Long before Melora Hardin became synonymous with NBC’s The Office, in which she starred as Jan Levinson, the popular actor was already a familiar face on the network’s Must-See TV lineup. Way back in 1995, Hardin appeared in the first season of Friends in the episode The One with the Stoned Guy, memorably portraying Celia (the dirty talking bug lady), a museum co-worker of Ross Geller’s (David Schwimmer) with whom he went on two dates. It was only one episode, but her appearance makes her forever a friend of Friends. However, behind the scenes she really was a friend of the Friends. “[The role] was an audition,” she explained in an exclusive interview with MediaVillage. “I've been acting professionally since I was six, and I actually knew David.
“We both grew up in Los Angeles, and although we attended different high schools, we were introduced through a mutual friend and we went on a date,” she revealed. “I think he was he was a senior in high school, and I was in the 11th grade. The date was fine, but we ultimately ended up being just friends. It was the first pilot season that he started going in and testing for things. I tested for five pilots the year that he got Friends! And it was the first pilot he tested for!”
Hardin didn’t land a single pilot that year, which left her schedule open for her role on Friends. “I went in and auditioned, and they hired me,” she said. “Afterwards, I told the producers when I was on the set, 'You know, David and I are friends.' They were so impressed that I didn't use that card in the [audition] room. However, really, would it have mattered if I did? I think it would have been fine.”
In the episode, Chandler (Matthew Perry) is dealing with a job he doesn’t want, and Monica (Courteney Cox) is trying to impress a stoned restauranteur (Jon Lovitz), while Ross is excited about an upcoming date with Celia, the Curator of Insects at the museum. What makes Hardin’s appearance so memorable is that when viewers first encounter Celia, she’s being attacked by Marcel, Ross’ mischievous pet monkey. “That was in the script,” she shared. “I’d worked with tons of animals as a kid, so I’d had lots of experience with animal actors and I wasn't fearful of that monkey. But that monkey was not the most-friendly monkey.
“Actually, I worked with Sarah Jessica Parker on a show called Equal Justice(1991) and worked with a monkey on that who bit me,” she continued. “It was a similar kind of a monkey to the one on Friends. They [can be] very wild. I also worked with a chimpanzee when I was nine or ten, which was amazing. I fell in love with him, and he with me, which apparently is kind of dangerous, according to the trainer, when they do fall for a person. But he was so sweet. I think the bigger the monkey, the more intelligent they are, whereas the other ones are just more high-strung. Yeah, getting bitten by a monkey wasn't fun.”
Thankfully, Hardin left the Friends set somewhat unscathed, but the role also called for some serious acting chops as Celia had a proclivity to hearing dirty talk when getting intimate. That meant her co-star Schwimmer had to deliver. She laughed when she recalled doing those scenes with her friend. “You know, I'm a professional actor. He's a professional actor. It’s what we do,” she said. The on-screen couple never did consummate the relationship, after being too tired from all the dirty talk.
For many of the show’s guest stars, appearing on Friends is a career highlight when it comes their own kids, many of whom have helped cement the show's place in pop-culture history. But for Hardin’s family, that highlight is The Office. “My daughters do watch Friends, and they were like, 'Oh, my God!'" she laughed. "People mention it sometimes, but not very much. When they do it’s like, 'I can't believe that you were on Friends.'I love that!”
Even though her appearance was some 27 years ago, Hardin is still happy to call most of the Friends cast friends. “I'm still friends with David,” she revealed. “We've all known each other since we were in our 20s, you know. Matthew Perry and I did 17 Again together. Courteney and I had our kids in preschool together. Jennifer and I have a mutual friend, so we see each other sometimes. I bumped into her last year and it was so nice to see her.
"I last saw Lisa Kudrow around the time that The Office was doing its second or third season, but I haven't seen her since,” she added in closing. “The one I haven't seen in a super, super long time is Matt LeBlanc. I don't think I've seen him since we did that episode.”
All ten seasons of Friends are available to stream on HBO Max.
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