Tate Donovan was ‘dying inside’ working with ex Jennifer Aniston on ‘Friends’

Jennifer Aniston and Tate Donovan didn’t last — and neither did their Friends characters. The Argo actor guest-starred on the famed NBC comedy for a six-episode arc in 1994. And at the very same time, the now exes were splitting up in real-life.

“I was just happy to be on the team. The only bummer was Jennifer and I were breaking up at the time,” Donovan, 54, recalls exclusively to Us Weekly. “And so that was tricky to sort of act, and act like we are just meeting each other, and falling in love, or whatever, interested in each other, when we’re sort of breaking up. That was just tough.”

Donovan played Joshua, a personal shopping client of Rachel Green’s (Aniston) at Bloomingdale’s. Rachel quickly struck up a crush, handed over her Knicks tickets to him and his nephew (he didn’t know it was a date offer!) and ultimately changed into her high school cheerleader outfit to catch his eye.

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Jennifer Aniston and Tate Donovan together
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Jennifer Aniston and Tate Donovan together
Actress Jennifer Aniston (R) and her boyfriend, actor Tate Donovan, pose for photographers as they arrive for the premiere of Disney's "Hercules" in New York June 14, 1997. Donovan is the voice of the adult Hercules in the animated feature. PREMIERE HERCULES
Actress Jennifer Aniston stands with her boyfriend, actor Tate Donovan, during the filming of her motion picture, Picture Perfect. (Photo by Mitchell Gerber/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)
Dating actors Tate Donovan (R) & Jennifer Aniston (L). (Photo by Mirek Towski/DMI/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Tate Donovan and Jennifer Aniston at the New Amsterdam Theater in New York City, New York (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Tate Donovan and Jennifer Aniston (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
Jennifer Aniston & Tate Donovan during 'Scream 2' - Hollywood Premiere in Hollywood, California, United States. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc)
UNITED STATES - circa 1998: Actress Jennifer Aniston with actor Tate Donovan. (Photo by The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
FRIENDS -- 'The One with Rachel's Crush' Episode 13 -- Pictured: (l-r) Paxton Whitehead as Mr. Waltham, Jennifer Aniston as Rachel Green, Tate Donovan as Joshua Bergen (Photo by Alice S. Hall/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - circa 1998: Actress Jennifer Aniston with actor Tate Donovan. (Photo by The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
NEW YORK CITY - JULY 28: Actress Jennifer Aniston and actor Tate Donovan attend the 'Picture Perfect' New York City Premiere on July 28, 1997 at Sony Theatres Lincoln Square in New York City. (photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Wireimage)
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“It was just six episodes. I mean, only because we were breaking up. We were like, ‘Hey, can we not keep doing this? ‘Cause this is really painful and tough,’” he recalls of his and Aniston’s feelings about working together at the time. “The people that know that we dated think that we met on Friends. But in fact we had dated for two years before then, and it was over by the time we were on Friends together.”

Donovan’s Central Perk stint was “very interesting” — to say the least. But despite his personal relationship with Aniston, he felt very welcome by her and her costars — Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, David Schwimmer, Matthew Perry and Matt LeBlanc.

“Those six people were amazing to me. They were fantastic. It wasn’t cliquey for me at all. I was lucky,” he adds. “The good thing that came out of it was that everyone was really cool about it, and really as helpful as they could be. In other words, they were just compassionate, very compassionate about the whole breakup. It was sort of like I proved that, hey, I guess I’m a pro. If you can go through a tough breakup, and still do your job, then you’re a pro. It was good. It was really ultimately a great experience of how people can treat you really well, and you still do your job even though you’re sort of dying inside.”

