Life after ‘Friends’

Having directed episodes of “Friends,” the blockbuster sitcom that made him a household name, as well as its short-lived spin-off “Joey,” David Schwimmer was eager to make his big-screen debut behind the camera with asmaller comedy, one that would allow him to hone his talents without the added expectations of a huge opening weekend.

The only problem? He couldn’t find the right script.

Then along came “Run Fatboy Run,” an improbable romantic comedy written by Michael Ian Black of MTV’s “The State.”

“I was reading a lot of scripts, and this was the best thing I came across,” he says. “I was looking at comedies, but none of them were very funny. They were broad, bigger movies, and they were very, very stupid. This one had me laughing out loud, and I was really moved by it. In the first three pages of the script, the main character abandons his pregnant bride-to-be at their wedding, and I figured there is no way you can forgive this guy. But by the end, I loved him. The writer made it work.

“To me, that was the most intriguing aspect of taking this project, the challenge of making an audience appreciate that character and seeing the humor in his situation. A big part of it was casting the right guy for the role, and that was Simon.”

Simon, of course, is Simon Pegg, the “Hot Fuzz” star whom Schwimmer, 41, befriended on the sets of Steven Spielberg’s “Band of Brothers” and “Big Nothing,” an obscure but well-received comedy about a pair of bumbling extortionists.

Pegg immediately took to the role, even helping Schwimmer to re-imagine Black’s story, which had to be relocated from New York to London at the behest of the film’s British-based distributor. From there, the project Schwimmer had been pushing for more than two years finally began to take shape.

While some actors-turned-directors might have thrust themselves into the action, assuming double duty as some sort of vanity trip, Schwimmer flatly rejected the notion. (“I just thought that would be really stupid,” he says.)

Instead, he welcomed the on-the-job directorial training that “Run Fatboy Run” provided and let his cast, including Hank Azaria and Thandie Newton, pick up the slack.

That said, Schwimmer is hardly done with acting, though he is hardly pining for his star-making role on one of America’s most beloved sitcoms.

“There is certainly a liberating feeling to be removed from my character on ‘Friends,’ because there is so much more I hope to accomplish,” he says. “But I look back on that fondly, and I’m appreciative of the opportunity.

“Will I stop acting? No, I love it. But will people stop talking to me about Ross from ‘Friends’ in the next 30 years? I don’t know. I’m interested to see how people will relate to me in relation to that character over the course of time. But I’m serious about what I’m doing now, and I’d love to be directing for the next 40 years. By then, maybe I’ll have escaped from Ross. We’ll see.”

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