Maggie Wheeler Revisits Janice And Hilarious Moments On The Friends Set - Exclusive Interview

Dare we say — "Oh. My. God!" Maggie Wheeler, aka Janice Hosenstein from "Friends," has become an iconic television personality in the sitcom industry, despite guest starring in only 19 episodes of the 10-season series. Just to gauge how popular "Friends" really was — and is — the last episode alone garnered 52.5 million viewers, earning it a spot in the top five most-watched series finales to date (per the New York Times). Wheeler is recognized for her impeccable comedic timing and hilarious antagonization of Matthew Perry's Chandler Bing, and we couldn't have been more excited to sit down with her to revisit the character that pretty much coined a nasal laugh during her time on the show.

During our exclusive interview, The List spoke with Wheeler at The "Friends" Experience, located at the television show's stomping grounds — New York City — to discuss her new partnership with International Delight, funny Janice moments on set, and the cast members she still keeps in touch with today. The voiceover artist even spilled the tea (or coffee) on what was actually in those Central Perk cups.

It's all about the coffee

Let's talk about coffee. With your new collaboration with International Delight, the "Friends"-themed creamer, I would love to know — do you remember how much coffee you guys actually drank on set? Was it a lot?

You got to work, and you've got hours of work to get through, so it's not always coffee in the cup. Sometimes it's not coffee in the cup, and every once in a while, it is. We were not plied with coffee from morning till night. We would've been worth nothing.

Can you tell me more about the International Delight "Friends"-themed creamer? How would you recommend using it?

This creamer, this "Friends" Manhattan Hazelnut Mocha creamer, is new. It's been on the shelves for a few weeks now, and it's limited edition. It'll only be out for a little while. It's fantastic — it tastes so delicious. It's hazelnut; it's mocha. It reminds me of being back at my favorite coffee shop, so I'm excited to use that. It's brand new, so everyone's trying it for the first time, and it's delicious. It also comes in a zero-sugar variety, so it's out there for people to purchase. 

The bottle's really beautiful [and] reminiscent of the show. It's got the "Friends" on it, and it's this beautiful lavender color like the girls' apartment, so if you look at that, it's like it's entering into the little world of "Friends" through the bottle. This is a fun time to be here to celebrate that and help send it out to the world.

How Janice's laugh was born

What would you say is your go-to coffee routine right now?

I drink iced decaf mostly, and I have this fantastic "Friends" coffee maker at my house that was given to us as a gift when we were on the show. My husband makes the coffee and I drink it, and this creamer is delicious, so I can't wait to have some at home.

Do you know what was in those Central Perk cups? Was it actually coffee? Was it something else?

In that first episode that I did with Chandler where he brings me the huge coffee and says, "Do you want another one?" before I've even had a chance to drink it ... I feel like there was cappuccino in that cup. That's my memory, but it was a long time ago, so I don't know.

I'm going to switch gears here and talk about "Friends" in general. You said in an interview that Matthew Perry innately made you laugh, and that's why you created the iconic Janice laugh. Was there automatic chemistry between you two?

Yes. It was just as good from the beginning when we shot that first scene, which was the mix-and-match moose and squirrel sock scene. I was sure I was nervous. It was my first time on the show, and I wanted to do a good job.

But when I sat down there with Matthew and he was so brilliant — all of his timing, his physical comedy, that he was tossing back one espresso after another — I felt like I was being entertained. I was so happy to be sitting opposite him on that couch. Obviously, the chemistry worked because they kept writing me in and bringing me back.

Working with Matthew Perry and bizarre fan encounters

Do you remember a particular moment or scene where you guys couldn't stop laughing or had trouble getting through it?

We had a couple of those, actually. One of the ones that I think of often was the hyperventilation scene where I was breathing in and out of the paper bag. We had rehearsed that scene many, many times, and each time when [Matthew Perry] grabbed the bag to stop me, he would just grab it. He would grab [it] forcefully, but it just deflated.

The night that we were shooting the show, the adrenaline was running, and he grabbed the bag and it made this huge sound, and it surprised me and it surprised him. I had to hide in the bag so that you can't see me trying to fight the laughter ... There's this great moment where I'm looking at him and I can see his face almost crack up. We had a lot of moments like that.

That is so funny. I specifically remember that scene. Have you had any bizarre or standout encounters with fans when they will ask you to do your signature, "Oh my God," or anything like that?

I did have one ... I've had many encounters, but I had one very funny one at a Pier 1 [Imports] a long time ago. There was almost nobody there, and this mother and daughter were there. They were on their way to a family wedding, and they saw me walking through the aisles and they knew who I was. The mother came over and said, "Would you make a video for me?" I said, "Sure." The daughter said, "I'm sorry, she's very pushy." I said, "No, it's fine. We'll do it."

