Phoebe Buffay, played by Lisa Kudrow, is one of the most iconic characters on the hit 90s sitcom Friends. As a quirky, eccentric masseuse and musician, Phoebe provided some of the show’s funniest and most memorable moments over the course of 10 seasons. But did you know that Lisa Kudrow almost didn’t get the part of Phoebe? It’s true – a couple of other actresses actually turned down the role before it eventually went to Kudrow.
Who were the actresses originally considered for Phoebe?
When Friends creators Marta Kauffman and David Crane were first developing the show in the early 90s, they had a few actresses in mind for each of the main roles. For Phoebe, they initially considered the following actresses:
- Jane Lynch – The comedic actress was on the shortlist for Phoebe, but she ultimately turned it down. Lynch later said she didn’t feel confident she could play the “ditsy and fleet” character of Phoebe at the time.
- Megan Mullally – The Will & Grace star was also strongly considered for Phoebe but she decided to pursue other projects instead.
- Patricia Heaton – The future star of Everybody Loves Raymond auditioned for Phoebe but wasn’t selected in the end.
So Lynch, Mullally and Heaton were all in the running early on but they each declined or didn’t get the part, leaving the role wide open.
Why did Jane Lynch turn down the role of Phoebe?
Glee actress Jane Lynch was one of the first choices to play Phoebe on Friends. But even early in her career, Lynch seemed to know her own acting strengths and limitations. Here’s why she decided to pass on the opportunity to star as Phoebe:
- Didn’t feel she could play “ditsy” – Lynch has said she didn’t feel capable at the time of portraying Phoebe’s flighty, oddball personality. Those quirky character traits came naturally to Lisa Kudrow but were outside Lynch’s comfort zone.
- Wanted to focus on other projects – Lynch’s career was just taking off in the 90s with roles in shows like The X Files, Two and a Half Men and more. She chose to pursue other opportunities rather than commit to a full-time sitcom role.
- Didn’t think Friends would be a hit – At the time, Lynch had no way of knowing Friends would become one of the most successful sitcoms ever. So she opted for roles that likely offered more money and flexibility.
For those reasons, Jane Lynch decided the role of Phoebe Buffay wasn’t the right fit for her. In retrospect, she seems to have made the right call focusing on projects more tailored to her skills and interests.
Why did Megan Mullally turn down the role of Phoebe?
Will & Grace actress Megan Mullally was another leading contender for the role of Phoebe in the early casting stages. But she also eventually declined the opportunity. Some reasons Megan likely passed on Friends include:
- Wanted more edgy roles – Mullally has said she was mostly being offered “sweet” roles like Phoebe at the time. But she wanted to take on more risque and wild parts instead.
- Didn’t want to be tied down – Like Lynch, Mullally probably wanted the freedom at that stage of her career to pursue many different projects rather than sign a 6-season sitcom contract.
- Didn’t spark with the role – Mullally has commented that she just didn’t feel the right “spark” or chemistry when she read for Phoebe. The role just wasn’t a great fit for her.
So the producers kept looking until they found the perfect Phoebe in Lisa Kudrow. Mullally made the choice that was right for her career at the time by passing on Friends.
When and why did Lisa Kudrow get cast as Phoebe?
After Lynch, Mullally and Heaton turned down the role of Phoebe, the show’s creators were still trying to find the right actress. They needed someone who could bring the right quirky charm to the good-hearted but oddball character. Here’s how Lisa Kudrow finally landed the career-defining role:
- Impressed creators in auditions – When she read for Phoebe, Kudrow clicked with the character’s offbeat nature and made the producers laugh.
- Had chemistry with the cast – In callbacks with the other five actors, it was clear Kudrow meshed well comedically with the group.
- Understood the role deeply – Kudrow just seemed to intuitively grasp who Phoebe was, allowing her to fully inhabit the role.
- Wasn’t widely known – Unlike Lynch and Mullally, Kudrow didn’t have a big name yet, making her more suitable for a new sitcom.
Kudrow said she read the Phoebe character as someone trying to “make sense of the confusion” of life through quirkiness. That interpretation fit perfectly with what the show needed, landing Kudrow the part just days before the pilot began shooting.
How did Lisa Kudrow feel about playing Phoebe?
While Lynch and Mullally didn’t see Phoebe as the right role for them, Lisa Kudrow embraced the opportunity from the beginning. Here’s how Kudrow felt about taking on the character that would define her career:
- Identified with Phoebe’s spirit – Kudrow said she completely identified with Phoebe’s tendency to be spacey and oddball.
- Loved Phoebe’s blunt honesty – The actress appreciated the character’s inability to self-censor or sugarcoat anything.
