“Friends” director recalls Julia Roberts' nerves shooting Super Bowl episode: 'Stage fright in real life'

Director Michael Lembeck said Roberts — "the biggest star in the world at the moment" — was squeezing his hand a little too tight when they filmed.

There was no reason for Julia Roberts, "the biggest star in the world at the moment," to be nervous about guest-starring in the two-part Friends episode "The One After the Super Bowl" back in 1996. But she was.

In a new interview with the Los Angeles Times, episode director Michael Lembeck recalled that Roberts — already by then a veteran of hit movies such as Pretty Woman, Hook, and The Pelican Brief — was a bit apprehensive about filming her scenes on the beloved sitcom, especially in front of a live studio audience.

"What's interesting with Julia is she hadn't been onstage since she was 15 years old and she replaced [another actor] on Broadway in Agnes of God," Lembeck said. "The night of the shoot, we held hands and we were just watching the process and I thought, 'I am going to get gangrene if she squeezes my right hand any tighter.' That was just anxiety, you know, stage fright in real life. As good as she was during the week, she hasn't performed."

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<p>Phillip Faraone/Getty</p> Julia Roberts

Phillip Faraone/Getty

Julia Roberts

Related: Julia Roberts mourns 'heartbreaking' loss of ex Matthew Perry

Roberts ended up killing it as Susie, a childhood classmate of Matthew Perry's Chandler whom he once embarrassed by pulling up her skirt in front of the entire school. The grown-up Susie agrees to a date with Chandler, and then tricks everyone's favorite cynic into taking off his clothes and putting on her underwear in a restaurant bathroom. Susie finally gets her sweet revenge by stealing all his clothes and leaving him stranded.

Fame or no fame, Roberts' nerves were a problem… until they weren't.

"So we've been rehearsing all week," Lembeck said, "and Julia and Matthew are enjoying time off the set as well as on the set and they get onto the couch for their first scene and she's green. [John] Travolta's dad had this expression: 'It's like paint coming off of a rubber band.' So if you paint the rubber band and just stretch it, the paint starts to chip off. That's what you saw with Julia."

<p>Liaison/Getty</p> Matthew Perry and Julia Roberts on 'Friends'


Matthew Perry and Julia Roberts on 'Friends'

Related: New Friends Experience in Las Vegas to let fans revisit Ross and Rachel's drunken chapel scene: 'Hello, Mrs. Ross!'

But the live audience actually helped once Roberts got rolling.

"She was doing the scene and she got her first and a second laugh," Lembeck said. "And Matthew flubs a line and the audience loves it. You can see her whole posture change and you see this bubble come up over her head: 'Oh, yeah, I know this. I remember how to do this.' And then she just became a beast in her subsequent scenes."

Lembeck added that Roberts didn't display any movie-star behavior on set.

"The first time I saw her, I walked by Julia. I didn't know it was her," he said. "[She had] stringy hair; maybe just woke up with no makeup, taller than expected… But what a doll. She laughed during the week harder than anybody. She had so much fun."

Read the original article on Entertainment Weekly.