Friends Forever

Hollywood superstar Jennifer Aniston shares her thoughts on the highly anticipated return of Friends, as well as the secret to such longevity in an industry that rarely provides any.

For those of us who have followed Jennifer Aniston over the years, she epitomizes one of the industry’s most curious juxtapositions – an actress so often represented on screen by bubbly, buoyant, energetic and humorous antics; yet someone who, away from the flashbulbs and the premieres has found the intricacies of settling down and finding the right partner slightly more challenging. “It’s not something I ever set out to do,” she begins. “I was never that person who said I needed to have achieved certain things at certain ages. I was brought up to think about life in a much freer way than that, so the passage of time doesn’t really trouble me.

“I know for a fact that what is meant to be is meant to be, and there isn’t a person in the world who hasn’t had to go through challenges in order to get to the right place.”

Aniston is, of course, entirely correct. And it would be churlish to suggest a multimillionaire and ex-wife of Brad Pitt, surely the most desirable man in the world, hasn’t actually moved through life and experienced a huge amount of good fortune. It’s perhaps because of that good fortune the mass media see t to comment, speculate and, for a long while, obsess over both her romantic dalliances and rumored desperation to start a family. The latter is a tale that rumbles on in the life of someone who, seemingly, has everything else, including an estimated $200 million fortune.

The evidence is there — for decades the media have dogged Aniston with incessant rumors about her heartbreaks, rumored lovers, and most infuriating of all, her numerous would-be baby bumps, causing her to bite back at the 2016 Giffoni  Film Festival in Italy, where she declared: “The world is starting to realize that women are not only clothes, makeup, and selfies,”. She continued, “Sometimes we as women are our own worst enemies and that’s why we have to support each other. When I was a teenager I grew up with a great circle of friends who always supported me and were like family to me.

“As women, we should accept every aspect of ourselves and embrace ourselves for who and what we are, including our faults. That will make you strong.”

Perhaps it is the 51-year-old’s rare ability to enchant and engage an audience some 25 years after she first appeared on the scene, that keeps us hooked on an actress whose filmography perhaps doesn’t stand up to the column inches she still commands. Numerous careers have come and gone in a fraction of that quarter century, yet Aniston’s ‘girl next door’ image has carried her through generations, genres and a crossover from comedy into more serious roles.

In 2020, she remains a jewel in Hollywood’s horribly tarnished crown, and her return to the small screen in “The One Where They Got Back Together”, the hugely anticipated Friends reunion screening on HBO, feels like an appropriate coming of middle age project that, unlike many reunions, is being done for artistic endeavor and not financial recompense… although its returning stars are all being paid handsomely, of course.

A delayed release because of the Coronavirus pandemic — much to the frustration of Central Perk obsessives across the globe — the one-o is a celebration of an iconic comedy that has dated perfectly.

“I do look back on old episodes of Friends and they still have that perfect, innocent charm,” she says. “There is an perfection to those characters and the potential they have, and I’ve always thought they are so reflective of so many other groups of single people in their twenties looking to find their way in the world.

“I think the reason it doesn’t age is because all those relationship are still going on now in every town and city, and in exactly the same way. Except now, as someone a couple of decades on, I can see that the reference is just as strong to the next generation up.”

Perhaps what has changed is the rivalling of formats that now confronts those who love entertainment. For so long did film lead the way in terms of budgets and the focus of the critics, but now prevalence of small screen drama, notably on the premium channels, has created a whole new landscape.

“When we were working on Friends and when we started to appreciate the magnitude of what it was that we were doing, there was a feeling that this was probably the biggest thing traditional TV entertainment could do in terms of drama or comedy. And yet, you look at it now with premium channels, boxsets, and these big budget TV projects that are leading the way, and realize how everything changed so much. It’s like saying TV has evolved in itself, while film has just carried on doing the same thing in the same format.

She continues: “So it’s a very interesting and very exciting time, and I’m just glad I’m still involved — on both sides of the camera — because you have actors who have had their whole career in film switching across to experience something really different and really unique.”

For Aniston, who has worked so hard to carve her career beyond the bubbly beauty Rachel, there is little need to return to the fabled Friends set, and one might excuse her for wanting to protect her status as such an accomplished actress. But never one to deny her roots, the Los Angeles native remains fiercely proud of her contribution to the hit show. “I’m very grateful for what that role gave me back then — we all are; it was a gift for all of us. Sometimes Rachel seems like three lifetimes ago and it is scary to think of her as coming back,” she reveals.

“That said, I’m at a point in my life and career where I can say: who cares about my image?! In all, I’m ready to play characters that reveal the painful and ugly sides of life rather than just embodying more glamorous or attractive kinds of roles.”

Casting directors, however, may feel differently. Aniston, now in her fifties, is still as radiant and physically ƒt as she was all those years ago. Not surprisingly, her approach to wellness is as common sense as her approach to most things in life, saying, “I don’t have any formula. I love to do yoga and I feel better — I feel have more energy if I can do one 20-minute workout every day.

“I know if I exercise enough and stay active I can eat what I want and not worry about my weight or how I look. If I put on a few pounds, I just eat more fish and salads for a week and exercise four or five times as opposed to two or three.”

Such an approach to life has served Aniston well, especially considering the enormous amount of media scrutiny she has received over the years. “You learn you can’t get upset about what’s written about you. You’d go nuts if you did,” she says with a laugh.

“I’ve always had a certain amount of inner strength and confidence that gives me a level of immunity. There’s no point in becoming angry or bitter about things that go wrong in your life or what’s reported about you. You can only control what you do in your world and that’s the only reality you should think about.

I’ve also been lucky to have great friends who I can talk to if I’m ever down or worried and who are there for me.” And in that, Jennifer Aniston conƒrms what we all knew… that anything is possible with a little help from our friends.