Get this, David Schwimmer hit on me! And, unless you’ve been living on Mars for the past few months, you’ll know that the Friends star is the unlikeliest sex symbol to hit our screens since Woody Allen.
While Matthew Perry briefly caught the attention of pretty woman Julia Roberts, and Matt Le Blanc is undeniably the most scrumptious of the three male friends, it’s Schwimmer – fever that’s infected most Friends viewers.
The world, it appears, is quite turned on by Schwimmer’s TV character, Ross – the sensitive ’90s guy who’s geeky, gawky and a hapless paleontologist at that. But while Ross has an apologetic posture, David is a shoulders-back kind of guy, exuding confidence. “I’m much more aggressive and driven than Ross,” he observes. “I know exactly what I want.”
Schwimmer (29) hasn’t always been this cocksure. Once upon a time he was a geek who stood helplessly by while the other guys got the girl, and worried about what the future held in store for him.
Which brings us to his latest movie The Pallbearer, a black comedy in which he plays a college graduate who can’t find a job or a girlfriend. Out of the blue he’s asked to be a pallbearer at a former schoolmate’s funeral. The problem is he has no idea who the guy was, but doesn’t have the heart to tell the grieving mother (Barbara Hershey). She in turn seduces him in The Graduate-style, but Schwimmer’s heart is set on his high school crush (Gwyneth Paltrow) with whom he’s just been reunited. Got it?
“My heart went out to the character,” says David. “I immediately identified with him. There was a time, when I was about 17 and just going off to college, when my life was very similar to his. I felt that need to break away from the nest, strike out on my and, you know, become a ‘man.’ Yet, at the same time, there was the tension of being financially depenedent on my parents.”
And that wasn’t easy. David and his sister have to undergo a lengthy negotiation process to get pocket money from their parents – prominent Hollywood attorney’s!
Leaning back in his chair, David gazes out to sea as he discusses the success that’s transformed his life. It feels “like winning the lottery professionally,” but has been a curse on his personal life.
“As a struggling actor I dreamed about success, but I never realized the price I’d have to pay.”
David’s conversations have been bugged, crazed fans have flung their babies and girlfriends at him to kiss and cameras were focused on the interior of his Hollywood Hills home until he erected a high wall to keep prying lenses out.
“I feel like I’m being hunted down. I really don’t court stuff and I don’t know how to cope with it. I just know that it scares me,” he says.
He’s tempted to save what he can before his five-year contract with Friends terminates, and then “toss in the towel and devote his time to directing his theater company, the true passion of his life.
Schwimmer co-founded the Lookingglass Theatre Company in 1988 with some fellow graduates from Chicago’s Northwestern University. The 17 members, who’ve already put on 50 plays, are currently realising one of David’s greatest dreams. During a break from filming Friends he’s directing them in a film, Dogwater.
“I’m working with them in the same way we’d develop a play with that rehearsal process, only we’re going to shoot it and not stage it,” he explains. The romantic comedy is about a 10-year high school reunion and before you ask – yes, David did attend his own. “The greatest part was seeing my first love again,” he smiles.
David’s classmates at the swank Beverly Hills High (of 90210 TV fame) were the offspring of the rich and famous. Lunch breaks were spent comparing nose jobs, and it was the norm for kids to receive BMW’s for their 16th birthdays.
Schwimmer did not fit into this plastic picture. He was a “chubby, shy kid” who grew a moustache at the age of 13. His parents wouldn’t let him shave it so he stole his sister’s hair removal cream. Like an idiot he left it on too long and had to skulk around school with an extremely visible burn mark on his upper lip.
As if that weren’t humiliating enough, his mother also “forced” him to wear braces “with one of those headgear things like a harness for a horse” to school. You don’t understand how many fights with tears and screaming I had about that! he winces.
Schwimmer describes his Pallbearer character, Tom, as feeling “like the world is a tuxedo and I’m just a brown suit.” Unsurprisingly, that’s exactly how dorky David felt most of his life. “I don’t feel that way any more – I’ve tried on the tuxedo but I kind of like the brown suit better,” he grins. “I’m no longer enamored with the whole Hollywood mystique. I think it’s actually fairly shallow.”
He concedes there is one constructive spine-off of fame: “I think actors are in it, in some small part, to be remembered. You hope you’ll leave behind a body of work and that someone will remember something about you when you’re gone.”
So what will we remember about David? That he’s a nice Jewish guy, rather serious behind that comedic facade, and that he’s susceptible to crushes in Friends, The Pallbearer… and real life.
Schwimmer could run a course on crushes. At 12 he developed his first, on a piano teacher, which then shifted to a classmate who didn’t know he existed and them, of course, he feel for Jennifer Aniston when he began Friends.
“I’m a method actor,” he explains unconvincingly, pointing out he studied at the Lee Strasberg Academy, “so I had a small crush on Jen’s character, Rachel, but we had an agreement that none of us would cross the friend’s boundary.”
Meeting Schwimmer in the flesh, you can see why Gwyneth Paltrow declares him “one of the sexiest guys around.” And as Brad Pitt’s girlfriend she’s an authority on that subject. Fortunately David was more geek than sleek back at school or he might never have become and actor. He enrolled in a drama course “only because there were more girls in rehearsal than at baseball practice” and it was his only means of capturing their attention.
Nowadays, basking in the success of Friends and Pallbearer, David’s confidence with the opposite sex registers pretty high on the Richter scale.
That doesn’t make finding Ms Right any easier though. David’s two-and-a-half years relationship with legal clerk Sarah Trimble ended a few months ago. She couldn’t handle being hounded by the press, and his tough Friends schedule (of up to 18 hours a day) meant they seldom saw each other.
“It’s only now that I’m starting to go on dates and stuff and it’s very, very strange. It’s hard to find somebody who you can really talk to, and the reality is that I have absolutely no time for a relationship right now, so it’s very frustrating. I’ve had to just say, OK, it’s not going to happen at this time in my life.”
His next three years are already mapped out due to his Friends‘ contract – but David’s not complaining. “I feel a little trapped but I weighed all the pros and cons before I signed – remember, I’m the son of two lawyers!” he jokes. There’ll be more movies in the future “and at least 40 years trying to prove I can do more than Ross,” though he’ll never succumb to a “shoot ’em up action thing” unless it’s character-driven, like The Fugitive.
The role he ultimately wants to play is that of a father. “I’ve always wanted a family because I think that’s why we’re here – to have children, raise them well and try to improve the quality of life for the people who will follow. I guess I’m an old-fashioned guy.”
Later that night I’m strolling down the driveway of the five-star Majestic Hotel when a flock of blonde bimbos descend upon me. I side-step to let them sweep past when one grabs me by the shoulder. “Hey!” it grins. Oh my nerves. It’s not blonde. It’s not bimbo. It’s not even female. It’s David Schwimmer and he’s asking me on a date. Well, sort of. Pleadingly, he asks me to join him at the party on the Majestic Beach, which I’ve just left. “Maybe later,” I respond nonchalantly, and then sprint inside the hotel directly to the foyer mirror to check if I look OK.
Half an hour later I stroll into the party and David rushes up, gallantly plants a kiss on my lips and thanks me for coming to “rescue” him. He’s dismissed the bimbos (who were forced upon him).
He’s missing his friends and family and confesses that being among all these people who treat him like public property makes him feel terribly alienated. And then he hits on me in the way a lonely person seeking companionship does… but I swore to keep that rather tantalizing conversation confidential, so I have to keep my promise. After all, that’s what “friends” are for.
PERSONALITY January 24 1997