For the anniversary of the Friends episode “The One After the Superbowl,” the show creators told The Hollywood Reporter how they landed Julia Roberts, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Brooke Shields as guest stars.
In crafting the episode, Friends co-creator David Crane said, “We never, over the course of doing the show, wrote for a specific guest. We came up with stories we thought were funny and put it out to our casting to find the best people. But for this episode, we couldn’t just go with a really good actor. We needed names.” And the name for Chandler’s middle school classmate-turned-love interest was Julia Roberts.
Said executive producer Kevin Bright, “Do you know the story of how we got her? Matthew [Perry] asked her to be on the show. She wrote back to him, ‘Write me a paper on quantum physics, and I’ll do it.’ My understanding is that Matthew went away and wrote a paper and faxed it to her the next day.”
Um, what? He wrote her a paper on quantum physics? Apparently, she had to make sure he and the Friends crew were really serious about her…but especially him. Roberts and Perry dated for a bit following her guest spot, a romance that started, in ultra-90s fashion, via fax machine. Said writer Alexa Junge, “There was a lot of flirting over faxing. She was giving him these questionnaires like, ‘Why should I go out with you?’ And everyone in the writers room helped him explain to her why. He could do pretty well without us, but there was no question we were on Team Matthew and trying to make it happen for him.”
This wasn’t the only time the writers’ wit would help Perry seal the deal with Roberts. Jeff Astrof, who co-wrote the first post-Super Bowl episode, recalled, “I remember standing with [Julia Roberts] on the sidelines. She kept saying, ‘Chandler’s so funny!’ And I’m like, ‘I wrote every one of those lines!’…I felt like Cyrano [de Bergerac].” Sorry, buddy. Stars date stars; writers just write.
No romantic sparks flew with any of the other guests, but there was plenty of comedic chemistry, at least with Brooke Shields. Warren Littlefield, president of NBC at the time, was apparently so impressed with Shields’s work on the show that he reached out to her team to talk about creating a sitcom for her, which would eventually become Suddenly Susan.