Matthew Perry Is Looking For Something to Go On
by Jay S. Jacobs
Having played one–sixth of the classic sitcom ensemble of Friends, Matthew Perry is a face that we are comfortable with in our living rooms. As Chandler Bing – arguably the most neurotic of that highly–caffeinated crew – Perry spent a decade asking us if we could BE more happy to have him visit us every Must–See Thursday.
After his classic show came to an end, Perry has taken on a fascinating career, a series of very different roles only held together by the star’s natural charisma. Perry has had some success in films – Fools Rush In, The Whole Nine Yards and 17 Again all became pretty sizable hits, but he also was willing to take on darker independent roles like Numb and Birds of America. However, Perry has always been a perfect fit for the small–screen. He has not tried to just reinvent the Bing, instead taking some risky chances like Aaron Sorkin’s flawed-but-underrated Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and Perry’s ownshort-livedconcept as Mr. Sunshine.
Now, eight years after he last told the world that he’d be there for us when the rain starts to fall, Perry is retaking the small screen by force. First, Perry took on a recurring arc on current critical darling The Good Wife as Mike Kresteva, a likable-but-devious Chicago politico. While the role is currently in the background, it was strongly hinted that Mike would return to create policy chaos later on this season. In the meantime Perry has also returned to the sitcom form, helming one of the new season’s bigger hits Go On as Ryan King, a sports radio talk show host being forced to go to group therapy to deal with his anger–management problems and his grief about his recently deceased wife.
And we could not BE more happy that Perry is back.
A few weeks into the run of Go On, we were invited to take part in a conference call with Perry to discuss his new show, his career and even a bit about that old show he used to be on that rhymes with “spends.”
What drew you to Go On? You’ve done a few shows. What was it about this one that was special that you thought hey, this might be the one I’ve been looking for?
It was just written really well. I was looking to do a drama and had met all the networks and studios in the development season about finding a drama and was sent this. It’s obviously a comedy. I could tell by the amount of pages that it was a comedy. (chuckles) I called my manager and said why did you send me this? He said, “just read it.” I realized that it had all of the elements that I was looking for. It was definitely funny, it had a lot of funny characters in it. Also it posed a big dramatic challenge too. Plus I had known [series creator] Scott Silveri. He was on Friends for eight years and he’d written a really great script so I was in.
After Friends ended they always said the curse that no one could get on a hit show afterwards. Everyone seems now to be right in the groove. You’ve got a show. There’s Matt’s show…
It’s called Episodes.
Yes, Episodes. Lisa Kudrow and Courteney Cox have series too, and of course Jennifer Aniston is making films. What do you think – did it take a while for everybody to find the right vehicle or were people just expecting something different?
I never really paid any attention to [that]. I think that was just sort of reporters searching for a story. The six of us are six of the luckiest people on the face of the planet. So to suggest that there’s some curse, I just never really listened to it. But, I guess it’s good now that they’re not saying that anymore. Friends was a magical thing. No one’s going to ever have anything like that again. You try to just search for good projects. For me, I did Studio 60, which everybody thought was going to be amazing. It was pretty good, but it didn’t work. Then I took my hand at trying to write something. Try to create a show myself, which was Mr. Sunshine, which worked to a certain degree creatively, but audiences didn’t really follow it. Then I learned that there was somebody else that could create a show for me better than me. That’s what happened with Go On.
It’s interesting to hear you say that you were looking for a drama initially because if you strip the comedic element of it, the base situation here is actually quite sad. It’s a guy who’s lost his wife. He’s surrounded by these people who have all gone through some very serious things to get to where they are. How do you walk that line between a situation that is very serious and yet finding ways to make it funny?
