RUNNING THE SHOW
David Schwimmer has stepped out of the spotlight to direct Run, Fat Boy, Run, which stars his pal Simon Pegg. He tells Leigh Singer about filming in London, his childhood and the chances of a Friends reunion.
September 3-9 2007
David Schwimmer walks into the room and for a split second you expect to hear studio audience applause greet his arrival or see Chandler, Rachel or one of the Friends gang follow him in. It’s more than three years since the sitcom phenomenon finished but near constant global syndication means that for millions of viewers, Schwimmer will forever be uber-nerd Ross Geller.
The fact that Schwimmer, a boyish 40, still looks and sounds exactly like his small screen alter ego doesn’t help. But though he’s prepared, though not exactly – and understandably – enthusiastic about reliving the Friends decade, work-wise Schwimmer’s been striving to put daylight between them, most recently making his feature directorial debut, the comedy Run Fat Boy, Run.
The London-set film stars Simon Pegg as a chubby – more paunch than full-on Monica / Friends fat suit - loser who jilted his pregnant fiancée at the altar and ten years later, tries to win her back by running his first marathon and marks the third time, after World War II miniseries Band of Brothers and last year’s comedy-thriller Big Nothing, that Pegg and Schwimmer have teamed up.
“We discovered on Big Nothing that we just worked together really well in the world of comedy,” Schwimmer reveals. “The reason you see so many people try to work with the same people over and over is that once you find a kind of spark – especially in comedy – or an ease, you tend to want to keep doing it. It’s really hard to find someone with whom you have that kind of connection and timing.”
Pegg isn’t just the star, he’s the co-writer of Fat Boy, an amiable, fleet-footed Friday- night-kind-of-fun crowd-pleaser, a move that Schwimmer was instrumental in initiating. The project, to which Schwimmer had been attached for many years, was originally set in New York and when it finally ended up in UK financing hands, the “central perk” as it were for Schwimmer – making his first film in his home city – seemed to have scarpered.
“I’d been yanked around for two years,” he remembers, “and then it was, ‘we’re going to make the movie in London now.’ ‘OK, have fun.’ It was hard for me to see it, so I was one foot out the door until the idea of Simon came up. “
Between the pair of them, they’ve fashioned effectively a multi-cultural comedy that feels very at home in the nation’s capital - much like Schwimmer himself, who’s recently been based in the UK at length, shooting Big Nothing and appearing on the West End stage in caustic relationship portmanteau Some Girl(s).
“I had spent so much time here just exploring and I had a real love for many of the sights of the city, the architecture,” Schwimmer enthuses. “I love the Millennium Bridge, Brick Lane, Columbia Road Flower Market, Hampstead Heath. Basically we put on film all my favourite places.”
One famous sight that makes no appearance in the film is Schwimmer’s own well-known face. “I never intended to act in it.,” he states unapologetically. “I directed, like, a dozen episodes of Friends and just found it really annoying when I had to put on make-up, change costume and go act. Here I didn’t want to divide my attention in any way. I’m still a director who’s very much learning.”
Since Schwimmer himself brings up the F-word, it seems an opportune moment to engage further. Given that he arrived in a baseball cap pulled down nearly to his nose, is the Friends fall out still overwhelming?
“It’s not what it was in the kind of crazy, first flush of Friends, but it’s still not practical for me to walk about without a cap,” he admits, “which is nice that it’s still in people’s memory - or maybe it’s nice that I haven’t aged that much.” The wry laugh that follows is pure Ross Geller.
So is it a stigma? Schwimmer shrugs nonchalantly. “At one point I was more concerned that people didn’t think of me just as Ross, I want them to see me as an actor who’s capable of anything. I don’t really think about it so much any more.”
“Maybe it’s just a question of growing older or more comfortable in my skin but I see a very long career for me as a director and an actor in theatre, film and television. And whatever happens, happens, in a way.”
It’s a laidback response perhaps typical of the Californian upbringing Schwimmer enjoyed. Yet although he attended the infamous Beverly Hills High (former alumni including Nicolas Cage and Angelina Jolie), young David, whose parents were lawyers not actors, didn’t run in the “Hollywood kids” circles.
“I was rather oblivious to it,” he laughs. “My parents were pretty insistent on my sister and I getting good grades. Even though I was in the theatre programme there, it was kind of removed from the entertainment industry; it was all about learning how to act for the stage.”
It’s another glimpse into the earnest Schwimmer’s other priorities. He stills runs a not-for-profit theatre company in Chicago and has been on the board of directors for the Rape Foundation for many years: in other words, a genuine good guy.
“When you say that, it’s almost embarrassing,” he says. “The fact is, it’s just how I was raised. I feel like I’ve been really blessed and if I can give back in some way, whether it’s time, money, education, then I feel kind of obligated in a way.”
Does that include Friends fans desperate for a reunion? Given the kind of motivation that seem to inspire Schwimmer, one hardly needs to put the question to know the answer.
“I kind of feel, let’s not mess with that,” he says diplomatically. “The whole Friends experience was the best job I’ve ever had, life changing in every way and a wonderful, wonderful memory now. I mean, the only reason would be either nostalgia or money and those are not the reasons to do it.”
Run, Fat Boy, Run opens on September 7th.