David Schwimmer originally turned down Will Smith's role in Men in Black

It turns out he's a really good friend

Jacob Stolworthy
Tuesday 23 August 2016 09:52 BST

Friends actor David Schwimmer may be best remembered as one-fifth of TV's best-loved ensembles, but this success has never truly translated to the big screen.

This isn't down to lack of offers, however; Schwimmer was originally offered the role of Agent J in Men In Black (1997) - the one that ultimately went to Will Smith.

Together with Independence Day (1996), these two sci-fi films launched Smith's career to stratospheric heights. He most recently headed up the cast of DC supervillain mashup Suicide Squad.

Only now has Schwimmer shed light on what propelled him to turn down the role - and it's a simple case of loyalty.

 Oh, what could have been

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter's Awards Chatter podcast (he's Emmy-nominated for his role of Robert Kardashian in The People v OJ Simpson), Den of Geek reports how he revealed it was ultimately bad timing that led to his decision.

He explained:

The deal with that was: so I had shot The Pallbearer [a romantic comedy co-starring Gwyneth Paltrow]  for Miramax, and they had very high hopes for it. And while we were shooting it, they wanted to lock me into a three-picture deal. And as we all know now the movie did not do well. I did not end up doing that three-picture deal with Miramax. But at the time I had a little leverage.And I had always wanted to direct. So I had said, “okay, look; I’ll sign for a three-picture deal if you let me direct my first film, and cast my entire theatre company in Chicago” [which was comprised of his old friends].

So, that was my goal... to bring everyone up with me, to give everyone a shot. And I did it. We negotiated a deal. We did it. And the next year it was set to go into production in Chicago. And it was called Dog Water - now it’s called Since You’ve Been Gone. But I shot my first film and the entire theatre company is in it. And some crazy cameos, like John Stewart, Liev Schreiber.

I told everyone in the theatre company, “you’re all cast, here are your roles, don’t take any other jobs for this six-week period.” So everyone turned down all these opportunities. These teaching jobs. Other plays. You know, everyone was banking on doing this first film with me. 

So... about a month before production, I get the call about Men In Black. Which was a direct conflict with directing that film; I just said, “I can’t. These are my closest friends in the world, this is their first shot at a movie, my first shot at directing. I can’t push [the film back] because I’ve gotta go back to work on Friends in the fall.” That’s what ended up happening.

While he may have turned down the opportunity to become a film star away from Friends - something successfully achieved by co-stars Jennifer Aniston and Courtney Cox - he's certainly cemented his nice guy status.

It turns out he will be there for you if the rain starts to fall.

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