Friends director wanted to recast 'not funny' Helen Baxendale

Friends director reveals it was a struggle to work with ‘not funny’ Helen Baxendale but he had no time to recast her: ‘David Schwimmer had no one to bounce off!’

Helen Baxendale has been branded ‘nice but not funny’ by the legendary US television director who shot her in Friends.

James Burrows, who has directed more than 1,000 episodes of sitcoms, including Cheers and Will & Grace, revealed that it was a struggle to work with Helen because the other actors couldn’t feed off any comedic energy. 

As a result the attempted comedy ‘was like clapping with one hand’, said the director, who noted that David Schwimmer – who played Ross Gellar – had ‘no one to bounce off.’

Helen joined the show in series four, playing Ross’ English girlfriend and then fiancée Emily Waltham in 14 episodes of the sitcom.

Their relationship was short lived, with the romance imploding after Ross said his ex Rachel Green’s [Jennifer Aniston] name instead of hers at the alter.

Ouch: Helen Baxendale has been branded ‘nice but not funny’ by the legendary US television director who shot her in Friends (pictured in 2021) 

Cute couple: Helen joined the show in series four, playing Ross’ [David Schwimmer] English girlfriend and then fiancée Emily Waltham in 14 episodes of the sitcom

James reflected on working with Helen when he directed the episode, The One with All the Rugby, where Ross plays the sport with her British friends for the first time.

‘She was nice but not particularly funny,’ he recalled in his new memoir, Directed by James Burrows. ‘Schwimmer had no one to bounce off. It was like clapping with one hand.

‘In sitcoms and any type of romantic comedy, the funny is just as important as the chemistry. We discovered that any new girlfriend for Ross needed to be as funny as Rachel.

‘Often, you can’t recast, because of tight shooting deadlines or other logistical considerations. You don’t cast anyone to be a straw man, unless it’s for one episode.

‘You need someone who gets laughs. Sometimes you start an arc and it ain’t working out, so you have to get rid of that person. If it’s a day player, it’s a quick goodbye.

‘The reverse is also true. If there’s chemistry, the writers go to work to figure out some way of keeping the actor.’

Speaking about her experience on Friends previously, Cold Feet star Helen said of the cast: ‘They were all very nice and professional. We were never great mates though.

‘People expect because it is called Friends that everyone was great friends, but they were real professionals. They’d been doing it for years and I was one of many guest stars to appear.

‘I am very proud and delighted to have been in such an amazingly successful and international show.’

‘It’s always a talking point and it was a very clever set up – even now young people especially seem to love it.

‘But it doesn’t feel like part of my life at all now. I look upon it as a strange surreal little blip in my life almost like a dream.’

Speaking out: Director James Burrows revealed it was a struggle to work with Helen because the other actors couldn’t feed off any comedic energy (pictured with Jennifer Aniston) 

Helen was written out of the sitcom earlier than the producers had intended because she and her partner, film director, producer and writer David L. Williams, were expecting their first child.

She told The Daily Mail in 2012 that she has no regrets about leaving the show, noting: ‘I had a little glimpse of what fame holds, and I decided it held a load of nothing. It contained nothing that mattered.

‘Some people can deal with that well; it sits on their shoulders fine. But it wasn’t for me.’

‘Friends was great fun, but I was just there so they could make some funny jokes about England. And I was also expecting, and you have to be thin out in America.’ 

She said of her newfound fame: ‘You couldn’t walk down the street to buy a pint of milk. In fact, you couldn’t go anywhere. It was impossible to mix with the crowd, and do what ordinary people do.

‘I saw it as a gilded prison. It was something I wasn’t prepared for. But it was quickly forgotten. I don’t get the same attention now.

‘Fame just didn’t fit in with my life. I don’t know how much would have come from staying in the States anyway. I didn’t want to live in America, when all my circumstances were leading me back to Britain. I don’t regret it for a minute.

‘To me there are many aspects of being ambitious. Yes there is your career, but there are also many other ambitions. There is this perception that TV is glamorous and it is the pinnacle of your existence — I don’t think it is.’

Helen last hit the headlines in 2021 when The Mail On Sunday revealed she had left four sisters ‘high and dry’ when she offered an extra £200,000 for a £1.7million, eight-bedroom home, only to then ‘stop replying’, meaning the sale fell through. 

The actress even wrote a personal note to say she loved the eight-bedroom Queen Anne home, and how much her three children would enjoy living there.

The siblings expressed their frustration and anger about the couple’s behaviour after they were left ‘high and dry’, and forced to accept a ‘significantly lower’ offer after putting it back up for sale.

Iconic: Rachel also worked on Cold Feet with Hermione Norris, Fay Ripley, Robert Bathurst,  John Thomson and James Nesbitt

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