Aisha Tyler has said that she is still referred to as the “Black girl from Friends”.
The actor was speaking in a new interview when she reflected on her time working on the hit comedy series, and explained how she is still recognised for the role 20 years on.
Tyler joined Friends for the ninth season in 2003, playing Charlie Wheeler, who was a palaeontologist and love interest of both David Schwimmer’s character, Ross, and later, Matt LeBlanc’s character, Joey.
The series ran for 10 seasons between the period of 1994 and 2004, however, Tyler was the only Black character to be given a recurring role on the sitcom.
“It was a massive show, a global hit,” Tyler said to Entertainment Weekly, reflecting on her role. “To this day, people come up to me and go, ‘Charlie, Charlie,’ or they just go, ‘Black girl from Friends.’”
She continued, explaining how she had “seen every episode” of the show before being cast, and was “petrified” of taking on the role.
“My knees were knocking. I was shocked you couldn’t hear my teeth chattering the entire time I was on set,” she said, discussing her first-day filming,” she said.
“We walked out, and we did a curtain call […] at the end of the show. As we’re backstage, Matthew Perry just leans in and goes, ‘Get ready for your life to change’. It was a really sweet, kind thing to say to someone who’s just petrified and just trying not to pee on herself a little bit from fear.”
Friends has been on the receiving end of backlash in recent years, with new fans of the show criticising the series for its lack of diversity and number of homophobic and transphobic jokes.
Last week, Jennifer Aniston – who played Rachel in the series – spoke out about the controversy that surrounds Friends, saying that there is a “whole generation” that now finds the show “offensive”.
“There’s a whole generation of people, kids, who are now going back to episodes of Friends and find them offensive,” she said. “There were things that were never intentional and others… well, we should have thought it through, but I don’t think there was a sensitivity like there is now.”
When The Sunday Times asked Kudrow, who played Phoebe in the show, how Friends would be different it was made today, she replied: “Oh, it’d be completely different. Well, it would not be an all-white cast, for sure. I’m not sure what else, but, to me, it should be looked at as a time capsule, not for what they did wrong.”
Two decades after her role as Charlie, Tyler is now set to star in Apple TV+’s series The Last Thing He Told Me. The series also stars Jennifer Garner and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, and follows the plot of a woman who tries to uncover her husband’s secrets after he goes missing. The series will launch later this month (April 14).