That’s the very interesting tonal challenge of this show. Nobody knew whether it was going to work. Nobody knew really whether people were going to laugh at these sad situations. But, Scott in the pilot just did that tone thing perfectly so there was a lot of funny things but at the base of it is a very sad story. I think it was the third episode when we did a comedic run – I had said that it’s hard to tell people that my wife has passed away, I should just get vanity plates that say it. Then everybody starts pitching on what those vanity plates could say. You know, like “dead wife” or “no mo wife” and things like that. That was a really risky scene and people loved it. So, then, we knew that audiences were going to laugh at this stuff.
You mentioned dark themes and how to deal with that lightly. How do you deal with tough times in your life? Being a comedian, do you pull from that when you’re working on comedy?
Oh sure. Yeah, you pull from everything. Just to be a comedian or somebody who’s trying to be funny, you have to have some darkness behind it. I think all comedians are able to draw on that and that’s why some comedians who do dramatic work, can do some of the best dramatic work. Like, Robin Williams and Michael Keaton and Tom Hanks. So, in this show I certainly draw on my past and it helps.
I really enjoyed the scenes you had with Christine Woods as the late wife in last week’s show. I’m curious what you feel like she was able to bring out in Ryan?
I thought it was really interesting to show Janie. You see what this guy has lost. Casting that part was very, very difficult because you need to show somebody of weight. Somebody who’s really good. We were really lucky that Christine Woods came in to do it. Those scenes are some of my favorite scenes that we’ve done so far because I get to play a whole different level in those scenes. That character obviously has to be used very sparingly but I’m glad that [she]’s part of the show.
Can you tell us a little bit more about your participation with the National Association of Drug Court Professionals? What is exactly what you do?
Sure. That is Drug Court. I guess the thing that I’m labeled is an ambassador for them. It’s a group of judges across the country that take first time, nonviolent drug offenders and put them into a treatment program instead of just throwing them into jail. I’m really proud to be a part of that whole thing because it’s a no brainer: everybody agrees that it’s a good thing. It’s a bipartisan thing. Republicans and Democrats both are behind it. It’s good because it just doesn’t throw these drug addicts away, it puts them into a treatment facility where they can become valuable members of society instead of just putting them in prison.
You’ve said in the past that you have a tendency to avert a personal thing and to go with the joke whenever you can instead. That really seems to be Ryan’s characteristic too, he’s the last guy who wants to talk seriously. Is that still a trait or yours and what do you find interesting about that when Ryan has that trait?
Well, I don’t that that is a current trait of mine. It certainly used to be. It was one of the tenants of Chandler – given any kind of serious situation, he will divert it by trying to make it a joke. It makes for a very good character in a sitcom because it’s a built-in excuse for someone to be funny. Ryan King, my character in Go On in the pilot is certainly like that. But by Episode three or four, for the most part he has realized that he needs this group of people in spite of himself. So he’s less apt to make fun of it now and more apt to take part in it. But, he’s a character just like myself that’s a little older and – or a lot older – and is less in need of doing that.
You have some guest stars that are coming: Bob Costas, Chris Bosh Lauren Graham and others. Can you talk about what they’re going to do on the show?
Sure. There’s an episode coming up that Bob Costas and Rich Eisen are both in. It’s just a really fun episode where Bob Costas calls my character, Ryan King, and says that he really is a fan of the show and wants to give me a tryout for a national TV job. Rich Eisen is playing himself, obviously, and Bob Costas is playing himself. But Rich Eisen is a competitor and it’ll be good. He’ll be back as an adversary. I do get my shot with Bob Costas and you can imagine, given the fact that it’s a comedy, that it does not go that well. Chris Bosh has a little cameo on the show. Misty May-Treanor’s coming on. It’s just really fun because we get to have these athletes come on. Across the board, they’ve all been great, which make me think that acting is easy and it makes me sad.
Could you talk a little bit about your co-stars, the cast that you’re surrounded with each episode?