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Jennifer Aniston through the years
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Jennifer Aniston through the years
FERRIS BUELLER -- Pictured: Jennifer Aniston as Jeannie Bueller -- Photo by: Alice S. Hall/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank
1990 file photo of Jennifer Aniston at a NBC pool party in Los Angeles, California (Photo by Barry King/WireImage)
FRIENDS -- Pictured: Jennifer Aniston as Rachel Green -- (Photo by Reisig & Taylor/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
FRIENDS -- Season 1 -- Pictured: (back l-r) Matt LeBlanc as Joey Tribbiani, Lisa Kudrow as Phoebe Buffay, David Schwimmer as Ross Geller, Matthew Perry as Chandler Bing (front l-r) Courteney Cox as Monica Geller, Jennifer Aniston as Rachel Green -- (Photo by Reisig & Taylor/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
FRIENDS -- Pictured: (l-r) Courteney Cox as Monica Geller, Jennifer Aniston as Rachel Green, Lisa Kudrow as Phoebe Buffay in 'Friends', circa 1995. (Photo by NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
255721 02: Jennifer Aniston poses January 4, 1996 in Aspen, CO. Along with her role as Rachel on the television show 'Friends,' actress Aniston starred in the films 'Picture Perfect' and 'She's The One.' (Photo by Russell Turiak/Liaison)
1997 Jennifer Aniston Stars In The Movie 'Til There Was You'. (Photo By Getty Images)
FRIENDS -- Season 4 -- Pictured: (l-r) Matt LeBlanc as Joey Tribbiani, Jennifer Aniston as Rachel Green, Lisa Kudrow as Phoebe Buffay (Photo by Gerald Weinman/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 03: Jennifer Aniston arrives for premiere of movie 'Meet Joe Black' at the Ziegfeld Theater. (Photo by Richard Corkery/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
372882 01: Jennifer Aniston stars in 'Friends,' 1999-2000 season. Photo by: Warner Bros. NBC
Co-hosts Courteney Cox Arquette, Lisa Kudrow and Jennifer Aniston at 'The 10th Annual Fire & Ice Ball', a gala event, hosted by Lilly Tartikoff and Ronald O. Perelman, to raise funds for Revlon/UCLA women's cancer research program. 12/11/00 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles, Ca. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
PASADENA, : Actress Jennifer Aniston of the television show 'Friends' accepts her People's Choice Award for 'Favorite Female Television Performer' during the 27th Annual People's Choice Awards 07 January 2001 in Pasadena CA. AFP Photo Lucy NICHOLSON/ (Photo credit should read LUCY NICHOLSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Jennifer Aniston on 'The Tonight Show with Jay Leno' at the NBC Studios in Burbank, Ca. 9/5/01. Los Angeles. Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images.
Jennifer Aniston during The 54th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards - Press Room at The Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by Gregg DeGuire/WireImage)
Jennifer Aniston (Photo by J. Merritt/FilmMagic)
Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt during 'Along Came Polly' Los Angeles Premiere at Mann's Chinese Theater in Hollywood, California, United States. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic)
Jennifer Aniston during 9th Annual Hollywood Film Festival Awards Gala Ceremony - Show at Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by J.Sciulli/WireImage)
Jennifer Aniston, presenter (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)
LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 09: Actress Jennifer Aniston arrives at the premiere screening of the FX Network's 'Dirt' at the Paramount Theater on December 9, 2006 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - DECEMBER 17: Jennifer Aniston visits the ''Late Show with David Letterman'' at the Ed Sullivan Theater on December 17, 2008 in New York City. (Photo by James Devaney/WireImage)
MARRAKECH, MOROCCO - NOVEMBER 26: Actress Jennifer Aniston attends the Gala evening to celebrate the re-opening of Hotel La Mamounia on November 26, 2009 in Marrakech, Morocco. (Photo by Fizcairn/WireImage)
NEW YORK - MARCH 16: Jennifer Aniston attends the premiere of 'The Bounty Hunter' at Ziegfeld Theatre on March 16, 2010 in New York, New York City. (Photo by James Devaney/WireImage)
LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 876 -- Pictured: (l-r) Jennifer Aniston with host Jimmy Fallon during an interview on August 1, 2013 -- (Photo by: Lloyd Bishop/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
MADRID, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 22: Actress Jennifer Aniston attends 'El Hormiguero' Tv showon February 22, 2011 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Juan Naharro Gimenez/Getty Images)
Actress Jennifer Aniston arrives at the 'Horrible Bosses' Los Angeles premiere at Grauman's Chinese Theatre on June 30, 2011 in Hollywood, California.
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 17: Jennifer Aniston arrives as ELLE Honors Hollywood+s Most Esteemed Women in the 18th Annual Women in Hollywood Tribute; at The Four Seasons Beverly Hills on October 17, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Gregg DeGuire/FilmMagic)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - NOVEMBER 15: Justin Theroux and Jennifer Aniston attend the American Cinematheque 26th annual award presentation at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on November 15, 2012 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)
TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 14: Actress/producer Jennifer Aniston arrives at the 'Life Of Crime' Premiere during the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival at Roy Thomson Hall on September 14, 2013 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Isaiah Trickey/FilmMagic)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - NOVEMBER 21: Actress Jennifer Aniston speaks onstage during a Q&A following the screening of 'Cake' during the 2014 Variety Screening Series at ArcLight Hollywood on November 21, 2014 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 19: Jennifer Aniston arrives at the Premiere Of Lionsgate Premiere's 'She's Funny That Way' at Harmony Gold on August 19, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
SANTA MONICA, CA - JANUARY 17: Actress Jennifer Aniston arrives at the 21st Annual Critics' Choice Awards at Barker Hangar on January 17, 2016 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by C Flanigan/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - APRIL 13: Actress Jennifer Aniston attends Open Roads World Premiere of 'Mother's Day' at TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX on April 13, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 16: Actress Jennifer Aniston is seen walking in Soho on June 16, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Raymond Hall/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 24: Jennifer Aniston seen on the streets of Manhattan on June 24, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by James Devaney/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 30: Jennifer Aniston is seen in the West Village on September 30, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Alo Ceballos/GC Images)
WESTWOOD, CA - DECEMBER 07: Actress Jennifer Aniston arrives at the Los Angeles Premiere 'Office Christmas Party' at Regency Village Theatre on December 7, 2016 in Westwood, California. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic)
LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 08: Jennifer Aniston is seen at 'Jimmy Kimmel Live' on December 08, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by RB/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)
US actress Jennifer Aniston addresses the audience at the 89th Oscars on February 26, 2017 in Hollywood, California. / AFP / Mark RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 04: Jennifer Aniston attends the premiere of HBO's 'The Leftovers' Season 3 at Avalon Hollywood on April 4, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by JB Lacroix/WireImage)
US actress Jennifer Aniston gestures as she poses during a photocall ahead of a diner for the launch of a Louis Vuitton leather goods collection in collaboration with US artist Jeff Koons, at the Louvre in Paris on April 11, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / GABRIEL BOUYS (Photo credit should read GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - APRIL 14: Actress Jennifer Aniston is seen leaving the 'Dries Van Noten' store on April 14, 2017 in Paris, France. (Photo by Marc Piasecki/GC Images)
Actor Jennifer Aniston (L) and Justin Theroux attend Jason Bateman's star unveiling ceremony on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, on July 26, 2017, in Hollywood, California. / AFP PHOTO / VALERIE MACON (Photo credit should read VALERIE MACON/AFP/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 07: In this handout photo provided by NBCUniversal, Presenters Carol Burnett and Jennifer Aniston onstage during the 75th Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 7, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Paul Drinkwater/NBCUniversal via Getty Images)
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The cast didn’t just crack jokes with Donovan on set, though. They even pranked him before cameras began rolling on his first day.

