LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - In 2004 when his hit television comedy "Friends" ended, David Schwimmer longed to direct a feature film, and four years later his debut movie "Run FatBoy Run" finally rolls into theaters on Friday.
Schwimmer, nominated for an Emmy as the quirky Dr. Ross Geller on "Friends," honed his directing skills on stage in Chicago for years and directed several "Friends" episodes.
He was attached to direct "Run FatBoy Run" even before "Friends" left the air but the movie languished with an American production company that was unable to get it off the ground for a variety of reasons.
Still, Schwimmer, 41, stuck by plans to make "Run FatBoy Run" his film-directing debut because, he said, it had a lot of heart.
"I'd been reading a lot of scripts and this was the first one I laughed out loud at throughout. More importantly, I was really moved by the story," he told Reuters.
The comedy revolves around a hapless, overweight security guard named Dennis (Simon Pegg) who abandons his pregnant fiancee Libby (Thandie Newton) at the altar. Realizing his mistake years later, Dennis tries to win back Libby by running in a marathon against her new boyfriend.
At the same time, he is trying to build a relationship with his son, now about 6 years old. Seeing his earnest effort, his friends and family rally around him.
Schwimmer describes "Run FatBoy" as "three movies in one" -- a broad physical comedy, a love story and a sports movie.
"I thought it was big enough that it would really push me and really challenge me," he said.
While "Run FatBoy Run" is the first film Schwimmer has directed, he has directed plays for the Chicago-based stage company he helped found, Lookingglass Theatre.
"Directing all that theater really prepared me (for film)," he said. "You also learn to respect everyone. You realize everyone is as important and essential as you are."
In the years between "Friends" and "Run FatBoy Run," Schwimmer worked with Lookingglass and acted in movies like the low-budget "Duane Hopwood." He also guest-starred on TV sitcoms.
But in 2006, London-based Material Entertainment acquired the rights to make "Run FatBoy Run" and moved the location from its original New York City to London.
The company retained Schwimmer as director and the transition proved fortuitous because at the time he was filming a dark comedy, "Big Nothing," with Pegg.
The British actor and writer gained fame in horror spoof "Shaun of the Dead," and Pegg agreed to both rewrite the "Run FatBoy Run" script and star in the movie.
Schwimmer said he cannot decide which he likes more: acting or directing. Though he said there is no question which is more demanding and often more gratifying.
"When you put that much time and energy into something (as a director), you're that much more invested in it than you are when you act in something for two months," he said.
As for his directing future, Schwimmer thinks his chance of success is good and he points to a number of actors who also began careers as identifiable TV characters then moved to the director's chair.
"I kind of look at Ron Howard's career as a template, if I should be so lucky," Schwimmer said.
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Stacey Joyce