- Enjoyed the humor – Kudrow has commented that Phoebe’s eccentric perspective opened doors for some great comedic moments on the show.
- Trusted the writers – Kudrow knew early on that the show’s creators had a strong vision for Phoebe’s story arcs.
Overall, Kudrow seems to have felt almost an instant connection to the role of Phoebe. Her trust in the show’s writers and producers gave her confidence to fully commit to Phoebe’s quirks and eccentricities.
How did the role of Phoebe change Lisa Kudrow’s career?
Prior to being cast on Friends, Lisa Kudrow was still a relative unknown. But playing the beloved role of Phoebe Buffay throughout the 1990s and beyond had a major impact on Kudrow’s subsequent success and fame as an actress. Some key ways the part changed her career include:
- Brought widespread popularity – Kudrow went from obscurity to being instantly recognizable thanks to Friends’ huge audience.
- Provided financial security – The long-running sitcom made Kudrow financially comfortable enough to be selective in future roles.
- Opened doors in TV/film – Kudrow was able to leverage her Phoebe fame to land coveted parts in shows like The Comeback and movies including Analyze This.
- Gave her awards recognition – Kudrow won a 1998 Emmy and multiple ensemble SAG Awards for playing the beloved Phoebe.
Kudrow acknowledges that Phoebe completely changed the trajectory of her career. Though she feared being typecast, the role gave her both financial security and acting credibility in Hollywood.
Did playing Phoebe limit Kudrow’s future roles?
While the fame of playing Phoebe was enormously helpful for Lisa Kudrow’s career, some have wondered if the iconic role limited the future parts offered to her. It seems Kudrow herself was cautious about this:
- Avoided trying to replicate Phoebe – She intentionally pursued very different film/TV roles after Friends to escape Phoebe comparisons.
- Wanted range as an actress – Kudrow was eager to demonstrate her acting range in roles like The Opposite of Sex and The Comeback.
- Received quirky role offers – She was offered quite a few “kooky” parts on the heels of Phoebe’s popularity.
- Relished dramatic opportunities – Films like Wonderland and Lucky Numbers allowed Kudrow to flex her dramatic muscles.
Overall, while Phoebe certainly defined Kudrow strongly in the public eye, the actress seems to have dodged being creatively typecast. By demonstrating her range, she managed to build a varied career in the years after Friends.
How does Lisa Kudrow feel about Phoebe now?
Two decades after Friends ended, what are Lisa Kudrow’s sentiments now looking back on playing the iconic Phoebe Buffay? Here’s what the actress has said recently about the role:
- Grateful for the opportunity – Kudrow expresses gratitude for how Phoebe positively impacted her career.
- Still doesn’t love watching herself – She finds it uncomfortable seeing herself on screen as any character.
- Understands Phoebe’s appeal – With hindsight, she recognizes why viewers loved Phoebe’s quirky humor.
- Values close Friends cast bonds – Kudrow treasured forming lifelong bonds with her coworkers/friends on the show.
Kudrow also notes how playing Phoebe taught her to be braver and less self-conscious as a performer. Overall, she speaks with enormous appreciation and affection about getting to embody such a uniquely endearing character.
Would Friends have worked with a different actress as Phoebe?
It’s impossible to imagine anyone but Lisa Kudrow as Phoebe now. But could Jane Lynch, Megan Mullally or another actress have been successful in the role? Here’s some analysis of whether recasting Phoebe could have worked:
- Much would depend on chemistry – Another actress like Lynch may have lacked the perfect comedic chemistry Kudrow displayed with the others.
- Phoebe’s essence might change – Mullally or another performer may have delivered Phoebe’s lines in a less oddball, eccentric way.
- The show’s dynamic could suffer – Phoebe served as the quirky, offbeat counterpoint to the other five friends.
- It could alter later plotlines – Phoebe’s surrogacy storyline may not have worked as well with a different actress.
While other actresses certainly could have played Phoebe competently, Kudrow just embodied the role so uniquely from the start. Recasting would have risked fundamentally changing the show’s character dynamics that made it work so well.
Phoebe Buffay was nearly played by Jane Lynch or Megan Mullally early on but both actresses decided to pass on the role in Friends’ development stage. When Lisa Kudrow auditioned, she showed an immediate understanding and affinity for playing Phoebe that told producers they had found the right actress at last. Kudrow’s version of Phoebe perfectly complemented the other five friends. It became the type of television role an actor dreams of – one that aligns perfectly with their talents and simultaneously launches their career into stardom. While we can never know for certain how another actress may have interpreted Phoebe, we should be grateful Kudrow brought such hilarious and heartfelt life to the beloved character.