Yes. Scott Silveri panicked about a month before we started the show and was like this is a show about a guy who lost his wife. We have to have as many funny people surrounding him as possible. That panic led to the casting of Sarah Baker, who’s hilarious. And Brett Gelman, who’s just really, really funny. Laura Benanti is hilarious. It’s my job if I’m looking to do a TV show to try to surround myself with the funniest people possible. It was Scott’s job to make that happen as well. John Cho playing my boss, Allison Miller playing my assistant. It’s really great – everywhere you look is just a funny, smart, talented, driven person, which makes the show even better.
Your dynamic with John Cho on the show is so great. He said before in interviews that you’re his comedic hero, especially with Chandler and Friends. What are your thoughts on that and working with him in general?
I love working with John. We were very lucky to get him. He had been hired in the pilot as a guest star and then we asked him to be a regular. We were very fortunate that he said yes. As for me being his comedic hero, he has mentioned that to me in the past and all that does is make me feel old.
You have also great comedic timing when it comes to working with Julie White. Can you talk about working with her?
Julie White was the first person hired. She was even hired before I was, so she was the first person on board. I knew that they were going for great people because she’s this wonderful Broadway actress. She is just terrific. She plays a role that could be dismissed as being not very likable because she’s very angry and her character sort of can be mean from time to time. But you still pull for her because you know that she’s had this loss in her life. She is just yet another incredibly talented person in all of those grief therapy scenes. It’s great to have her.
When you were growing up, when did you first realize that you were funny?
I would always be the kid that got in trouble in school, that’s for sure, for joking around. I guess it was seventh grade I got put in a play in school in Ottawa, Canada. Greg Simpson was the head theatre guy and he cast me in a role in that. It was funny and I felt so good to get laughs. So it was probably then, seventh grade in Ottawa.
Ryan is a sportscaster. Why did the show decide to go with that profession for him? Was it certain type of person you were looking for to portray that would kind of be completely opposed to therapy or how did that go down?
Scott Silveri wrote the pilot – and this answer is filled with stereotypes, so I apologize in advance. I think because the show is so touchy feely and it so is dealing with emotions and people talking about their problems that Scott wanted to go like unapologetically male with the sports part of it. He wanted guys to watch it too. I think it lends itself to a smart-alecky guy on the radio who is not prepared to be talking his feelings and emotions all the time. I think the cliché answer is it just my character being in sports just gives something for everyone to enjoy on the show.
What are your three favorite classic TV shows?
I would say The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Honeymooners and Lost.
What do you look for in a character in order to play it? What types draw you to play this character and Go On?
You look for people that you can relate to, that you can shake hands with and understand. I have a tendency to try to find characters that are bent or broken and on a path to become better people. Ryan King certainly has those traits. He’s a guy who I think if this tragic thing had not happened to him, he would’ve lived his life as a rather unexplored life. But, this thing did happen to him so he reluctantly gets on this path to be a better person.
They seem to be continuing your arc on The Good Wife. Is it interesting balancing these two very different types of roles?
Yeah. I really love doing The Good Wife. I hope that I get to come back and do more. It’s really fun to play a guy who is just so evil. I like to do both. I like to do comedy and drama. I got both jobs on the exact same day. I got Go On and The Good Wife both on the same day. It was a great day. I’m really happy with how Go On is going and I hope to get to do some more Good Wife’s in the future too.
At this point in your career you’ve played so many characters in both TV shows and movies. Which have been your favorite to play?
I loved playing Chandler. I grew up playing that part. I would say probably in all honesty it’s Chandler and this character that I’m playing now, the character of Ryan King. It’s a very deep, enriching character to play because he’s going through so much and he’s also being very funny about it. So, I guess I would say Chandler and Ryan King.
You were drawing comparisons between the characters of Chandler and Ryan and I kind of liken Ryan to an evolved Chandler. What is it you think is the key to securing the connection with your audience and makes you so identifiable?
