FRIENDS 25: The One Where We Interview Janice

As we’ve posted before, there’s currently an exciting Friends pop-up exhibit and store at 76 Wooster Street to celebrate the show’s 25th anniversary. While the pop-up is sold out, there is a waiting line and the store is open to the public.

TV and City was lucky to visit pre-opening and to have a chance to interview two iconic supporting characters: Gunther and Janice. Here’s our discussion with Maggie Wheeler, who played Janice.

TV and City: How does it feel to be here? Is this your first time seeing the exhibit?

Maggie Wheeler: It’s quite amazing here. It just feels great to walk in the door. The first thing that happens is you just burst into this big smile because the memories are all so positive and joyful. All of the details that they put together here, in every set and corner you turn; it’s a lot of fun.

TV&C: How many episodes of the show were you on?

MW: I don’t know, maybe 19, maybe twenty-something. I don’t know. Other people know these things. [Ed. Note: She was in 20.]

TV&C: It’s interesting that your character is such a well-known character even though it was episodic.

MW: It was the longest-running guest character as far as I know.

TV&C: How much of the character did you develop on your own?

MW: I developed the voice and the character. I was given the writing and to me, that was just a great start. When I first read the audition scene, it was in the first episode where Chandler and I, I bring him socks and I say, “Here, I brought you these Bullwinkle socks, its mix and match,” and I could just feel Janice in the writing. So I went in with the voice when I auditioned for the role and the writers gave me “Oh my God” and that lived on and on and on. And I added the laugh because Matthew Perry’s very very funny and very funny to work with and I was pretty certain that he would crack me up while we were filming and I should probably have a safety net, so I developed that laugh so that if and when he cracked me up I would have somewhere to go as Janice instead of as Maggie.

TV&C: Do you find that people expect you to be that character?

MW: A lot of people expect me to be that character. People are shocked when they find out that I don’t speak that way or sound like her. I think a lot of people identify so strongly with a television persona and I think that Janice was so specific and so annoying that people expect me to sound like that.

TV&C: Are you a New Yorker?

MW: Born and bred! But I’ve lived in Los Angeles for about 30 years now.

TV&C: Janice is a very iconic New York kind of character.

MW: That was the idea.

TV&C: Would you say have a memory that stands out about working with the show?

MW: It was an exceptional working experience – the stage, the crew, the writers, the cast. It was just really beyond anything I had ever experienced before that point. There was so much camaraderie, so much respect and there was so much creative room for everybody to participate and bring their best selves to the process and so it was a really, really satisfying way to make comedy.

TV&C: In the beginning, no one imagined what it was going to be – can you speak to the phenomenon?

MW: I think my first episode was either the third or fourth episode of the series so there was no indication at that time that this thing was going to take off. I mean I think everybody knew what they had. I think everybody behind the scenes was clear that they had something really valuable. They had this incredible cast, incredible chemistry, incredible writers, great creators so all the ingredients were there, but that doesn’t mean anything. You know you just never know what’s going to happen. To be there at the beginning and to watch this thing reach this meteoric rise was just amazing. It was an amazing experience to be part of that.

TV&C: How did you feel when they brought you back each time?

MW: I was in every season except for one, so for me, I always knew that the day would come and I couldn’t anticipate it, but I knew the call would come. I knew the writers would be up late one night trying to break an episode and they would say, “Maybe we need Janice” and so I knew it was coming, I just never knew quite when. It was a really wonderful thing to get the phone call and know I was going to be back.