While a few guest stars from Friends did appear in HBO Max's Friends: The Reunion, many couldn't make it, including Paul Rudd and Cole Sprouse. The reason why is nothing nefarious. Time constraints made it impossible for everyone to be squeezed into the 105-minute special, especially when all six original cast members participated. The special, which was released on Thursday, also includes appearances from several stars who did not appear on Friends, including Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber.
"Well, we couldn't have everybody on, because it's only an hour and 45 minutes. And you've got to pay attention — the main nub of the show has got to be about the six cast members," Ben Winston, who directed the special, explained to The Wrap. "So you can't have too many cameos because of course, there were hundreds of amazing people who were in Friends over the years. Sadly, we couldn't get everybody in."
Another hurdle the show faces was filming during the coronavirus pandemic. The special was already a year behind when cameras finally rolled. Not everyone could get to Los Angeles to participate in person and many others who couldn't make it didn't take part may have been busy on other projects. "You know, we did invite some people who weren't able to make it," Winson explained to The Wrap. "It's a complicated time to be making television now because, you know, some people couldn't fly internationally, some people were on other TV or film shoots, some people are in bubbles on stuff."
Winston and Jennifer Aniston also needed special permission from executives to leave the production bubbles they were still in when filming started. Winston usually works on CBS' The Late Late Show while Aniston was in the middle of filming Apple TV+'s The Morning Show. As the director explained, they only had one day where all six Friends stars were available to get it right. "The timing of it was incredibly difficult," he said. "So, you know, if you weren't available on the seventh of April at 8 p.m., then, sadly, they weren't able to be part of it. Yeah, we couldn't get everybody in. It's just one of those things. I hope people will think about all the great things that are in there rather than the things that aren't."
Years before Rudd became a major star, he appeared in 17 episodes of Friends as Mike Hannigan, who became the third husband of Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow). Cole Sprouse, who was likely too busy with Riverdale to appear in the reunion, played Ben Geller, Ross' (David Schwimmer) son. Some of the original Friends guest stars who made it to the reunion included Elliot Gould, Thomas Lennon, Tom Selleck, and Reese Witherspoon.