“They had all of these beautiful dressing rooms behind the stage, and a lot of times guest stars would get the dressing rooms. … But [I was taken on] 15-minute walk through the back alleys of Warner Brothers Studios. And finally I get to this dumpy wooden trailer from the ’30s. I swear to God. It had carpet that smelled and old fruit that was lying around. It was disgusting — and flies. It wasn’t air conditioned.”

The crew went on to leave him in the filth for 10 minutes. “Then they came back for rehearsal. They all were looking at me, the whole cast. And I was like, ‘Hey, what’s up guys? How are you doing?’ And they were like, ‘You’re the worst, man. Of course that’s not your trailer,’” he continues. “I didn’t care because I knew I wasn’t gonna spend any time in my trailer. I was like, ‘OK, so it’s a trailer.’ They were trying to play a practical joke on me basically. Like, give him the worst trailer known to mankind. And I didn’t react to it all. I just sort of was like, ‘Oh, OK. Great, fine.’ I didn’t freak out and that’s what they were hoping for, that I would call my agent and say, ‘This is bullsh-t. I’m never gonna work on this show.’”

And from then on, Donovan felt like he was on a “championship” team. “It was like being on the Golden State Warriors,” he says. “They were in their prime doing the greatest stuff.”

He adds: “Those guys were so great to me when they sort of didn’t have to be. They were just really cool.”

