There are Friends of Bill, Friends of Dorothy and Friends - from which David Schwimmer will probably never entirely escape, although he's doing his best: Run Fat Boy Run, the actor's big-screen directorial debut, is in theaters, with Simon Pegg (Hot Fuzz) playing a working-class London shlub trying to win back the woman he left pregnant at the altar (Thandie Newton).
Did you know Fat Boy's screenwriter, Michael Ian Black, from Chicago?
No, but I was a fan of his from a show called The State. He's a really funny guy and a good actor, but I never really met him till I read his script, which was about three years ago. It was originally set in New York, and, through a series of events, it was sold to a company in London, and their mission is to make films in London, because they have these great tax breaks.
So you're directing your first big film, and suddenly you're directing it in London?
Yeah, suddenly I'm directing a British comedy. I had a lot of reservations, because I had just spent so much time living in London. I had done four months on the West End and shot a movie with Simon Pegg, a little independent called Big Nothing, but the idea came to me to have Simon play the lead. He's such a lovely guy, and I thought, if he's up for it, it's worth spending another year of my life in London, because I knew it would be a blast. And it was.
Pegg has something of a cult following, doesn't he?
He does, thanks to Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. In the U.K., he's one of three to five hot guys right now. When we opened the movie over there, it was No. 1 for a month. It's just a question of how long till the States catch up to him. I know he's doing Star Trek for J.J. Abrams, and that will put him on the map for larger audiences.
Did he help you put the New York story into a London context?
Definitely. We talked a lot about it. We didn't want to just Anglicize it. The script is 90 percent the same as what Michael had written, but we tweaked some of the characters and relationships.
It's kind of refreshing that in a mixed-race story, race is never mentioned. That your contribution?
It was my kind of hidden agenda to cast the movie in a way that was more representative of the London I saw. I'm surprised how few British comedies have a mixed-race cast. So that was part of my plan, just to show more of the London I knew. I like that it's never a big issue - it's a romantic comedy, so it's not an issue movie.
You've written for the stage. You writing now?
Yeah, I'm working on a screenplay with a writer friend of mine, a script that's basically about Internet predators.
A comedy, of course ...
It will not be a comedy. It's a musical! No, it's something I've been researching for the last several years, which sort of comes out of my work with the Rape Foundation. So I'm working on that, as well as reading a bunch of scripts to see what might be another directing project.
Does that mean you're moving away from acting?
Oh, no, I'm acting, too. I'm playing Kate Beckinsale's husband in a new movie [Nothing but the Truth], and I'm always looking for juicy little acting bits.
Before we go, I have to ask the Friends question. Can you ever escape it? Do you want to escape it?
It's inescapable. And it's definitely the thing people best know us all for. But we're all really proud of the show. I think it's just a matter of time before people can accept you as someone else.
John Anderson wrote this article for Newsday.