Bruce Fretts
February 23, 1996 AT 05:00 AM EST

You never know where you’re going to find Friends. For instance, if you recently ventured into the Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn (where Jackie Robinson and Mae West are buried), you might have seen David Schwimmer shooting his first big movie, The Pallbearer. And you might not have been happy about it. Explains Michael Rapaport (Mighty Aphrodite), who costars with Schwimmer in the dark comedy: ”I can just imagine if I was coming out here to mourn, and I see the guy from Friends and a bunch of other f—in’ actors and a couple of teamsters goofin’ around the tombstone, I’d be really pissed off!”

Schwimmer and his sitcom costars hope moviegoers don’t have a similar reaction when their names start showing up on multiplex marquees this year. After seeing their pretty faces every week on their top-rated NBC series — not to mention commercials, awards shows, CDs, T-shirts, and cappuccino mugs — will Americans pay to see them on the big screen? Hollywood obviously thinks so: All six have film projects lined up.

The most ambitious of these may be The Pallbearer. Schwimmer, 29, who appears in every scene, stars as Tom Thompson, an unemployed 25-year-old who agrees to deliver the eulogy for a high school classmate he doesn’t remember. Miramax, which will release the movie on April 19, seems high on it; after the film wrapped, the studio signed Schwimmer to a multipicture deal that will allow him to make his directorial debut on an untitled movie next summer.

The lead role in The Pallbearer was not handed to Schwimmer on such a perk-laden platter, however. Apparently, the filmmakers had been living under a rock somewhere and hadn’t seen Friends when he auditioned. ”I got calls from David’s agent and manager saying ‘This is the guy,’ and I was very skeptical,” recalls Matt Reeves, the film’s 29-year-old first-time director. ”When he came in, I turned to [cowriter] Jason Katims and said, ‘He’d better wow us.’ And he did. We were just like, ‘Wow, this guy could be the guy!”’

”He couldn’t be too handsome or too suave,” says Katims. ”But on the other hand, we didn’t want a guy who was going to play it like a complete wimp. We wanted somebody who could ride the line between both things.”

Hmmm, sounds like Schwimmer’s portrayal of Ross on Friends, doesn’t it? Not to the star. ”They’re both vulnerable, but for different reasons,” he says. ”Ross is a man who’s trying to put his life back together. Tom is more like a child in many ways. He’s more inexperienced and naive, and the story is about him turning into a man.”

Even though Tom lives with his mom (Taxi‘s Carol Kane), Schwimmer insists ”he’s not a slacker. He wants his own place. He wants to be an architect. Things just aren’t clicking for him right now.” Don’t call this a Gen-X movie, either: ”It won’t be limited the way Reality Bites was,” says Katims.

In fact, the cast and crew of The Pallbearer seem less concerned about being compared with Friends or Reality Bites than with a cultural touchstone of an earlier generation: The Graduate. You see, Tom gets involved with his former classmate’s Mrs. Robinson-esque mother, played by Barbara Hershey. ”I spent a lot of time watching The Graduate, because I didn’t want to be Dustin Hoffman,” says Schwimmer. ”Tom is much more optimistic and enthusiastic than Dustin Hoffman’s character was.”

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