It’s the love story at the heart of Friends. No, not Ross and Rachel. Not Monica or Chandler either. We’re talking, of course, about Rachel and Gunther.
The Central Perk barista, played by James Michael Tyler, harboured an unrequited crush on Jennifer Aniston’s character for almost the sitcom’s entire run – but speaking to RadioTimes.com, Tyler admitted that he was initially “a little concerned” by Gunther’s behaviour.
Originally hired as an extra on the show, Tyler’s role gradually evolved into that of a supporting cast member. “I never had a direct conversation with the creators or writers about who Gunther was,” he explains. “They just gave me some dialogue and I’d have to create a character out of that.
“I initially went in with the thought that Gunther was just no-nonsense. He’s a New York barista, he has these six people who come in every day, they sit on the couch every single day, he has to see them every day, he has very little patience for them or anyone else.”
Gunther – FriendsNBC
When the character’s secret love for Rachel was eventually established – in season three’s ‘The One With the Race Car Bed’ – Tyler decided to rethink the character and play him as “an innocent”, explaining, “I was a little concerned that Gunther might have been kind of crossing the line, a little threatening, so I pulled it back…
“I saw the character as someone who was completely inexperienced in the ways of love, physical love especially. Gunther did not know how to communicate with people… he was socially inept. He was learning how to be adept, socially, but he was never allowed into that group of friends that he so longed to be a part of. He tried many times, but he was just ineffective… and also, [the characters] weren’t that accepting of anyone outside of their group. They were very tight knit.”
Gunther’s one-sided infatuation did eventually get a rather sweet pay-off in Friends’ final episode, with the character finally telling Rachel how he really felt as she prepared to leave New York for Paris. “I was quite honoured that the writers thought to include that, because they did have a lot of storylines they had to tie up, a lot of loose threads,” Tyler said.
Previously, Tyler wasn’t certain if he’d appear in the finale at all, since he only found ever out if he was in a new episode of Friends when a script was sent to his home. “There were many weeks that went by where I’d be waiting for a script to ‘plop’ down and I never heard the sound, which meant that Gunther’s line didn’t make it into the final episode,” he explains. “So I was very happy to hear the plop of that final script!
“I was very grateful to the writers and creators for giving some closure to Gunther’s character and to that long, long-running unrequited love.”
It never worked out for Gunther and Rachel, though perhaps he should’ve been directing his attentions towards Lisa Kudrow’s Phoebe, who called Gunther “sexy, in an obvious way”? “They would’ve made an interesting pair!” Tyler says. “It might’ve worked – both very quirky.
“Or maybe even Gunther and [Chandler’s ex-girlfriend] Janice! That could’ve been very interesting, I think. There’s something about that dynamic that I think would’ve worked, because Gunther’s so reserved and she’s quite extreme!”
Friends airs on Comedy Central. Fan event FriendsFest will also be coming to London with a festive revamp from 28th November to 21st December.