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PopEntertainment.com > Feature Interviews Ė Actors > Feature Interviews P to T > Matthew Perry

 

GO ON -- Season: Pilot -- Pictured: Matthew Perry as Ryan -- (Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBC)

Matthew Perry

Looking For Something To Go On

by Jay S. Jacobs

 
Copyright ©2012 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: October 10, 2012.

Having played oneĖsixth of the classic sitcom ensemble of Friends, Matthew Perry is a face that we are comfortable with in our living rooms.  As Chandler Bing Ė arguably the most neurotic of that highlyĖcaffeinated crew Ė Perry spent a decade asking us if we could BE more happy to have him visit us every MustĖSee 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 Ė 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 smallĖscreen.  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 own short-lived concept 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 angerĖmanagement 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."

GO ON -- Season: 1 -- Pictured: Matthew Perry as Ryan -- (Photo by: Robert Trachtenberg/NBC)What drew you to Go On? Youíve done a few shows. What was it about this one that was special that you thought hey, this might be the one Iíve 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. Itís 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 heíd 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. Youíve got a show. Thereís Mattís show...

Itís called Episodes.

Yes, Episodes. Lisa Kudrow and Courteney Cox have series too, and of course Jennifer Aniston is making films. What do you think Ė 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 thereís some curse, I just never really listened to it. But, I guess itís good now that theyíre not saying that anymore. Friends was a magical thing. No oneís 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 didnít 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 didnít really follow it. Then I learned that there was somebody else that could create a show for me better than me. Thatís what happened with Go On.

Itís 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. Itís a guy whoís lost his wife. Heís 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?

Thatís 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 Ė I had said that itís 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 "DEADWIFE" or "NOMOWIFE" 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.

GO ON -- "Pilot" -- Pictured: Matthew Perry as Ryan King -- (Photo by: Jordin Althaus/NBC)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 youíre working on comedy?

Oh sure. Yeah, you pull from everything. Just to be a comedian or somebody whoís trying to be funny, you have to have some darkness behind it. I think all comedians are able to draw on that and thatís 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 weekís show. Iím 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 whoís really good. We were really lucky that Christine Woods came in to do it. Those scenes are some of my favorite scenes that weíve 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 Iím glad that [she]ís 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 Iím labeled is an ambassador for them. Itís 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. Iím really proud to be a part of that whole thing because itís a no brainer: everybody agrees that itís a good thing. Itís a bipartisan thing. Republicans and Democrats both are behind it. Itís good because it just doesnít 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.

Youíve 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 Ryanís characteristic too, heís 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 donít that that is a current trait of mine. It certainly used to be. It was one of the tenets of Chandler Ė 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 itís 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 heís less apt to make fun of it now and more apt to take part in it. But, heís a character just like myself thatís a little older and Ė or a lot older Ė and is less in need of doing that. 

GO ON -- Episode 102 -- Pictured: Matthew Perry as Ryan King -- (Photo by: Justin Lubin/NBC)You have some guest stars that are coming: Bob Costas, Chris Bosh Lauren Graham and others. Can you talk about what theyíre going to do on the show?

Sure. Thereís an episode coming up that Bob Costas and Rich Eisen are both in. Itís 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 itíll be good. Heíll be back as an adversary. I do get my shot with Bob Costas and you can imagine, given the fact that itís a comedy, that it does not go that well. Chris Bosh has a little cameo on the show. Misty May-Treanorís coming on. Itís just really fun because we get to have these athletes come on. Across the board, theyíve 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 youíre 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, whoís hilarious. And Brett Gelman, whoís just really, really funny. Laura Benanti is hilarious. Itís my job if Iím looking to do a TV show to try to surround myself with the funniest people possible. It was Scottís job to make that happen as well. John Cho playing my boss, Allison Miller playing my assistant. It's really great Ė 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 youíre 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 sheís this wonderful Broadway actress. She is just terrific. She plays a role that could be dismissed as being not very likable because sheís very angry and her character sort of can be mean from time to time. But you still pull for her because you know that sheís had this loss in her life. She is just yet another incredibly talented person in all of those grief therapy scenes. Itís great to have her.

GO ON -- Season: 1 -- Pictured: (left, top down) Tyler James Williams as Owen, John Cho as Steven, Laura Benanti as Lauren, (center) Matthew Perry as Ryan, (right, top down) Brett Gelman as Mr. K, Julie White as Anne, Suzy Nakamura as Yolanda -- (Photo by: Robert Trachtenberg/NBC)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, thatís 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 Ė 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 clichť 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. Heís a guy who I think if this tragic thing had not happened to him, he wouldíve 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.

GO ON -- Episode 102 -- Pictured: (l-r) John Cho as Steven, Matthew Perry as Ryan King -- (Photo by: Justin Lubin/NBC)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. Itís 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. Iím really happy with how Go On is going and I hope to get to do some more Good Wifeís in the future too.

At this point in your career youíve 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 itís Chandler and this character that Iím playing now, the character of Ryan King. Itís a very deep, enriching character to play because heís going through so much and heís 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 donít know. I think itís "wearing his heart on his sleeve" kind of people that Iíve 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 donít say that theyíre sort of feeling or thinking but that they wouldnít 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.