Oh, I don’t know. I think it’s “wearing his heart on his sleeve” kind of people that I’ve played a lot. I think people can relate to that journey, maybe not that openness about it but that journey. I like to play people that say things that normally people don’t say that they’re sort of feeling or thinking but that they wouldn’t say. I think that both Chandler and Ryan King have that aspect. I do agree with you, when I read Go On it was almost like this is Chandler ten years later if something really bad had happened to him. Hopefully both characters look the same, except one looks a little bit older.
You got past directorial experience with Scrubs. Would you like to get behind the camera for an episode of Go On and if so, is there any chance of that actually happening?
Yeah, actually it’s funny, we just talked about that the other day. If we’re fortunate enough to do a second season I think that I’ll probably end up doing that. It’s a very, very busy time already and directing is pretty all encompassing. But, it is certainly something that I think would be interesting to do somewhere down the line.
Congratulations on the full season pick up.
Oh, thanks. Yeah, we were very excited about that.
So far, Go On has done an outstanding job introducing your character to the audience. We’ve seen his work life, his personal life and the pain he’s suffering through as he continues to mourn the loss of his wife. Are there any episodes coming up that divulge further into the loss of other members of the transitions group are going through, such as Owen, Yolanda, or Mr. K. and possibly flashbacks?
Yes, I mean, throughout the life of the show we’ll definitely find out all of these things. We have an episode where we deal pretty heavily with Own and what he’s going through coming up in a couple of weeks. The longer the show goes on, the more we can expand on those characters and find out exactly. I too am very curious as to what Mr. K.’s deal is and what he’s doing in there. I think it just promises to be even deeper and more fun the more we get to explore these other characters and why they’re there.
I was wondering who some of your favorite actors were growing up.
Sure. My favorite actor was – is – Michael Keaton. In the movie Night Shift, he did something brand new that I hadn’t seen before, that we all sort of steal from now. I think it was in 1987 he did the movies Clean & Sober and Beetlejuice in the same year. That was when I said wow, that’s what I want to do. So I think I’d have to say Michael Keaton.
Is there a sports icon that you would love to have on the show eventually?
Well, we had asked Wayne Gretzky. I’d love to have [him] on the show at some point. We’ve talked to David Beckham and he said that he would do it, so that was very exciting. My favorite athlete of all time I was lucky enough to have on Mr. Sunshine but maybe we can have him come back on Go On too – Jimmy Connors. So, I guess my hope is that we get Jimmy Connors to come back and work with me again, which would be a dream come true.
Lauren Graham is going to be on, too, and I wondered if you could talk a little bit about her guest role.
Yes, my friend Lauren Graham agreed to come on the show, which we were really excited about. She plays a character named Amy who was an old college buddy of mine. There was like some sparks back in college, but then my character got married. Now that things have changed in his life, Amy, Lauren Graham, comes back. It was really fun to work with her again. She’s just so good. So there were some sparks there, which is the first time that Ryan has had any kind of feeling like that in a long, long time. It was really interesting.
You mentioned you got Good Wife and Go On at the same time. That’s such an amazing thing. I know as an actor you go through ups and downs career wise. Can you talk about enjoying the ups and not getting to down about the downs in a career that can be so fluctuating?
That really would be the key. It would be to enjoy the ups and not have the downs get you down. I think I’ve done a pretty good job about that in my career. But, I’m a really lucky guy. I had the biggest up, which is being on Friends for ten years. So all the downs don’t seem as down after that happens to you. I’ve just been very, very fortunate. The key to all of it is to make sure that acting is not the only thing you’ve got going on in your life, so you don’t identify solely with the ups and downs of that.
I just wanted to know what your opinion is of Seth MacFarlane who made fun on your show by calling it Goon instead of Go On the other day on Saturday Night Live.
Yes, well he’s hilarious. I didn’t actually think he was making fun of the show, he was more making fun of the guy he was playing. It’s Seth MacFarlane, so if he doesn’t like something, you’re really going to know it. I was nervous when I heard that he mentioned the show but quite relieved when I saw what the joke was.
