By Kevin Palmer @RealKevinPalmer
He will forever be associated with the iconic television character that transformed his life from the mundane to the extraordinary, yet fame has never sat comfortably on David Schwimmer’s shoulders.
At the age of 53, the actor who made Ross Geller everyone’s favourite dinosaur nerd in Friends could quite happily sit back on a mountainous fortune generated by his role in one of the biggest hits in television history, but his appetite for more has never dimmed.
Despite his worldwide fame, Schwimmer has managed to maintain a level of privacy in his life that ensures the outside world knows little about his personal life and he would not have it any other way.
Despite the nature of his chosen profession, Schwimmer appears to be a reluctant celebrity, as he confirmed as he spoke to FemaleFirst on the London film set where he was working on his new Sky One comedy-drama, Intelligence.
“Quite quickly after our show started to get a lot of attention, I had to learn how to be invisible when I go out and it is not that hard to ensure you cannot get spotted,” states Schwimmer, who seems almost a little nervous as he gives a rare interview.
“You can hide under a baseball cap and not be seen. Getting used to the attention was not easy to start with, but the show was very popular everywhere, so thankfully it is generally just a lot of love coming my way when people come up to me in the street.
“You just have to get used to people recognising you, but as long as people are kind, then I have never had any problem with it. I guess it is all part of this job.”
Schwimmer has not been short of offers to work in film, television and theatre since Ross took his last sip of coffee at Central Perk 16 years ago, yet his reluctance to work in front of the camera has contributed to his relative anonymity compared to his Friends comrades Jennifer Aniston, Matt Le Blanc, Courtney Cox, Lisa Kudrow and Matthew Perry.
Yet now he is back in the brilliant new Sky One comedy Intelligence, playing the role of arrogant American Jerry, who finds himself offering some alternative views inside Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, the hub for all national security operations in the UK.
It may seem like an improbable setting for a comedy-drama, but as Schwimmer has clearly been enchanted by a character that had been written specifically for him by his friend and Intelligence creator, Nick Mohammed.
“When you have been in a show that was as big as the one I was in, it’s always tough to find something that appeals, but I love what Nick has done here and that is why I jumped at the chance to work with him,” he says.
“I love British comedy and always have done and I have wanted to work with Nick for some time as he has a wonderful gift for dialogue and he has a lot of voices in his head when he is writing.
“There is a wonderful pace and snap about this script that kept me engaged on a number of levels. The whit is great, a lot of well-drawn characters and some really physical comedy that adds to the show.
“Some of the jokes in the original script were a little close to the mark. Nick and I were not sure whether we would get away with them, but our approach was let’s film it and we will work out whether we can use it or not at a later date.
“We are quite keen to use the edgy material, but how soon is too soon for a joke? As an example, my character thinks he predicted 9/11 and that no-one listened to him and we create humour out of that.
“What seems funny to me might not be to someone else, but that is always the fine line we have to work with. I think we have a pretty good barometer to what is acceptable.
“It’s a fine line trying to make racism or misogyny funny, but we are doing it through a character who the audience can clearly see has got problems. You laugh at him rather than what he is saying.”
Mohamed admits the premise of setting a comedy at Government Communications Headquarters is a little quirky, but he is convinced it is a concept that plays into the humour that shines through from the first scene.
"It is a strange place to work because they could have been working on a catastrophic terrorist attack during the day and yet that evening, Elaine from the office has her leaving do so all go down to the pub for a pint," he said.
"It's a very abnormal set of circumstances and that was the idea behind the comedy. We are not making light of what these people do, but the idea that they have an office choir and people audition for it on the same day when they are trying to find out whether ISIS are planning a terror attack is a wonderful setting for comedy."
The success of Friends helped to open the door for television actors to make as much money and enjoy as much fame as movie stars, with Schwimmer suggesting that trend is now gathering in momentum with streaming services becoming so popular.
“As the film industry becomes more and more about these huge movies, smaller independent films are falling by the wayside,” he continues.
“Television now offers us so many more outlets that allow us to consume our entertainment now. It is completely changing how we define a movie star.
“Ten years ago, a movie star was something very specific, but I wonder what our definition of a movie is going to be in five years time.
“When I started 25 years ago, attitudes were very different, for sure. Television actors were very different to movie stars, but I guess our show helped to change some of that and it has certainly gone to a whole new level now with Netflix and the other streaming platforms.”
All episodes of Intelligence are available to watch on Sky One on February 21st.