Are you ready to feel old? Friends baby actors Noelle and Cali Sheldon are now 16. Yep, they’re old enough to drive. And they’re also old enough to appear in movies and understand what’s going on. In 2019 the sisters popped up in one of the biggest horror movies of the year – giving Friends fans a chance to see what they look like now.
The horror film in question is Jordan Peele’s Us. It’s the director’s twisty follow-up to the smash hit Get Out. Currently, the movie stands at 94 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, meaning it has almost universal critical acclaim. And it tells the terrifying story of a vacationing family menaced by mysterious, apparently evil, doppelgangers.
As well as Noelle and Cali, the film features many acclaimed actors, including Lupita Nyong’o, Elisabeth Moss and Winston Duke. The twins probably couldn’t have asked for a better introduction into the world of grown-up acting. So how did they find the experience, and how did they decide to continue the career they began as babies?
Friends fans will, of course, know exactly who Noelle and Cali played. The twins took turns playing baby Emma, the daughter of Ross and Rachel. They played the role from season nine through to the following final season, first appearing in “The One in Barbados” and last showing up in “The One Where Estelle Dies.”
Lots of memorable moments happened with Emma. Friends fans will recollect the time she was given an accidentally inappropriate birthday cake or the unfortunate incident where Rachel’s sister pierced the little girl’s ears. Emma is also the recipient of Ross and Rachel’s iconic performance of “Baby Got Back.”
While it might seem odd that Emma was played by twins instead of just one baby, there is a reason for that. And it lies in the laws surrounding child actors. Understandably, there are a lot of rules about how long young performers can work for. Therefore, casting twins to play a single role gets around work those restrictions. Indeed, as soon as one twin is done working, the other can take their place.
Casting twins to play a baby is also a matter of practicality. Babies, of course, don’t listen to direction and will often cry or sleep at the wrong time. If that happens on a film set, the directors can simply switch one baby out for the other, and the audience will be none the wiser when they watch the finished product.
Emma wasn’t the only Friends child to be played by twins, though. Indeed, siblings also played Ross’s son, Ben, in his early years. The character was first portrayed by brothers Charles and John Allen; however as Ben got older, the role passed to Cole Sprouse. And although he, too, has a twin brother, Dylan, Cole played the role on his own.
Both Cole and his brother were very popular child actors throughout the ‘00s. So popular, in fact, that in 2010 they were making $40,000 for every episode for their Disney Channel show The Suite Life of Zack & Cody. These days, Dylan owns a brewery in Brooklyn, but Cole continued acting and now stars in Riverdale.
And, it seems, other child actors from Friends have similar stories. Dakota Fanning and Tahj Mowry were, of course, already well-known when they played children on the show. And as adults, they each have long lists of film and TV credits. Fanning, for example, appeared in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood and Ocean’s Eight among others, while Mowry had a main role in Baby Daddy.
Unlike many of Noelle and Cali’s fellow Friends kids, however, they didn’t grow up in the spotlight. After the show finished, they disappeared from the public eye. But in 2015, when they were aged 12, the twins and their mother, Gretchen, gave an interview to Bustle about their time on the hit series.
The twins were too young to remember any of the show, of course, but Gretchen recalled what it was like. “Everyone was really, really nice to Noelle and Cali and treated them like little princesses on the set,” she told Bustle. “[Friends] filmed before a live audience. [The girls] would come out and they would be waving and engaging with the live audience. It was a lot of fun.”
During the interview, Noelle revealed something shocking. It seems that both she and her sister have never seen any full episodes of Friends. This is due to the slightly adult nature of the show, so Gretchen prohibited their viewing it until the children turned 13. “[The girls have] seen portions that they are in, but I haven’t let them watch the whole series,” she said.
The twins can, of course, tell each other apart when they do watch their bits of Friends. As a result, Cali’s favorite Emma clip is one involving her sister. She told Bustle, “When Noelle was in a baby swing and they were pushing her, they made some joke that she didn’t understand but she still laughed. I thought that was really cute.”
Once Friends finished, the twins did go on to take few other acting roles. They even played another baby called Emma, believe it or not, in a 2006 movie called Novel Romance. And they featured in the pilot episode of the TV show Life. But, as their mom explained in the interview, becoming actors wasn’t a number one goal for the girls.
Gretchen said, “Our girls go to a normal school. They go on auditions once in a while, but we don’t make it our top priority… [Noelle and Cali’s acting] has happened organically. It wasn’t a conscious effort to make sure that this doesn’t take over our lives, but had it ever gotten to that point, we probably would have.”
Noelle and Cali have also shared a few stage roles since the end of Friends. Both played Flounder in a production of The Little Mermaid, for example. But they weren’t fighting for popularity. “I’m not very competitive because you usually don’t get the roles. If you do, it’s cool, but if you don’t, it’s nothing to be sad about, because the person who got it is going to do great,” Cali said.
The twins also told Bustle about their hobbies. They had a lot going on in their lives beyond just acting. “I like basketball, softball, Science Olympiads and I like to draw and write,” Cali said. As for her sister, “I play the trumpet, [play] softball and I do Science Olympiads. I also like to cook and hang out with friends,” Noelle announced.
The sisters also had some thoughts about what they wanted to be when they grew up. Cali’s were very ambitious. “First, I want to go to UCLA and get a degree in biochemistry so I can become a chemist and cure cancer. Then I want to petition for women to be allowed into a football league. Then I’m going to write a book,” she told the website.
Noelle’s plans, however, were more down-to-earth. “I want to be a barista when I’m 18. I don’t know what else after that,” she said. Perhaps being on the Friends set from such an early age worked its way into her subconscious. The show is, of course, set around the Central Perk coffee shop, and Rachel is a waitress there in the early seasons.
