AE: So, you didn’t actually originate the role of Carol on Friends, right? I know Anita Barone did one episode on Friends as Carol — the second episode of the first season, where Ross finds out Carol is pregnant.
JS: What happened was that I had initially auditioned for one of the main parts on Friends, and they wanted to cast me. I asked my agents if they had told the producers yet that I was pregnant, because that was one of the things I had said initially — that I wasn’t going to go in unless you tell them I’m pregnant. And they said, "Oh, we thought it would be better if you just go."
And I said, "That’s not ethical." So they did tell them, and of course the producer said, "Thank you for telling us, and you’re right, it won’t work out. But we’ll keep you in mind for something else."
And I loved them. I loved going in and working with them and had the best time. That kind of laughter that happens after an audition where tears are rolling down their faces … I just had so much fun with them. They’re just so inspired.
Anyway, I told my agent to tell them that if they want, I’d be happy to play the pregnant lesbian — that that would be a really great alternative for me. But they said no, that still won’t work out for the schedule. So I said, “Keep me in mind,” and they said they would.
I came home from the hospital, the day after my son was born. A phone call came in and the producers said, "Can you help us? We really need you take over this part … and you’d have to start tomorrow." And I had just got home. I could hardly walk!
And they said, "We promise, we’ll make it easy for you. It’ll be great. You can bring your nanny," and I’m like, "I’ve got my mom." They said, "We’ll give you a dressing room," and I said, "I don’t need that. I just have to think about this for a minute. …" And they said, "We promise, it’s just two episodes max, and we’ll make it super simple for you."
So, I said OK. And I figured that being a pregnant character, I certainly didn’t have to worry about my body — I could be big and tired. And anyway, long story short, 10 years later … that’s how I got the lovely opportunity to play that wonderful character.
AE: When they told you it was going to be two episodes, was that their intent for the entire arc of the character?
JS: That’s a really good question. No one’s ever asked me that before, and I don’t think I ever asked them.
Perhaps. … When you’re doing a show and you’re brand new, you have no idea if you’re going to get picked up past six episodes. I think their initial order was six. I don’t think they had a full-season order at that point, despite the fact that they were gangbusters right out of the gate. You know how networks are. At that time they were pretty slow to commit to a full-season order.
AE: One thing I remember vividly was the two-parter from the sixth season, "The One That Could Have Been," where it was like an alternative reality — what would have happened if things had gone differently. One section was the threesome that Ross and Carol, then still married, had set up with Susan. Watching it, I remember thinking, "Wow, they’re really being physical." You and Jessica were touching each other a lot.
JS: Yup, and we were on our way into the bedroom. So, the implications were still there, but we let it exist in the minds of the viewer. …
We did what we could for an 8 o’clock show. They pushed the envelope on that on many fronts. I remember a scene between Ross and Rachel where there was a premature ejaculation joke, and at that stage in their life, it wasn’t appropriate for my kids to watch!
The producers never wanted it to be an 8 o’clock show. They always wanted to be a 9 o’clock show, but they said, "If you want us to be an 8 o’clock show, we don’t want to dilute our jokes at all." And the network said, "That’s fine."
AE: The kiss for the wedding — that was glaringly absent, though; it was a hole.
JS: I agree, I absolutely agree. I can’t tell you want happened. We were in and out of it really quickly. We had Candace Gingrich’s wonderful speech as the officiating minister. …
AE: And then they had the comic relief with Phoebe, who was being inhabited by the spirit of a dead woman, saying, "A lesbian wedding — now I’ve seen everything," and leaving her body. Instead of the kiss.
JS: And how lovely and simple that could have been. That’s the big "and only if …" We tried to telegraph it with our eyes. Did you see it?
JS: One of the good things about Susan and Carol was that we were never the butt of the jokes. It was always the dumb way people responded to them that they drew the comedy from.
It was such a pleasure, and I feel so intensely blessed and fortunate that I was given the part. I got so much joy. I loved every minute of it. … We were hoping to make the Susan and Carol series —
JS: Yes, there was a writer in New York pitching the idea, but they weren’t up for it. They had just tried the Joey spin-off. …
AE: What are you up to now?
JS: I’m not working on any acting things now. I’m concentrating on my writing. When I was at UCLA I wrote plays, and when I came out of there, I produced a play with some friends that we wrote. I eventually got so busy and it wasn’t so easy to continue to do that and have a career in acting. But I continued to write. I so love writing short stories, and I’m working on books for teenagers to inspire them to live more bravely, truthfully and heartfully.
One of the things I’ve been doing for years is facilitating circles for women, in the way that Starhawk might do, but in a way that’s trans-denominational. Women getting together and sharing wisdom. Empowering young women, ladies and older women to find their voices, to find out who they really are. And I do that with kids as well.
AE: Are you wanting to continue your acting career? How hard will it be to do that from Hawaii?
JS: I would love to continue my acting career, and my manager is so 100 percent behind this move. John Kirby has been my manager for 13 years. He’s like my mom. He says: "You gotta live your dreams. Whatever it takes to make yourself happy, I’m here for you."
And, so, when things come up and seem appropriate, I’ll make every effort to come back [to Los Angeles]. There are ways to do this. Because of the internet, and because of YouTube, and because of all the technology we have right now. And we have our own cameras. If I need to send a tape rather than be in a room, I can do that.
AE: Are you still in touch with Jessica Hecht, Susan to your Carol on Friends?
JS: We were for years, but she lives in New York, and I’m rarely there. …
I love her. She’s really just the dreamiest person anyone could ever hope to be married to. She’s just lovely. It made it so easy to be in love with her.