Why Paul Rudd & Cole Sprouse Weren’t In The Friends Reunion

The Friends reunion director explains why notable guest stars like Paul Rudd, who played Phoebe’s husband, Mike Hannigan and Cole Sprouse, who played Ross’ son, Ben, didn’t appear. After years of clamor, the Central Perk gang finale came together again for the HBO Max project. Clocking at around two hours, the special featured a string of guests, including several familiar faces like Tom Selleck and Reese Witherspoon.

It’s been 17 years since the hit sitcom went off the air in 2004, and the Friends reunion is the only second time during that period that all six actors gathered together in one room. Despite this, the show continues to be relevant thanks to its reruns on TV and the availability of streaming services. Aside from its enduring popularity throughout the years through its legion of original fans, Friends has also impressively expanded its reach with younger audiences discovering it since it has remained at the forefront of pop culture conversations.

Given this, there was a lot of excitement leading to the release of the Friends reunion officially titled Friends: The One Where They Got Back Together. The project wasn’t a proper revival as it was unscripted and the actors didn’t reprise their characters, but instead, they reminisced on their time working on the show while a slew of guests appeared. The selection is a mixed bag of actors who appeared in its original run and super fans, but interestingly, there were some notable absences such as Rudd and Sprouse. Director Ben Winston explains to The Wrap while the pair didn’t appear, saying that the coronavirus made it difficult to book guest stars.

“Well, we couldn’t have everybody on, because it’s only an hour and 45 minutes. And you’ve got to pay attention — the main nub of the show has got to be about the six cast members. So you can’t have too many cameos because of course, there were hundreds of amazing people who were in ‘Friends’ over the years. Sadly, we couldn’t get everybody in.

“You know, we did invite some people who weren’t able to make it. It’s a complicated time to be making television now because, you know, some people couldn’t fly internationally, some people were on other TV or film shoots, some people are in bubbles on stuff.

“I think during a pandemic, it’s really hard to get everybody where you want to be. And the other thing, of course, is we have no flexibility. It was one night that those six [main cast members] were available. The timing of it was incredibly difficult. So, you know, if you weren’t available on the seventh of April at 8 p.m., then, sadly, they weren’t able to be part of it. Yeah, we couldn’t get everybody in. It’s just one of those things. I hope people will think about all the great things that are in there rather than the things that aren’t.”

There are a couple of layers to Winston’s answer and while he didn’t particularly name Rudd and Sprouse, it’s safe to assume that they were among the celebrities who were invited that couldn’t make it. For what it’s worth, Rudd might be busy preparing for Marvel Studios’ Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania as his co-star Evangeline Lily. The threequel is set to begin filming in London in July. Meanwhile, Sprouse is a lead show in The CW’s Riverdale as Jughead and while there are currently no episodes releasing every week, it’s possible that he’s busy with other aspects of the show.

Arguably the most interesting part of Winston’s answer, however, was that they needed to be conscious about not overshadowing the main cast with a string of guests. The Friends reunion had a total of 18 guests  — three times more than lead actors themselves. And while a lot of them appeared in the sitcom, there are also those who weren’t personally involved in the sitcom who made a cameo. There’s an argument to be made that actors like Rudd and Sprouse should’ve been prioritized considering their personal history with Friends.

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