Are we going to see Ryan go through the various phases of his grief and maybe eventually get a new love interest or will the show just stick with a limbo as in now and keep making fun of many depressed situations he finds himself in due to his loss and this new group of friends?
Yes, that’s the interesting thing about this show. We couldn’t pursue any potential romances or any of that for a while because of the situation he’s in. But, just like any person, he’s going to grow and move forward and part of that will be what’s now much delayed but some dating and some getting himself out there stuff. We’re talking about a story right now where he really throws himself out there into the single scene and it’s pretty funny what’s coming up about it. I think just like any other human being, he’s going to evolve and move forward and start to get into that world for sure. And Lauren Graham is – couldn’t ask for a better person to come on the show and sort of jumpstart that.
Is there was anyone that’s similar to their character at all?
Oh, I think what happens on all great shows is the writers end up writing to the actors who are playing the part. So, the characters are becoming more and more like the actors that play them. That’s certainly what happened on Friends and I think that’s the direction they’re leaning in here. I’m pretty similar to my guy. Laura Benanti is pretty similar to her character. I’d like to say that Brett Gelman is similar to Mr. K, but I don’t know if any human being on the face of the planet is similar to Mr. K.
The actual craft of making situation comedy – do you notice a difference from the 90s with Friends to today, either in terms of what the audience expects or how you do it from a technological perspective? Is it different at all?
Are you talking about the difference between four camera and one camera?
Yes, and the difference in what makes people laugh, what an audience expects. Has the essence of that changed at all? Has the audience changed and do you notice that they approach it differently?
When you’re doing a four camera show it’s doing a different one act play every week so you’re playing to the back seat in the house. I think it breeds a slightly bigger performance than when you’re doing one camera. You can afford to tone it down a little bit, be a little bit more real when you’re doing a one camera show because you’re not playing to a live audience. In terms of comedy, I still think whatever’s funny is funny and people are going to laugh at it. But in terms of performance I think, the not-so-new-anymore craze of doing one camera comedies just breeds a slightly more realistic performance. Like, if you’re angry on a sitcom, you’re sort of winking and going “hey everybody, watch me be angry. You’re going to enjoy this.” On a one camera show, you’re just playing angry. If that makes sense.
Friends is coming out on Blu-Ray, did you do anything special for that?
I did not do anything special for that, no.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned about this whole thing? If you went up to the pearly gates and they say, “well what did you learn about all that work you were doing?” what would you say?
I would say to look at it as it’s fun and an interesting challenge and a job and not something to make your entire life and your entire identity about. I think that’s the thing that I’ve learned the most. But, part and parcel of that is to just really have fun doing what you’re doing, which I certainly am doing on Go On.
You were just talking about some of the differences with one camera shows. One thing that I kept thinking is cool in the new show that you obviously couldn’t do much of in Friends is you’re able to do a certain amount of on-location shooting. How do you think that makes the show more interesting?
Well, you know, it doesn’t seem that different to me. If you ask ten people where Friends was shot, I think five of them would say New York. Of course we shot all of it at Warner Brothers [Studios in Los Angeles]. I guess it makes the show a little bit more full, a little bit more full canvas of a show and when you can go out and shoot things on location. The fact that on Go On we can go off and do some of those scenes and show like the exterior of where the rec center is. We shot a little bit of the Staples Center, which was obviously really fun for me because I’m a fan of that place. I think, just visually it keeps things more interesting.
You have done obviously both comedy and dramas and what I would love to know is do you have a preference between the two and which do you find to be more challenging?
I don’t really have a preference between the two. I love doing both. I think doing a comedy is potentially more challenging because you’re forced to do a joke a page and you’re forced to be funny at a certain rate. I’m sure that will surprise most people because most people would think that I would say drama is harder because I’ve had so much experience in comedy. They both pose their challenges, but I actually think doing a comedy is harder than doing a drama.
Copyright ©2012 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: October 10, 2012.