Kelsey Miller is a writer based in Brooklyn, NY, and former employee of Refinery29. The following is an excerpt from her forthcoming book, I’ll Be There for You: The One About Friends, out October 23.
On a chilly summer night, not long before that premiere, the six cast members stood shivering, calf-deep in water that was, technically, heated, but still pretty damn cold. It was 4:00 a.m., and things hadn’t gone as planned.
The opening title sequence was supposed to be shot on a building rooftop, overlooking a section of Los Angeles that could sort of pass for New York. The gang would be having a little roof party, like typical New York young folks. But wind and potential weather issues had made the rooftop scenario too expensive, so Kevin Bright and Marta Kauffman had looked around the Warner Bros. Ranch in Burbank to see if there were any decent spots they might use. In the middle of the lot, there was a small park. On one side sat the suburban facade of the Bewitched house, and on the other was a fountain built in the 1930s, overlooked by a row of city-esque row houses. Bright turned to Kauffman and shrugged: “This could be a park in the village. You could buy that.” Kauffman nodded. They could blow out the lighting in the building windows, make it deliberately unrealistic, like a Magritte painting or something. Maybe they could bring the couch from the coffeehouse set, and put it on the lawn. “And then something with the fountain, I don’t know what,” said Bright.
I don’t think we were in the mood — or could even look like were having fun anymore.
Bright, Kauffman, the cast, and crew headed out to the ranch for a late-night shoot. They danced and did silly poses around the set, some of which were choreographed and others improvised. Between takes, Kauffman approached. “Hey, guys, we have an idea...”
Hours later, they were soaked and freezing, huddled up together and trying to maintain their game faces. “Everybody had pruny fingers,” Matt LeBlanc recalled. When Kauffman had asked them to jump in the fountain, “they were very game,” she said. (What other choice was there?) But by the end of the night, countless takes behind them, they were just cold.
“I don’t think we were in the mood — or could even look like were having fun anymore,” said Lisa Kudrow. They stood there, mutely awaiting instructions, in their wet black-and-white party clothes, when Matthew Perry broke the silence: “I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t in the fountain.” Kudrow burst out laughing, and so did the others. In the decade that followed, the cast came to rely on Perry for moments like this. It was his thing—breaking the silence with a perfect one-liner in the middle of a difficult shoot or a long night on set when everyone was tired and cranky. “He’s the class clown, for sure,” said LeBlanc.
That night in the fountain, they just couldn’t stop. They were exhausted, verging on hysterical, but here they were, in it together, literally. Perry kept it going, making jokes about how unbelievably uncomfortable they all were. Someone quickly got the camera rolling, capturing the six of them laughing like maniacs. Bright and the editing team would cut this into the iconic opening sequence, most of which turned out as planned—choreographed dance moves and glances at the camera. But those quick little snippets toward the end, when they’re splashing around, absolutely drenched and giggly—that’s just them, goofing around and trying to keep each other awake.
Ten years later, while doing press for Friends’ final season, Perry was asked to reflect on the fountain shoot himself. This time he declined to make a joke. He remembered all the laughter, sure—it was a special night (if slightly freezing). But to him, that memory marked the beginning of a venture that would alter the course of all their lives. What the cameras captured was the moment before everything changed. “You’ve got six people in a fountain at four in the morning who are about to embark on a journey,” said Perry. “And they just have no idea what is in store for them—other than it’s going to be fun, and maybe it will work.”