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Gunther from 'Friends' talks spinoffs, reunions, classic scenes

Friends remains one of the most popular comedies around the world, even though its eight years since we bid farewell to Ross, Rachel, Phoebe, Monica, Chandler and Joey. Repeats on Comedy Central, worn-out VHS, bundles of DVDs - we've consumed the iconic sitcom in every format there is. So when we discovered that the show was coming out on Blu-ray with yet more exclusive bonus content and features, we couldn't wait to get our hands on it. To celebrate the release, James Michael Tyler, the man behind bumbling oddball barista Gunther, got on the phone to spill the beans about his time at Central Perk. Do you still bleach your hair bright blonde? Or is that just for Friends and special occasions? "Ha. It's just for the odd occasion. I have my natural kind of light brown colour now." What have you been up to since finishing Friends? "I'm continuing to act and do other roles and things like that. I recently finished a web series called Keeping up with the Downs and there's three episodes that we've shot so far. The producers and creators are now trying to shop it to some networks. "There's another one that's in pre-production called Modern Music Biz. My character is a music agent in that so perhaps I'm going from barista to music agent." It was only meant to be a tiny part in Friends as a background actor. Why did the producers decide to make Gunther into a bigger character? "I'm not sure why they made that decision actually, but I'm very grateful that they did. Like you said, yes, Gunther was just a coffee guy for about a year and a half and I think they just had him there for throwaway lines. "Then for whatever reason the writers and creators decided to develop the obsession that Gunther had with Rachel. They maintained that story arc for ten years and that could have easily just been a two-episode storyline. But I'm very happy that they did that and I think that it made a good foil for Ross and Rachel because in the middle of the relationship there was the pivotal episode where Gunther tells on Ross for having an affair... a tryst in the coffee shop. "It was really a fun character to play. I'm actually - in retrospect - glad Gunther was a man of few words, I think that worked a lot better. "He was very kind of mysterious and odd, and I just tried to make him even more odd. He didn't say much but when he did say something it was usually very funny." You actually had the biggest role in the show outside of the central cast... "You know, I didn't really realise that until a friend of mine told me. I think it's like 130 episodes I'm in. Of course, that was spread out over ten years of time. "However if you put all of Gunther's dialogue and put it back to back it might be one page of dialogue!" Do you think Gunther would have stood a better chance of romance with Monica or Phoebe? "Well, I don't think Monica. I actually think Gunther was terrified by Monica. However, Phoebe seemed to hold some sort of flame for Gunther. She would always say things like, 'Oh, there's Gunther but he's sexy in a much more obvious way' and things like that. So she seemed to kind of fancy Gunther a bit." Friends always felt like a tight knit group. Do you still have much contact with them now? Maybe the odd text to Jennifer Aniston? "I don't really text with them or anything, but I appeared on Matt Le Blanc's new show, which actually films in the UK. I had a cameo playing myself. Have you seen Episodes?" Yes! "Well, of course you know it's kind of set up as a skewering of the entire Hollywood system and celebrity. They filmed that in London, so I got to work with Matt this past January. So I went to the UK and it was actually the first time I'd seen him, other than just in passing here in Los Angeles, in about eight years. Speaking on Matt Le Blanc - he had a spin-off with Joey. Do you think one for Gunther could have worked? "You know what, I've been asked that before and I think Gunther probably could have had some interesting room for exploration because he was a mysterious character, no-one knew anything about him for ten years. "The Gunther Show. It could have been a sitcom. It could have been a thriller. I don't know." I think it would have been a hybrid of both! "Yeah that would be good, kind of like a Dexter." We recently heard that Friends could have ended with Rachel and Ross going their separate ways. Obviously Gunther would have preferred this, but which ending would you have preferred? "I think it ended perfectly honestly. I think it was a very organic way that the writers chose to wrap things up. It was natural. It was kind of the way things would happen in real life, so I'm glad they didn't leave things open ended." What good reason could you think of for producers to revisit Friends? "Honestly, I can't think of any good reason for it because I think it was so well encapsulated. I think it had a perfect beginning and a perfect end, so as a series arc, I don't think it could have been improved upon at all. "I don't know about revisiting it because the people and their characters would be in their 40s now and that's not really sitcom-y, that would be kind of trashy don't you think? And as for a movie? No, I don't think it would work." What made Friends so popular and so timeless? "That's really a fascinating question. There's a new generation of fans now, which is surprising and really kind of cool. People still walk up to me and say, 'Oh my gosh, you were Gunther on Friends. I watched that show with my mum when I was like 5'. "There are adults now telling me these things. And then they're like, 'My daughter who is 7, we watch it together'. So these people now have children and are making them watch the show. "The new Blu-ray box set is coming out and hopefully that will introduce the show to another new generation of fans. Just seeing it in this format is brilliant because it's so much more detailed, it looks fresh and it looks like it's right now and of this time." What can we expect on the new Blu-ray set? "There is absolutely tonnes of new stuff. There's three hours of new features that they've shot and in fact I appeared in some of them. They interviewed me and shot it in high definition. I think one of the coolest things with this new set is, there was an episode called 'The One Where Rachel Tells Ross' and that was shot I believe in around 2001. And there is a recut episode of that particular episode. "It was done by Kevin Bright, who was an editor and executive producer and one of the creators of the show. Fans will be able to see a never before seen version of that episode, because we had it cut for reasons which were... again I'll leave that mysterious. I think there's a commentary by Kevin Bright preceding that episode." What was your favourite scene to film? "There were so many, but there was an episode called 'The One with Two Parties' and it was where Monica's having really a boring party and Joey and Chandler were having a really fun party next door. Gunther's just miserable at the other party until Phoebe rescues him and takes him next door. So Gunther being really morose as a character and kind of down and not really very active and kind of withdrawn. "I just revel when Monica catches Gunther dancing and going crazy and going mad at the other party. I love that one and the audience reaction when we shot that live, it was I think the first time that I was like, 'Oh wow, people do like this character'. It was just such an odd thing to see Gunther out of his shell. I enjoyed that. "Also the one with the cat, where Gunther finds Rachel's cat and thinks it's a snake."
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