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Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt together
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Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt together
Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston during The 56th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards - Red Carpet at The Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by George Pimentel/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES - SEPTEMBER 12: Actor Brad Pitt and actress Jennifer Aniston attend the 51st Annual Primetime Emmy Awards on September 12, 1999 at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston (Photo by Barry King/WireImage)
Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt shopping in Los Angeles, CA. November 23, 1999
UNITED STATES - circa 2000: Actress Jennifer Aniston with actor Brad Pitt. (Photo by The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt (Photo by Jim Smeal/WireImage)
371747 01: Brad Pitt & Jennifer Aniston attending the Los Angeles Premiere of the new movie 'Erin Brockovich'. Westwood, California. March 14,2000. (Photo by: Brenda Chase Online USA Inc./Liaison Agency)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 10: Actor Brad Pitt and wife actress Jennifer Aniston arrive at the 52nd 2000 Primetime Emmy Awards on September 10, 2000 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ron Davis/Getty Images)
Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston at the premiere of 'The Mexican' at the National Theater in Los Angeles, Ca. 2/23/01. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images).
Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston during 'Rock Star' Los Angeles Premiere at Mann Village in Westwood, California, United States. (Photo by SGranitz/WireImage)
Jennifer Aniston & Brad Pitt during Spy Game Premiere at Mann National Theatre in Westwood, California, United States. (Photo by SGranitz/WireImage)
Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt arrive for the Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California January 20, 2002. (Photo by KMazur/WireImage)
Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston at the premiere of 'The Bourne Identity' at Universal CityWalk in Los Angeles, Ca. Thursday, June 6, 2002. Photo by Kevin Winter/ImageDirect
Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt arriving at the 54th Annual Prime Time Emmys. (Photo by Frank Trapper/Corbis via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 12: Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt attending the premiere of 'Along Came Polly' at Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood, CA 01/12/03 (Photo by Vinnie Zuffante/Getty Images)
SANTA MONICA, CA - MARCH 22: Actors Jennifer Aniston and husband Brad Pitt attend the 2003 IFP Independent Spirit Awards on March 22, 2003 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images)
Courteney Cox, Jennifer Aniston & Brad Pitt (Photo by Steve Granitz Archive 1/WireImage)
Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston at the Zeigfeld Theater in New York City, New York (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)
Brad Pitt, Jennifer Aniston during Warner Bros. Premiere of 'Troy' in New York City at Ziegfeld Theater in New York, New York, United States. (Photo by Sylvain Gaboury/FilmMagic)
CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 13: Actors Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston attend the World Premiere of epic movie 'Troy' at Le Palais de Festival on May 13, 2004 in Cannes, France. Aniston wears a dress by Versace. (Photo by Dave Hogan/Getty Images)
CANNES, France: US actor Brad Pitt and his wife Jennifer Aniston arrive for the official projection of US director Wolfgang Petersen's film 'Troy' , 13 May 2004, at the 57th Cannes Film Festival in the French Riviera town. Hollywood took over the French Riviera today as Brad Pitt and his co-stars of the epic movie arrived to present their 175 million dollar (147 million euro)-plus swords-and-sandals feature, being shown out of competition, in the blaze of Cannes publicity. AFP PHOTO/FRANCOIS GUILLOT (Photo credit should read FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP/Getty Images)
Actors Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston attend the premiere of Petersen's movie 'Troy', at the 57th Cannes film festival. (Photo by Stephane Cardinale/Corbis via Getty Images)
Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt at the The Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California (Photo by Gregg DeGuire/WireImage)
Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston during The 56th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards - Audience at The Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California, United States. ***Exclusive*** (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)
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Donovan hasn’t run into many of the stars since, but he did cross paths with Perry at the airport once. “He was hilarious. I was doing a play, and I had to get my way home on my own, and I was looking to get a cab. He was doing a television show and he had this huge stretched limousine waiting for him. He was like, ‘See, that’s the difference. You do theater, you have to find your own way home.’”

Years earlier, Friends came to an end after 10 seasons in 2004. Rachel ultimately ended up with Ross Geller (Schwimmer), but Donovan thinks that Joshua turned out just fine.

“Joshua is happily married and has an 18 year-old-kid who is about to go to college,” he envisions. “He’s doing well. He’s doing good.”

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