Are you ready to feel old? Friends baby actors Noelle and Cali Sheldon are now 16. Yep, that means they’re not only legally able to drive, but they’re also more than capable of picking their own roles. And for those who remember the twins as adorable infants, one of their most recent on-screen appearances may come as a surprise.
You see, in 2019 Noelle and Cali proved their acting chops in Jordan Peele’s acclaimed horror Us. The director’s twisty follow-up to the smash hit Get Out tells the terrifying story of a vacationing family who are menaced by mysterious – and apparently evil – doppelgangers.
The sisters are in good company, too, as they appear alongside the acclaimed likes of Lupita Nyong’o, Elisabeth Moss and Winston Duke. All in all, then, Noelle and Cali probably couldn’t have asked for a better introduction into the world of grown-up acting. Still, one question remains: how did the teens cope with such a bloodcurdling movie?
If you’ve been left scratching your head as to where the twins factor into Friends, however, then let us clue you in. A much younger Noelle and Cali each took turns portraying baby Emma, who is the daughter of lead characters Ross and Rachel. The duo first showed up on screen in season nine episode “The One in Barbados” and bowed out from the series in the following season’s “The One Where Estelle Dies.”
Emma was the focus of many memorable moments on the show, too. Friends fans will recollect the time when she was given an accidentally inappropriate birthday cake, for example, or the unfortunate incident where Rachel’s sister pierced the little girl’s ears. And, of course, the infant also witnesses Ross and Rachel’s iconic performance of “Baby Got Back.”
But while it may appear odd that Emma was played by twins instead of just one baby, there’s a good reason for that. You see, there are rules about how long young performers can work for on set; casting twins to play a single role, then, gets around those restrictions. Yes, as soon as one baby is done working, the other can take their place.
And then there’s an even more practical reason for such a decision. Babies don’t listen to direction, after all, and will often cry or sleep at the wrong time. If that happens on a film set, then, the director can simply switch one child out for the other – and the audience should be none the wiser when they watch the finished product.
Emma wasn’t the only Friends child to be played by twins, either, as siblings also played Ross’ son, Ben, in his early years. Initially, the character was portrayed by brothers Charles and John Allen; as Ben got older, however, the role passed to Cole Sprouse. And although Cole, too, has a twin brother, Dylan, the young star actually played the role on his own.
As you may know, Cole and his brother were very popular child actors throughout the ’00s. That fame earned them good money, too; 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, while Cole remains in Hollywood and now stars in Riverdale.
And it seems that other child actors on Friends have similarly used the show as a springboard to further career success. Indeed, while both Dakota Fanning and Tahj Mowry were already well known when they starred on the sitcom, the pair seem to have gone from strength to strength since. Fanning has appeared in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood and Ocean’s Eight, among other movies, while Mowry has since scooped a number of further TV roles – including a prominent part in ABC Family’s Baby Daddy.
Unlike many of Noelle and Cali’s fellow Friends kids, however, the girls didn’t grow up in the spotlight. After the show finished, in fact, they practically disappeared from the public eye. But the twins finally resurfaced in 2015, when the then-12-year-olds and their mother, Gretchen, gave an interview to Bustle about their time on the hit series.
And during the conversation, Gretchen recalled what filming had been like for her and her daughters. “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, though, Noelle revealed something fairly shocking: neither she nor her sister had ever seen any full episodes of Friends. This is due to the slightly adult nature of the show, meaning Gretchen had 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,” the mom said.
Interestingly, the twins can also tell themselves 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.”
And once Friends had finished, the twins did go on to take few other acting roles. They even played another baby called Emma in a 2006 movie called Novel Romance as well as featuring in the pilot episode of the TV show Life. But as their mom explained in the Bustle interview, becoming professional 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 Cali, at least, apparently wasn’t hung up on clawing her way to the top at that time. “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,” she said.
The twins also seemed to have a lot more going on in their lives beyond just acting. “I like basketball, softball [and] Science Olympiads, and I like to draw and write,” Cali said. Noelle claimed, by contrast, “I play the trumpet, [play] softball, and I do Science Olympiads. I also like to cook and hang out with friends.”
And the sisters had some thoughts about what they wanted to be when they grew up, too – with Cali revealing considerable ambition. “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. And perhaps being on the Friends set from such an early age worked its way into her subconscious. One of the show’s main locations is the Central Perk coffee shop, after all, with Rachel being a waitress there during Friends’ early seasons.
In 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. Both sisters revealed, too, that as soon as they turned 13, they’d headed to Netflix for a “24-hour Friends marathon.”
Fast-forward to July 2018, however, and Cali would reveal some exciting news on social media. “So excited to announce that @noelle.sheldon and I have been cast in the next @jordanpeele movie, Us!” she wrote on her Instagram page. “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.”
It seems, too, that the twins had been thrilled to be working alongside the rest of the star-studded cast. “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.”
In total, the sisters spent ten days in Santa Cruz filming their roles as Lyndsey and Becca Tyler, who are the daughters of Moss’ bored mom Kitty. And ‒ spoiler alert ‒ they also play evil doppelgangers, Nix and Io, who are the reason why the Tyler sisters don’t make it to the end of the movie. The macabre goings-on in Us, then, are a long way from the lighthearted comedy of Friends.
But the sitcom and the horror film are more closely linked than you may think. You see, there’s actually a little Friends Easter egg hidden away in Us. If you look really closely, you may find that Lyndsey and Becca’s father, Josh, has tattoos of the twins as babies on his arms. And, neatly, these pictures are based on images of Noelle and Cali playing Emma.
That said, the Tyler twins are perhaps not the sort of people whom 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 help shed some more light on the Tyler family, though – as well as some hints as to why their teenage twins are the way they are. “Kitty and Josh are sort of your worst nightmare,” Moss is quoted as saying 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 insights into their characters. “The dynamic in the Tyler family isn’t very good,” Noelle has explained. “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 production notes also reveal how the sisters dealt with 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.”
Yet although the teens play unpleasant characters in Us, it appears that they were good-natured on set. “Noelle and Cali are so kind and so sweet,” Shahadi Wright Joseph, who plays Zora, is quoted as saying 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 had been 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 movie theaters, however, some on the internet were hilariously horrified to find out who was responsible for portraying Becca and Lindsey. “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 sisters do now that Us is over? Well, there are rumors of a second instalment, as Peele told Polygon in 2019 that he would be interested in returning to the “Us-verse.” The Tyler twins probably wouldn’t be in it, though, given that they perish in the original. Lupita Nyong’o has also said that she’d rather not appear in any sequel, either.
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.