When Julia Roberts Guest Starred on ‘Friends,’ She Was the “Biggest Star In the World”—But Was Totally Riddled with Nerves, Director Says

“That was just anxiety, you know, stage fright in real life.”

Julia Roberts
(Image credit: Getty Images)

By 1996, Julia Roberts was one of the biggest movie stars in the world. This was, after all, post-Pretty Woman, so, when Roberts guest starred on NBC’s sitcom Friends, she was anything but an unknown actress—but regardless, the show’s director recalled that Roberts was nervous and embodied “stage fright in real life,” according to Entertainment Weekly.

Julia Roberts and Matthew Perry on "Friends"

Roberts was already a major movie star when she starred in a two-episode run on "Friends" alongside Perry in 1996.

(Image credit: Alamy)

In all fairness, television is a different medium than film, and just as Roberts was a hit movie star, Friends was a bona fide hit television show two years after its 1994 premiere. Director Michael Lembeck said Roberts, whom he called “the biggest star in the world at the moment,” was “squeezing his hand a little too tight when they filmed,” according to Entertainment Weekly. (Roberts starred in the two-part Friends episode “The One After the Super Bowl,” for reference.)

It was the live studio audience that made Roberts a bit apprehensive, Lembeck said in a new interview with the Los Angeles Times: “What’s interesting with Julia is she hadn’t been onstage since she was 15 years old, and she replaced [another actor] on Broadway in Agnes of God,” Lembeck said. “The night of the shoot, we held hands and we were just watching the process, and I thought, ‘I am going to get gangrene if she squeezes my right hand any tighter.’ That was just anxiety, you know, stage fright in real life. As good as she was during the week, she hasn’t performed.” 

Julia Roberts

Roberts at the premiere of "Michael Collins" in 1996, the same year she appeared on "Friends."

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Not surprisingly, “Roberts ended up killing it as Susie, a childhood classmate of Matthew Perry’s Chandler [Bing, his character on the show] whom he once embarrassed by pulling up her skirt in front of the entire school,” Entertainment Weekly writes. “The grownup Susie agrees to a date with Chandler, and then tricks everyone’s favorite cynic into taking off his clothes and putting on her underwear in a restaurant bathroom. Susie finally gets her sweet revenge by stealing all his clothes and leaving him stranded.”

Lembeck said Roberts’ nerves wore off once she got rolling, and that the live audience actually helped Roberts push through any anxiety. “So we’ve been rehearsing all week, and Julia and Matthew are enjoying time off the set as well as on the set, and they get onto the couch for their first scene, and she’s green,” Lembeck said. “[John] Travolta’s dad had this expression: ‘It’s like paint coming off of a rubber band.’ So if you paint the rubber band and just stretch it, the paint starts to chip off. That’s what you saw with Julia.” 

Julia Roberts

Though initially nervous, once Roberts got into it, she did a fantastic job, the show's director said in a new interview.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Julia Roberts at her Chopard Collection launch

Roberts, seen here much more recently than 1996, was the opposite of a diva on set.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

He added “She was doing the scene, and she got her first and a second laugh. And Matthew flubs a line, and the audience loves it. You can see her whole posture change, and you see this bubble come up over her head: ‘Oh, yeah, I know this. I remember how to do this.’ And then she just became a beast in her subsequent scenes.”

Proving how relatable Roberts really is, Lembeck also told the publication that Roberts didn’t display any movie star behavior while on the set of the show, which, in addition to Perry, also starred Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, and David Schwimmer. “The first time I saw her, I walked by Julia,” Lembeck said. “I didn’t know it was her. [She had] stringy hair; maybe just woke up with no makeup, taller than expected—but what a doll. She laughed during the week harder than anybody. She had so much fun.”

Rachel Burchfield
Senior Celebrity and Royals Editor

Rachel Burchfield is a writer, editor, and podcaster whose primary interests are fashion and beauty, society and culture, and, most especially, the British Royal Family and other royal families around the world. She serves as Marie Claire’s Senior Celebrity and Royals Editor and has also contributed to publications like Allure, Cosmopolitan, Elle, Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, InStyle, People, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and W, among others. Before taking on her current role with Marie Claire, Rachel served as its Weekend Editor and later Royals Editor. She is the cohost of Podcast Royal, a show that was named a top five royal podcast by The New York Times. A voracious reader and lover of books, Rachel also hosts I’d Rather Be Reading, which spotlights the best current nonfiction books hitting the market and interviews the authors of them. Rachel frequently appears as a media commentator, and she or her work has appeared on outlets like NBC’s Today Show, ABC’s Good Morning America, CNN, and more.