Television

Wait—Is the Monkey in Y: The Last Man Still Played by the Monkey From Friends?

The show’s simian sidekick was played by the same capuchin who played Marcel. Then came the reshoots.

On the left, Ross (David Schwimmer) with Marcel on his shoulder. On the right, Ampersand in Y: The Last Man.
Are animal actors canceled? Photo illustration by Slate. Images via TBS and 20th Century Fox Television.

Y: The Last Man, coming to FX on Hulu on Monday, has had a long and torturous route to the screen. New Line Cinema spent years trying to adapt the comic book series into a feature film, and FX’s first attempt at a TV adaptation got as far as shooting a pilot before showrunners Michael Green and Aida Mashaka Croal left over creative differences. Most of the major roles were recast when new showrunner Eliza Clark came on board. Although Diane Lane, Amber Tamblyn, and a few other actors from the original pilot made it into the new version, Barry Keoghan, Imogen Poots, Lashana Lynch, and Timothy Hutton were replaced.

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That’s kind of a bad deal for them, but at least they had the consolation of knowing their roles would be played by living, breathing actors of the same species. Katie, the capuchin monkey famous for playing the role of Marcel on Friends, had also appeared in the original pilot, with FX CEO John Landgraf reportedly recognizing her in dailies. (Landgraf had worked on Friends when he was an executive at NBC.) But watching the screeners for the forthcoming series made us curious whether Katie’s role had also been recast. We reached out to a representative from FX, who confirmed to us that Katie was replaced for the series by a computer-generated monkey from Industrial Light & Magic. (This follows a press release from PETA nearly a year ago in which they claimed the recasting as their victory, though that was before production on the season had resumed. FX made no public comment at the time, and PETA declined to even mention that this was the same simian actor who had previously appeared on Friends.)

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Setting aside the troubling implications of the news that ILM has figured out how to use computers to generate monkeys, this is a serious blow to fans who were looking forward to seeing Katie’s take on Ampersand, the monkey in Y: The Last Man. In many ways, Katie was a natural for the role: The character is a capuchin monkey, and so is she. On Friends, she split the role of Marcel with an actor named Monkey, who was also a monkey, and the pair went so deep into the character that it is hard to reliably attribute any particular performance to Katie or to Monkey. Nevertheless, there is a 50 percent chance that Katie is the monkey behind the searing performance in this clip:

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Could any other actor more convincingly portray a capuchin monkey who listens to about half of what David Schwimmer has to say before humping his leg? Not counting the other animal actor who might literally be playing Marcel in this scene, I mean. There aren’t that many starring roles for capuchin monkeys in the first place, and Ampersand would have been a fitting capstone to Katie’s long career, which has also included appearances on 30 Rock and The Loop. Remember The Loop? With Philip Baker Hall? It also had a monkey.

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It’s possible that Katie was dropped from the project because of her reputation for being difficult to work with, an accusation that has dogged her for her entire career. Back in 1995, during the hectic first season of Friends, David Schwimmer let it be known that he didn’t think the role of Marcel had been cast well, telling Entertainment Weekly, “I hate the monkey. I wish it were dead.” Schwimmer’s war against Katie in the press has continued to this very day: During the Friends reunion, he complained that shooting was often delayed because “the monkey didn’t do its job right.” Mike Morris, the animal trainer who worked with Katie on Friends, has disputed Schwimmer’s allegations, but the damage was done: A partial list of post-Friends movies and TV shows that Katie didn’t get to star in in includes The Hours, Frost/Nixon, My Name Is Earl, and Manchester by the Sea. Now we can add Y: The Last Man to the list. Thanks for nothing, David Schwimmer!

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