for 10 seasons—is back in New York City, making his Broadway debut May 7 in the WWII military drama The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial
. During a break from rehearsals, the actor spoke with PEOPLE's Alexis Chiu about keeping up with his Friends, planning for fatherhood and turning—no way!—40.
Although he's a theater vet who has acted onstage in Chicago and London, "there's a certain amount of healthy terror" in making his Broadway bow, says Schwimmer—"Schwim" to his pals. To prepare for his role as a U.S. Navy attorney in the play based on the 1951 Herman Wouk novel, Schwimmer sought input from his parents, retired lawyers Arthur and Arlene, both 65. "This character is incredibly intense, smart and straight-ahead, instead of a soft, wet puppy like Ross," says Schwimmer's pal and castmate Joe Sikora. "This guy will slice you down. People are gonna be shocked."
"I like having some distance from that 10-year chapter—I can appreciate it more," Schwimmer says of leaving Friends behind. "Do I miss it? I miss the rehearsal process with that group of actors and writers. I miss the joking around, the friendships." As for keeping in touch, "I talked to Courteney [Cox Arquette] today, but I haven't seen her in quite a while. Had lunch with Matt LeBlanc last week. Ran into Matt Perry a few weeks ago at a party. It's when we can. Everyone's got such different lives, both personally and professionally. It's tough."
"There's nothing I do now that I don't feel incredibly passionate about," the actor says of his savings from those $1 million-per-episode Friends
paychecks—including helping a pal produce his first short film. He also supports his longtime cause, the Rape Treatment Center of Santa Monica, as well as the Lookingglass Theatre Company in Chicago, which he cofounded in 1988. Schwimmer also acted on the London stage last year in the drama Some Girl(s)
. One big post-Friends
splurge: "I finally found a great apartment in New York and spent some time doing it from the ground up. I looked at it as a big creative art project."
Acknowledging that his friends tease him for being "so competitive—at everything," Schwimmer deals into a regular Monday-night poker game in L.A. and is eager to join buddy Hank Azaria's game in Manhattan. Another talent? "He's a major dancer," says actress Saffron Burrows, a friend. "He's got a cute little bum wiggle."
THE DADDY TRACK
Because of his frequent travels, his year-and-a-half relationship with model (and a runner-up for Miss Hawaii in 2005) Rochelle Ovitt, 27, "has been off and on," says Schwimmer. (It's currently on.) Approaching a milestone birthday—he'll turn 40 on Nov. 2—he's thinking hard about the future. "I still want to work with people like [director] Mike Nichols," he says. Also, "I would love a dog. I think it's gonna have to wait until I settle down and have a family." When might that be? "It will happen when it feels right," he says. "Maybe part of me is waiting for myself to slow down a little and be ready to stay put. I'm confident it's gonna happen."
It's been two years since Central Perk served its last latte, which means that right about now, Ross and Rachel, toddler Emma in tow, would probably be joining Chandler and Monica in the 'burbs. But David Schwimmer—who played lovably dorky Ross Geller on