because her husband was there when we shot. He was standing there! But that was great. I just adore Lisa and think she’s a marvelous person and fantastic actor, so that was a really fun scene. I told her I’d brush my teeth right before the scene and have some gum or something.”
16. Tyler and Jennifer Aniston cried shooting their final scene together.
“Jennifer and I, the first few takes, both of us were bursting into tears so the makeup people had a tough time. It was tough getting through and took a lot longer than it probably should have.”
17. Central Perk eventually became the airport in the finale.
“It felt like a second home, although it was a fake coffee shop. Knowing they were going to be dismantling that set directly after we finished that scene, even though we were still shooting, that was kind of weird. They had to take it down to build another set — I think it was an airport they put in its place. That was the last night at Central Perk.”
18. Tyler took home some of Gunther’s wardrobe and a piece of Central Perk.
“When the series ended, the cast and crew got pieces of the sidewalk outside of Central Perk, and I have some Gunther ties. Gunther was pretty deadpan and kind of a darker, colder character and I think it was just the juxtaposition of having him in these really loud, bright clothes that kind of made that play really well. Wardrobe let me keep the last tie Gunther wore in the scene where he professes his love for Rachel. And at the wrap party, I took the tie and I had the entire cast and the creators and writers of the show sign it for me. So, it’s this really cool looking, loud tie with a bunch of Sharpie on it.”
19. The first thing he did when the show ended was dye his hair.
“I’ve had it dark, my natural color, since after the last episode. The very next day, I dyed my hair dark.”
20. But he bleached it again just for the 20th anniversary of Friends!
“This is the first time that I bleached it, for this occasion, for the first time in 10 years. It brought back kind of bad memories.”
21. And yes, he does watch (and love) the show.
“When it was on, I couldn’t remove myself. It was like suspension of disbelief because I’m like, Oh yeah! This was the day that so-and-so did this off-camera! It was hard to watch it as a fan. But now, I’m removed enough and I’ll occasionally pass it and I’ll stop and just watch it. And I get it. And I think, That’s really actually a well-written, well-performed show! And I was very, very fortunate enough to be a part of it.”
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