Fat chance

David Sch­wim­mer has par­layed that ex­tra­or­di­nary suc­cess of Friends into a steady ca­reer in films, theatre and television. He tells Don­ald Clarke about go­ing be­hind the cam­era to di­rect Si­mon Pegg in a Bri­tish com­edy

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Fim -

AVID Sch­wim­mer, the lugubri­ous, faintly equine ac­tor and di­rec­tor, is only very slightly late for his in­ter­view. Less bum­bling than Ross Geller, the un­likely palaeon­tol­o­gist he played for a decade on Friends, but ev­ery bit as ver­bally hes­i­tant, Sch­wim­mer launches into an un­nec­es­sary ex­pla­na­tion.

“I am sorry we weren’t quite on time. We had to lose this pa­parazzo,” he says. “I have all th­ese ma­noeu­vres that I use. Like here, we went into this cof­fee shop nearby and the car waited at the front for me. Then I snuck out the back en­trance and ran here.”

Re­ally? I’ve al­ways quite liked Sch­wim­mer – peo­ple tend to for­get that he was meant to be a bit of a schmuck on Friends – but I wouldn’t have thought that he was still of in­ter­est to the snap­pers. Un­like, say, Jen­nifer Anis­ton, Sch­wim­mer has had a fairly un­event­ful private life. He has, to my knowl­edge, never been seen snort­ing co­caine off Jor­dan’s midriff. Why would they bother?

“I don’t un­der­stand it my­self. I don’t think I’m re­ally all that in­ter­est­ing. But it still hap­pens. I don’t let it af­fect my life too much, though. I still think I can live a nor­mal life.”

Si­mon Pegg, the star of Run, Fat Boy, Run, Sch­wim­mer’s sec­ond film as di­rec­tor, has de­scribed how, while shoot­ing the ro­man­tic com­edy in in­ner-city Lon­don, the poor man could barely buy a sand­wich with­out be­ing bat­tered black-and-blue by au­to­graph hunters. Still, de­spite the has­sle, he has man­aged to put to­gether quite a funny lit­tle film.

Run, Fat Boy, Run, which fol­lows a layabout as he trains for a marathon to im­press his es­tranged girl­friend, has a very pe­cu­liar his­tory in­deed. Orig­i­nally writ­ten with a New York set­ting in mind, the script, fol­low­ing ac­qui­si­tion by a Bri­tish com­pany, has been con­vinc­ingly trans­formed into a very English piece of work. Pegg, the writer and star of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, was in charge of the re­write and, sure enough, it has his comic fin­ger­prints all over it.

“We orig­i­nally had some­body like Philip Sey­mour Hoff­man or Jack Black in mind,” Sch­wim­mer says. “Then it was bought by a stu­dio here in Bri­tain and I kind of lost in­ter­est. But I had worked with Si­mon on a film called Big Noth­ing and I felt that, as he is also a great writer, he might be ideal for it.”

Pegg is cer­tainly very funny in the film, but, as fans of Shaun of the Dead will at­test, he is far from be­ing the world’s fat­test man. It seems odd that, af­ter ditch­ing the idea of chas­ing a rounder man such as Jack Black, they didn’t jet­ti­son the ti­tle as well.

“We cer­tainly dis­cussed it,” Sch­wim-

Dmer says. “Af­ter Big Noth­ing, Si­mon got into im­pec­ca­ble shape. He had done all this train­ing and when I next saw him I barely recog­nised him. We thought about chang­ing the ti­tle, but, ev­ery time some­body asked me what I was work­ing on, I’d say Run, Fat Boy, Run and they’d im­me­di­ately laugh. So we thought we’d keep it. It’s not re­ally about be­ing fat, any­way. It’s about psy­cho­log­i­cal and phys­i­cal lazi­ness.” It’s a sort of metaphor­i­cal fat­ness. “Yeah, that’s a good way of putting it.”

Raised in Los An­ge­les by well-off par­ents, David Sch­wim­mer, now 40, stud­ied drama at North­west­ern Univer­sity in Chicago and, af­ter grad­u­a­tion, helped set up the Look­ing­glass Theatre Com­pany in the city. In 1994, by which time he had only man­aged a few mi­nor roles on television, the of­fer came to ap­pear in the pilot episode of some show about six shiny New York bud­dies. Did he have any inkling that Friends was set to be­come an era-defin­ing phe­nom­e­non?

“Oh, none of us had any idea. It is never any­thing any­one can pre­dict. You spend at least a year try­ing to get on a pilot and, even if you get one, you know the odds of that be­com­ing a se­ries are about five per cent. Then if it does get com­mis­sioned the chances of it get­ting past 12 episodes are tiny. So, yeah, we were ex­cited, but we all ex­pected to be back wait­ing ta­bles in a few weeks.”

As things worked out, the six ac­tors be­came, for a while, the most highly paid television per­form­ers in the medium’s his­tory. Over the last 13 years, Sch­wim­mer must have mused on the rea­sons for the show’s galaxy-de­vour­ing suc­cess.

“It did re­flect a new sense of fam­ily,” he of­fers. “Kids were grow­ing up and leav­ing home for col­lege ear­lier and their friends were tak­ing the place of fam­ily. Sud­denly, it seemed that your friends were the peo­ple you went to for coun­sel and the show got that quite well.”

De­spite the in­con­ve­nient dives into cof­fee shops, Sch­wim­mer ad­mits that the ben­e­fits of star­dom greatly out­weigh the de­mer­its. The promi­nence he achieved on Friends en­abled him to se­cure a role in Band of Brothers, a spell in Lon­don’s West End and, lest we for­get, an amus­ing re­cur­ring role in the fourth se­ries of the great Curb Your En­thu­si­asm. Still, there must be times when he longs to walk down the street un­mo­lested.

“There are days when I think, what if I just checked out? What if I grew a beard and went off to live some­where re­mote? I have of­ten won­dered about the free­dom that would bring. But, you know, the fact is that I love what we do in this busi­ness and there’s noth­ing else I can do.” Run, Fat Boy, Run opens to­day and is re­viewed on page 13

Run, Fat Boy, Run star­ring Si­mon Pegg (right)

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