That same year, 2015, the twins were also interviewed by Entertainment Tonight about their incredible first job. “I grew up knowing that I was on Friends, but I didn’t realize the extent of it until I was ten,” Noelle explained. And both sisters said that as soon as they turned 13, they’d head to Netflix for a “24-hour Friends marathon.”
Then, in July 2018 Cali announced some exciting news on social media, on the pair’s behalf. The sisters had nabbed roles in a big movie. “So excited to announce that @noelle.sheldon and I have been cast in the next @jordanpeele movie, Us!” she wrote on her Instagram. “So thankful for this opportunity and excited to work with such amazing actors and @jordanpeele!”
And in January 2019, just before Us came out, the Sheldon twins talked to their high school paper, La Vista, about their exciting new roles. “We were treated equally [on set like] all of the other celebrities,” Cali told the publication. “We got our own trailer and chairs. It was cool because everyone always sees movies on TV, but it is different to be in one [rather] than just seeing one.”
And it seems the twins were thrilled to be working alongside a cast of such famous people. “I never really thought I could meet people like [Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke and Elizabeth Moss] so it was a really cool experience,” Noelle said. “I didn’t want to mess up because they were watching, so it was stressful, but in a good way.”
All in all, the sisters spent ten days in Santa Cruz filming their movie roles. They played Lyndsey and Becca Tyler, daughters of bored mom Kitty, portrayed by Moss. And ‒ spoiler alert ‒ they also played evil doppelgangers, Nix and Io, who are the reason the Tyler sisters don’t make it to the end of the movie. Us, then, is a long way from Friends.
Believe it or not, there is actually a little Friends Easter egg hidden away in Us. If you look really closely, you’ll see that Lyndsey and Becca’s father, Josh, played by Tim Heidecker, has tattoos of the twins as babies on his arms. These pictures are based on images of Noelle and Cali playing Emma.
However, the Tyler twins of Us are certainly not the sort of people Friends fans would have wanted Emma to grow up to be. “Becca and Lindsey are rude, bratty teenagers who mess with Jason and Zora and whose parents don’t like them,” the Sheldons told the website Gruemonkey after the movie came out.
The production notes for Us, available online, help shed some more light on the Tyler family. And, more importantly, why their teenage twins are the way they are. “Kitty and Josh are sort of your worst nightmare,” Moss says in the notes. “…Kitty, on top of all that, hates her children. She blames [them] for the fact that she didn’t become a movie star.”
The Sheldon twins also contributed some notes about their characters. “The dynamic in the Tyler family isn’t very good,” Noelle said. “Kitty regrets having kids because it ruined her career… And Josh is just kind of indifferent to Becca and Lindsey. We’re there and he has to deal with us. So Becca and Lindsey have only each other to rely on, really.”
The twins then discussed playing two people, instead of one. “Even though we are playing twins, [Peele] didn’t want to typecast us as twins,” Cali said. “He wanted to explore our characters as individual personalities, but also take advantage of the unique relationship that twins have. So my character, Becca, has more of a California beach-girl vibe, and Noelle’s character, Lindsey, is more Emo.”
Despite playing unpleasant characters, however, the sisters got on excellently with their co-stars. And although they spent time in the movie picking on Zora and Jason, the movie’s other children, there was absolutely no animosity on set. “Noelle and Cali are so kind and so sweet,” said Shahadi Wright Joseph, who played Zora, in the production notes.
And the twins clearly reciprocated that feeling. “Shahadi and Evan [Jason] are really sweet, and so talented,” Noelle said. “It’s amazing because they’re so young. I mean, we are, too, obviously, but Evan and Shahadi have accomplished so much and they do such a good job in the film. And they’re really nice, to boot.”
Peele himself also sang the praises of the Sheldon twins in the production notes. “Noelle and Cali have this amazing duality as performers,” he said. “They surprise you because as people they’re so sweet and patient and almost timid, but when you ask them to do something crazy, they will go full-on into it. They have a couple of scenes where they really steal the show.”
And the sisters were equally impressed by the director. During the interview with their high school newspaper, the pair spoke about how thrilled they were to meet him. “[Peele] was insanely nice and he is an actual genius,” Cali said. “He was super nice to us and he [was] just like a regular guy trying to make us feel comfortable.”
When Us hit theaters, a large number of people on the internet were hilariously horrified to find out who Becca and Lindsey were. “Finding out the twin girls in #UsMovie are the girls who played Rachel and Ross’s baby, Emma, in Friends is the biggest twist of the film!” one person tweeted.
So, what will the twins do now that Us is over? Well, there are rumors of a second instalment, as Peele told Polygon in 2019 he would be interested in returning to the “Us-verse.” However, having died in the original film, the Tyler twins probably wouldn’t be in it. And Lupita Nyong’o has also said she’d rather not do a sequel.
However, Noelle and Cali have plenty to keep themselves occupied while they decide on movie roles or new endeavors. The latter is part of her high school’s wrestling team, and on the former’s Instagram account she recently posted pictures of herself going to prom with her friends and one lucky guy.
Cali did mention in the interview with La Vista that she wasn’t sure if she would pursue acting as a full-time career. She wanted to instead study biomedical engineering, a very interesting field. And Noelle, too, wanted to go to university. Both knew the risks, they said, of working in Hollywood and being celebrities.
However, Cali also said that her experience on Us shifted her perceptions of acting. “I actually thought that I did not want to be an actress before we got the parts because I thought it would be too much work. But seeing all of those [actors on set] as just regular people inspired me,” she told the newspaper.
And in June 2019 Jennifer Aniston sparked rumors that one day, just maybe, the long-awaited Friends reunion would take place. “Anything could happen,” she informed Ellen DeGeneres. Maybe a grown-up Emma could make an appearance, played by either one or both of the Sheldon twins.