David Schwimmer returns to Northwestern roots to discuss career

Actor David Schwimmer (Communication ‘88) and Communication Prof. Anna Shapiro interact with the crowd Monday afternoon in the Josephine Louis Theater. Schwimmer came to campus to share stories about his work and experiences with primarily theatre and Radio-TV-Film students.

Melody Song/Daily Senior Staffer

Actor David Schwimmer (Communication ‘88) and Communication Prof. Anna Shapiro interact with the crowd Monday afternoon in the Josephine Louis Theater. Schwimmer came to campus to share stories about his work and experiences with primarily theatre and Radio-TV-Film students.

Paulina Firozi, Development Editor

David Schwimmer (Communication ’88) spoke to Northwestern students Monday about his journey from a theater major to his multifaceted career of acting, directing and producing on stage and the screen.

Anna Shapiro, a professor and director of the School of Communication’s MFA directing program, proctored the talk, which attracted more than 200 people to Josephine Louis Theater. Shapiro began by questioning Schwimmer’s parents’ initial skepticism about him becoming an actor. Shapiro suggested this was something the audience, mostly consisting of Communication students, could connect with, garnering laughs and cheers.

“I’m the son of two lawyers, and education was a big part of growing up,” Schwimmer said. “But I think it was a different generation. My parents really thought that was the only avenue to getting a professional job.”

Although many of the audience members may have remembered Schwimmer as Ross Geller from “Friends,” the television series that ended its 10th season nine years ago, the name of the show was only mentioned once in the first hour of his talk.

The tone of the evening was set when Shapiro recalled wanting to convince Schwimmer to do a play, “Purple Heart” by Bruce Norris, with her during a time she said he was transitioning “out of your TV life and back to your life.”

“The character we wanted you to play was essentially a stranger,” Shapiro said to her longtime friend. “And you were like, ‘If I could be a stranger, that would be fantastic … I’m not sure I can be a stranger yet.'”

Schwimmer explained that trying to rid himself of the celebrity status that came with “Friends” is something with which he still grapples. He said he is not yet at a place in his life where he can feel completely “anonymous.”

“I’ve never let it stop my determination to try to be, to try to live a normal life,” Schwimmer said. “If I’m not cast in a certain role because of the baggage of the, I guess the one big role on ‘Friends’ … that’s my loss, but I also think it’s their loss. I can’t live my life waiting for that.”

Schwimmer talked about how his passion for the stage and producing began while at NU. He began the Chicago-based Lookingglass Theatre Company with other friends from NU and discussed the experience that sparked the idea. As a senior at NU, he directed an adaptation of “Alice in Wonderland.” When the University wouldn’t give him a space on campus to direct in, he said he rented one out in Jones Residential College and used his bar mitzvah money to fund his off-campus production.

Schwimmer and his friends later traveled to the Edinburgh Fesitval in Scotland to showcase the piece on behalf of NU after the dean offered to match their $5,000 fundraising efforts for the $10,000 trip.

“We had this amazing experience which not only bonded us as a group but also taught us that with enough chutzpah and determination we can produce, and we could do it the way we wanted to,” he said.

Communication sophomore Jamie Lee Cortese said notable alumni such as Schwimmer played an important role in her decision to attend NU.

“I always love hearing alumni’s reflections about their time here and their memories, and I love hearing their advice,” she said. “It makes me feel like maybe I’ll be a little more informed when I go out into the scary real world.”

Communication freshman Priyanka Thakrar said “Friends” was “probably my favorite show growing up” and added she would not have missed a chance to see Schwimmer speak.

“He’s a known figure, but I also wanted to hear about his other life and to see how he bridged the two and the struggles and triumphs that he had with both of them,” Thakrar said. “There’s so much more to him that I realized with talk that people don’t necessarily give him the chance.”

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