Jennifer Aniston is equally capable in roles both serious and silly and these days she’s certainly more known as a movie star than a TV star (though she also currently stars in Apple TV’s The Morning Show). However, there was a time when she was playing Rachel Green on Friends and she wasn’t sure what she was capable of doing or if she was capable of playing a different type of character. Aniston recently revealed it was landing a breakthrough movie role that really refocused her efforts and helped her to “prove” herself as an actress in Hollywood.
Back in 2002, Jennifer Aniston starred in The Good Girl opposite Jake Gyllenhaal. The role came as Friends was growing a little long in the tooth – the series ultimately wrapped in 2004. Speaking during a THR roundtable, Aniston recalled the absolute frustration of having played her TV role for so long and everything from the character's haircut to her mannerisms seemingly defining herself in Hollywood. She noted:
Oh my god, you just exhaust yourself. I could not get Rachel Green off of my back for the life of me. I could not escape and I was just Rachel from Friends, Rachel from Friends. And it’s on all the time! And you’re just like, ‘Stop playing this fucking show.’ And also getting older, there is such a freedom in the work because you just stop giving a crap after a certain amount of time. It was The Good Girl that was the first time I got to just sort of really shed whatever this little Rachel character was. To be able to disappear into someone who was walking in those shoes was such a relief to me.
In The Good Girl, Jennifer Aniston plays a character in a small town who is in an unhappy marriage when she embarks on an affair with a much younger married man. While romance is a part of the movie’s darkly comedic bent, Miguel Arteta’s film shares very little commonality with NBC’s Friends, though that didn’t stop reviewers at the time from mentioning Rachel Green. Take Armond White’s New York Times interview for example:
It's Ms. Aniston who surprises in The Good Girl. In some ways she may feel as trapped as Justine by playing Rachel Green, the poor little rich daddy's girl of television's Friends.
While it’s a positive review as a whole, it also confirms what Jennifer Aniston was dealing with in the critical sphere at the time and it's not the only review to mention breaking away from the Friends mold. Prior to wrapping on The Good Girl, she says she even went so far as to cast doubt on herself, noting that she had for a while convinced herself that people were right when they believed she’d typecasted herself.
I just remember the panic that set over me thinking, ‘Oh god, I don’t know if I can do this? I don’t know.’ Maybe they’re all right, maybe everyone else is seeing something I’m not seeing which is you are only that girl in the New York apartment with the purple walls. You know? So I was almost doing it for myself to just see if I can do something other than that. And it was terrifying.
Speaking on a panel that also included the likes of Zendaya and Reese Witherspoon, the actress recalled how she had to “prove to herself” that she had range beyond one specific role on network TV. It's a topic that is a common one in Hollywood and is an idea or concern some of the actresses on the panel have spoken out about before. Interestingly, this is something some of her other Friends co-stars have struggled with as they’ve worked to break new ground and find new footing since the sitcom ended, to varying levels of success. And it's not like Jennifer Aniston is totally anti-Friends despite her passion here; she still has fun with the fanbase from time to time, but it sounds like there was a period where she needed to figure out how to forge a new path.
Ultimately, like some of the other actresses on the panel, including her co-star Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston has enjoyed a long and varied career in Hollywood. Recently, she's taken on TV gigs like The Morning Show; she's also starred in comedies for Netflix like Murder Mystery (which is getting a sequel) and she played a complicated mother in the poignant coming-of-age movie Dumplin. All of those are a far cry from her role in Friends, but it took a gig like The Good Girl to help her break out of her comfort zone and realize she could do it.