GO ON -- "Promo Coverage" -- Pictured: (l-r) Matthew Perry as Ryan, Brett Gelman as Mr. K -- Gymnast Shawn Johnson shoots promos with Matthew Perry and the cast of Go On. The promos will run during NBC's coverage of the Olympic games. -- (Photo by: Justin Lubin/NBC)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 weíre fortunate enough to do a second season I think that Iíll probably end up doing that. Itís 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. Weíve seen his work life, his personal life and the pain heís 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 weíll definitely find out all of these things. We have an episode where we deal pretty heavily with Own and what heís 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.ís deal is and what heís 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 theyíre there.

I was wondering who some of your favorite actors were growing up.

Sure. My favorite actor was Ė is Ė Michael Keaton. In the movie Night Shift, he did something brand new that I hadnít 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, thatís what I want to do. So I think Iíd have to say Michael Keaton.

GO ON -- "Do You Believe in Ghosts? Yes!" Episode 104 -- Pictured: (l-r) Christine Woods as Janie, Matthew Perry as Ryan King -- (Photo by: Justin Lubin/NBC)Is there a sports icon that you would love to have on the show eventually?

Well, we had asked Wayne Gretzky. Iíd love to have [him] on the show at some point. Weíve 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 Ė 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. Sheís 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. Thatís 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 Iíve done a pretty good job about that in my career. But, Iím a really lucky guy. I had the biggest up, which is being on Friends for ten years. So all the downs donít seem as down after that happens to you. Iíve just been very, very fortunate. The key to all of it is to make sure that acting is not the only thing youíve got going on in your life, so you donít identify solely with the ups and downs of that.

GO ON -- "TBD" Episode 106 -- Pictured: (l-r) Matthew Perry as Ryan, Julie White as Anne -- (Photo by: Justin Lubin/NBC)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 heís hilarious. I didnít actually think he was making fun of the show, he was more making fun of the guy he was playing. Itís Seth MacFarlane, so if he doesnít like something, youíre 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, thatís the interesting thing about this show. We couldnít pursue any potential romances or any of that for a while because of the situation heís in. But, just like any person, heís going to grow and move forward and part of that will be whatís now much delayed but some dating and some getting himself out there stuff. Weíre talking about a story right now where he really throws himself out there into the single scene and itís pretty funny whatís coming up about it. I think just like any other human being, heís going to evolve and move forward and start to get into that world for sure. And Lauren Graham is Ė couldnít ask for a better person to come on the show and sort of jumpstart that.

Is there was anyone thatís 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. Thatís certainly what happened on Friends and I think thatís the direction theyíre leaning in here. Iím pretty similar to my guy. Laura Benanti is pretty similar to her character. Iíd like to say that Brett Gelman is similar to Mr. K, but I donít know if any human being on the face of the planet is similar to Mr. K.

The actual craft of making situation comedy Ė 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?

GO ON -- Episode 103 -- Pictured: (l-r) Matthew Perry as Ryan, Bill Cobbs as George -- (Photo by: Justin Lubin/NBC)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 youíre doing a four camera show itís doing a different one act play every week so youíre playing to the back seat in the house. I think it breeds a slightly bigger performance than when youíre doing one camera. You can afford to tone it down a little bit, be a little bit more real when youíre doing a one camera show because youíre not playing to a live audience. In terms of comedy, I still think whateverís 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 youíre angry on a sitcom, youíre sort of winking and going "hey everybody, watch me be angry. Youíre going to enjoy this." On a one camera show, youíre 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 youíve 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 itís fun and an interesting challenge and a job and not something to make your entire life and your entire identity about. I think thatís the thing that Iíve learned the most. But, part and parcel of that is to just really have fun doing what youíre 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 couldnít do much of in Friends is youíre able to do a certain amount of on-location shooting. How do you think that makes the show more interesting?

Well, you know, it doesnít 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 Iím 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 donít really have a preference between the two. I love doing both. I think doing a comedy is potentially more challenging because youíre forced to do a joke a page and youíre forced to be funny at a certain rate. Iím sure that will surprise most people because most people would think that I would say drama is harder because Iíve had so much experience in comedy. They both pose their challenges, but I actually think doing a comedy is harder than doing a drama.

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Photo Credits:
#1 © 2012 Paul Drinkwater. Courtesy of NBC. All rights reserved.
#2 © 2012 Robert Trachtenberg. Courtesy of NBC. All rights reserved.
#3 © 2012 Jordan Althaus. Courtesy of NBC. All rights reserved.
#4 © 2012 Justin Lubin. Courtesy of NBC. All rights reserved.
#5 © 2012 Robert Trachtenberg. Courtesy of NBC. All rights reserved.
#6 © 2012 Justin Lubin. Courtesy of NBC. All rights reserved.
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#8 © 2012 Justin Lubin. Courtesy of NBC. All rights reserved.
#9 © 2012 Justin Lubin. Courtesy of NBC. All rights reserved.
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