As the 20th anniversary of the beloved sitcom Friends approaches, New York City is celebrating with a Central Perk pop-up store featuring none other than our favorite barista, Gunther. James Michael Tyler, who played the starstruck cafe manager, told VH1 who he thinks would be the perfect female equivalent, his favorite guest stars over the show’s run, and which character he relates to most in real life (hint: It is not who you’d expect).
Tyler admitted to having died his hair religiously for 10 years straight, and revealed that most of the cast was riding caffeine highs throughout shooting as those iconic, oversized Central Perk mugs were filled with real java. Read on for more of our chat — which was over coffee, of course.
VH1: Do you think Gunther should’ve ended up with Rachel (Jennifer Aniston)?
No. I think Gunther had this idealized version of what he thought he wanted and what love was, but I really think he probably had no experience with love. So he put Rachel up here [raises arm] like, “That’s what I want to have.” Gunther really should have had someone who loved him back.
Who would you cast as the female Gunther?
Oh my gosh, I never really thought about that before. As far as actresses I admire now, Zooey Deschanel, perhaps? But you would have to give her a crew cut and bleach her hair blonde. But just the way she comes across, I think she could play a female Gunther very, very well.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve done in real life to win someone over?
There was a girl that I really, really wanted to ask to the prom. I would call her house — maybe the first three numbers — and hang up. Finally, she answered and I couldn’t get up the nerve to say anything so I just hung up on her. I felt so guilty that I sent her a dozen roses but I didn’t sign it. She thought it came from this other guy, that she liked, and she asked him to the prom. So I got this guy his prom date. It backfired in a very spectacular fashion.
If you could have coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be?
The Dalai Lama.
Who was your favorite guest star on the show?
I specifically remember Sean Penn. It was the episode right after 9/11; he flew in from New York, I think, just to be on the show, and I always admired him as an actor but I just remember the mood on the set was of course subdued and bad. It was set in New York and fictional, but everyone had a connection. When he came on, you could tell he was affected. He was very serious, but then he played this comedic character. It was kind of comforting having him on the set, in an odd way. For me specifically it was like, “I think things are going to be OK because we’ve got Sean Penn on the set.”
Which Friends character do you identify with most in real life?
Probably Ross. I have a science background – a degree in Geology — as well as a Masters in Fine Arts and Acting. I don’t really practice it anymore but I’m kind of a science nerd. I love reading the IFLS website.
What was your favorite episode or scene to shoot?
I loved the one where Phoebe dated the guy who wore shorts all the time and tended to not wear underwear. And he would sit like this [spreads legs] a lot in the coffee shop and everyone was aware of what was going on — being quite visually inappropriate — and Gunther tells him: “Hey buddy, this is a family place. Get the mouse back in the house.” Also the episode where Gunther speaks Dutch. He literally says: “You have sex with donkeys” in Dutch, and I cannot believe that made it passed the censors.
Why do you think Gunther was such an important role throughout the whole series?
He was the character — and this is due to the writers — that often would say things that I think the audience was thinking. He would say things that [main] characters could not. He was more observant than people give him credit for. He didn’t say a lot, but he knew everything.
[Photo Credit: Warner Bros]