She said, "Okay, here's what ..." I thought we were going to stand side by side, say, "Oh my God," whatever. She said, "Okay, I'm going to go over here and you're going to go over there, and then I'm going to come around the corner and you're going to say, 'Oh my God, it's Bushra. I can't believe that you're here.'" She told me what to say and I was laughing inside — I went ahead and did it. She said, "Okay, that was good, but let's do it again. This time ..." She directed me and we did a second take, so that was pretty funny.

At least you stopped at the second take — you would've been there all day.

I was like, "Good? Good to go. Okay, I'm going home."

Why Janice resonated with so many viewers

One of the reasons that Janice is so well-known — besides her voice and demeanor — is due to her comedic timing. She shows up in unlikely places at the most hilarious times. Did you at all have a hand in picking when and where Janice would make her grand reappearances or was that all up to the scriptwriters?

It was all up to the writers, and I never knew when it was coming. I always wondered, "Will I come back? When will I come back? How will they bring me back this time?" Whenever they called and said, "Listen, we're booking you for next week," I would sit there and stay up at night and wait for the script to arrive, which often didn't happen until 1:00 in the morning. I would hear it smack outside the door, and I'd run down and sit at the kitchen table in the middle of the night and try to figure out what they were going to do with me next.

You normally got that [the script] the night before, so you had to learn that all quickly?

The night before the first table read, yeah.

I saw that you only guest-starred in 19 episodes out of the 10 seasons, which is wild considering your impact. What's it like to have played a role that still holds such a remembered character in the sitcom industry today?

It's a gift. It is such a gift in my life. I am so grateful that I booked that job, that I had 10 years of playing with those fantastic actors and working with those incredible writers and the amazing directors and the creators of the show. It's a golden memory for me to have been a part of something like that.

The fact that the character is so well loved around the world and that she's somehow made it into the hearts of millions for being annoying or being adorable or all the different things that people think Janice is, it's been a hugely enriching thing for me. Out of that, I get to come here and do this work and celebrate this delicious product, which is out for a limited time. There's so many fun things that come out of it.

The Friends character Maggie is most like in real life

I was watching the HBO Max reunion episode last night to refresh a little bit, and I was in awe of how many people around the world watched the show and how much it impacted everyone. It's crazy to think that we all have that unique experience with it. It's awesome.

It is amazing. You find people all over the world for whom the show has been their friend and gotten them through hard times. I have more people tell me it's gotten them through illness and divorce and depression and anxiety and all kinds of things. This show has been a friend to so many people.

With that HBO Max reunion episode, do you still keep in touch with other cast members, and if so, who?

I live in LA, so from time to time, we run into each other at a restaurant or a coffee shop. The last time I ran into Matthew Perry was at a Starbucks. We all run into each other from time to time, but that reunion was an amazing opportunity for everybody to be together. It was such a sweet night, and we were all so happy to see each other — it was very special.

It was a great combination of sweet and funny. If you had to pick a character from "Friends" that you are most in real life, who would it be and why?

That's an interesting question. I don't know if I have an answer to that. The wonderful thing about all of those characters is that there's something relatable in each one of them. I'm a piece of all of those characters in real life. I'm probably the least Monica — I don't have a lot of Monica in me, but I certainly have a lot of Rachel and a lot of Phoebe and a lot of Chandler and a lot of Ross and Joey, and maybe even a little of Monica too.

A children's book is coming

What's next for you in 2023? Do you have any exciting projects coming up? 

I'm going to release a children's book this year, which I'm excited about. I'm working with a friend of mine, Kyle Hollingsworth, who's a great artist. We're almost done with all of the illustrations, and I'm really excited to release that. I hope [that's] in the next six months or so. It's about a little shrew named Ebenezer, and I'm excited about sending that out into the world. It's been in process for a while, and I have a few other things that are sitting on the back burner. 

We'll see if they come through. [I have] some independent film work, and I'm always out teaching. I direct a choir in Los Angeles called the Golden Bridge Community Choir, and I'm always doing vocal work with people and working at retreat centers and stuff like that. I have a lot of creative stuff on the back and front burners for '23, and I'm excited.

You have a lot going on. That's exciting. Have you dipped your toes in writing children's books or literature at all?

I've written a handful of children's books, and this is the first one that I'm putting out into the world. Hopefully, it's not the last.

You can grab the FRIENDS Manhattan Hazelnut Mocha creamer on International Delight's website. Keep up with Maggie Wheeler's upcoming projects on her Instagram page

This interview has been edited for clarity.