Friends' 'Gunther' Reminisces about Iconic Series

by LISA HIRSCH 7:49 AM PST, November 13, 2012
Photo: NBC

It's hard to believe it's been almost a decade since the iconic TV show Friends went off the air. In honor of Friends: The Complete Series Blu-Ray debuting Tuesday, James Michael Tyler, who played Central Perk barista Gunther, shares his perspective on being a part of the beloved series.

Tyler says it was hard to properly digest the massive popularity of the show while he was filming it. He explains, "It only hit me after it was over really.... In retrospect, it's really cool just to realize how it's still maintaining its popularity and there's an entire new generation of people now who are just discovering it for the first time it seems. … I'm very, very grateful and thankful to have been a part of it."

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The series about six best friends in New York City, which launched and cemented the careers of Jennifer Aniston, Matt LeBlanc, Courteney Cox, David Schwimmer, Lisa Kudrow and Matthew Perry, ran on NBC from 1994 until 2004.

Tyler had the unique experience of watching stars like Jennifer Aniston go from being an unknown to a superstar, but he said the ensemble cast had no egos, and remained unchanged by their success. "They remained wonderful people throughout. Nobody changed or got attitudes or anything like that. … Everyone truly loved each other on our show. We had a fantastic crew, cast, producers, writers -- everyone was very, very tight."

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Tyler says the cast truly loved their jobs, "They went there to work so they were so, so professional about what they did. They didn't waste any time -- they knew their lines, they would come in there, they were patient and they remained that way from the first episode I was involved in, to the last. So, I think that was very unique [just in that world of] sitcoms, or any type of production, and I also think it has a lot to do with the success and longevity, because everybody truly enjoyed what they were doing and it showed."

Tyler says two Gunther moments stand out for him – the first time his character spoke a line, and the scene in the final episode where Gunther confesses his love for Rachel.

Tyler, who started as an extra, fondly remembers the first line he ever spoke on the series. "I'll remember that forever," Tyler says, "because I had gone for a year and a half of purposefully moving my lips and not saying words because I was being an extra. Suddenly I get to say one word and I say, 'Yeah' -- just to hear my own voice booming across the speakers, I felt like I had done something wrong."

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He says he'll also always remember his final scene, confessing Gunther's love for Rachel: "That's just burned into my memory because it was the resolution of a ten year obsession that my character had, and [actually], I think it was love, not obsession. Obsession sounds creepy. Gunther truly loved Rachel, although there was no chance for them to get together. And then Rachel responds and says, 'I love you too, but not in the same way.' I think, for me, that sticks in my head because the writers and producers were kind enough and it was great of them to have that resolution for my character."

Tyler, who bleached his hair white weekly while playing Gunther, says that people still recognize him, but can't place where exactly they know him from: "If I'm recognized now it's because people think that I sold them their car like a few years ago, or I went to school with them, or that I waited on their table, stuff like that."

When it comes to the Friends: The Complete Series Blu-Ray, which is available in stores now, Tyler says, "There's a lot of never-before-seen stuff here, you know? … I think the clarity of Blu-ray [makes] everything pop off the screen. … It's almost like, seeing it through my eyes, being on set, it's that clear."