Young working actor Matthew Perry scored in 1994 when he was cast in a little sitcom called Friends. Perry became a household name when the show about six New York City pals living, loving, and raising ducks was an instant smash hit. Perry was arguably the most charming one of them all, thanks to his portrayal of Chandler Bing, a relentlessly wisecracking, emotionally stunted office drone who deeply loved his best friend Joey (Matt Le Blanc) and his wife Monica (Courteney Cox). In other words, a lot of viewers saw themselves—or someone they knew—in Chandler. Viewers invited the Friends into their homes for ten seasons, and when the show ended in 2004, all six went their separate ways to varying levels of success. Perry’s post-Friends resume is a bit more spotty than one would have suspected it to have been. Here’s why Hollywood no longer uses Perry the way it should.
Could his movie career BE any more disappointing?
During the first blush of fame for the stars of Friends, nearly all went off to make movies—terrible, terrible movies (with the exception of Courteney Cox in the exceptional Scream franchise). For example, Matt Le Blanc starred in Ed, a movie about a baseball playing monkey; David Schwimmer appeared in a bleak romantic comedy called The Pallbearer; and Perry starred in the romantic comedy Fools Rush In with Salma Hayek. It made just $29 million at the box office, a weak start for Perry’s film career that never really started. He eventually found some success in The Whole Nine Yards, but let’s be honest—that was a Bruce Willis vehicle in which Perry played second fiddle. The rest of Perry’s film career produced results that makes Hollywood tentative to place him at the center of a multi-million dollar production, bombs like Fools Rush In, Almost Heroes, Three to Tango, and Serving Sara, and The Whole Ten Yards. Perry hasn’t starred in a movie since 17 Again in 2009, and he probably won’t be in one anytime soon.
A lack of dramatic developments
Matthew Perry is an actor, and an actor likes to stretch their acting muscles—particularly after getting pigeonholed by the world and Hollywood into doing just one kind of thing. This is all to say that Perry has branched out past broad television comedy into very serious television drama. In 2006, Perry’s first big post-Friends gig was Aaron Sorkin’s Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. On the deadly serious, self-congratulatory show about a Saturday Night Live series doing important work, Perry played Matt Albie, one of the show’s legendary writers. Despite being Sorking’s much-ballyhooed follow-up to The West Wing, the show was a ratings disappointment and lasted just one season. In 2017 he played “the most challenging role of his career”—Ted Kennedy in The Kennedys: Decline and Fall, the umpteenth TV miniseries about the Kennedys, which aired on an obscure cable channel called Reelz. Unfortunately, it didn’t increase Perry’s profile much, neither did a recurring role as a nasty lawyer on The Good Wife and its spinoff, The Good Fight.
His comedy track record isn’t so funny
After the cancellation of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Perry returned to the world that was very good to him: TV comedy. However, a Friends-shaped lightning bolt didn’t strike twice. Unlike his former co-stars TV comedy projects—Courteney Cox’s Cougar Town and Matt Le Blanc’s Episodes—Perry’s funny shows came and went quickly. On ABC’s 2011 surreal workplace comedy Mr. Sunshine, Perry played Ben Donovan, manager of a third-rate San Diego sports arena. ABC canceled it after nine episodes. In 2013, Perry returned to NBC with Go On. On this drama-infused single-camera comedy, Perry played a widower who joins a grief support group, which included characters played by Broadway star Laura Benanti and alt-comedy icon Brett Gelman. This one lasted a little longer than Mr. Sunshine: 22 episodes. In 2015, Perry returned to non-ambitious TV comedy with the laugh-track-laden sitcom The Odd Couple, a remake of the ’70s classic which was in turn based on a Neil Simon play. It lasted just 38 episodes.
He’s had some difficult drug and alcohol issues
Sadly, Perry is as memorable for his off-stage struggles with substance abuse as he is for his on-screen role as Miss Chanandler Bong. In a 2013 interview with People, Perry revealed the finer, lower points of his long battles with alcohol and prescription drugs. “I was on Friends from age 24 to 34,” Perry said. From an outsider’s perspective, it would seem like I had it all. It was actually a very lonely time for me because I was suffering from alcoholism. It was going on before Friends, but it’s a progressive disease.” After a jet-ski accident, things got worse when a doctor prescribed strong painkillers. Perry said he took the pills and “felt better than I ever felt in my entire life. I had a big problem with pills and alcohol, and I couldn’t stop.” Perry went to drug rehab on more than one occasion, and by his early 40s, he counted himself sober. He also devoted a lot of his time to try to help other people dealing with substance abuse. He lobbied Congress to provide $45 million to fund “drug courts,” in which nonviolent drug offenders get “sentenced” to treatment instead of jail time. He even converted his Malibu home into a sober living home called Perry House.
The current Matthew Perry doesn’t look like the past Matthew Perry
Ready for a startling revelation about Hollywood? The movie industry is a superficial, appearance-obsessed place. The way an actor looks is as important, if not more important, than their skills, ambition, and past successes. The people who make movies often cast a part with a “look” or with a famous face in mind, and if a known actor’s looks change, it can affect their ability to get roles for which they might have otherwise have been considered. The problem with Matthew Perry just may be that Matthew Perry doesn’t look like “Matthew Perry” anymore. The passage of time will change a person’s appearance somewhat—Friends debuted almost 25 years ago, after all—in addition to life putting the actor through the ringer. Years of substance abuse, along with the health problems and physical toll that go along with it, show on Perry’s face. It’s no exaggeration to say that he’s increasingly unrecognizable.
He’ll always be Chandler Bing—like it or not
In the late ’80s and early ’90s, Matthew Perry was a young character actor working mainly in TV, particularly in short-lived shows, guest-starring gigs, and short plot arcs. (Before Friends his biggest gig was playing Carol Seaver’s boyfriend who died after driving drunk in a Very Special Episode of Growing Pains.) He won the career and steady income lottery when Friends came around. Unfortunately, when an actor is on an insanely popular and long-running show, it can ironically limit their future work possibilities. Perry is so inexorably linked with Chandler that it’s been hard for him to break free. It’s hard for the people that both make entertainment and watch it to think of Perry as anything other than a 20-something smart aleck in a sweater vest. After playing Chandler Bing more than 240 times, Perry is sort of locked into the ’90s, and his character, forever, particularly as Friends continues to air in reruns until the end of time.
He’s not exactly a Friends ’til the end guy
Friends fans have clamored for some kind of Friends reunion since about 10 minutes after the show wrapped up in 2004. Be it a big-screen movie, a reunion special, or a full-on reboot, millions would love to see Chandler and Monica’s nearly-grown twins, or to find out just how many times Ross and Rachel have broken up and gotten back together. It would take a lot of effort and money to get all the friends back for Friends, all of whom are busy, particularly A-list movie star Jennifer Aniston. And yet she’s not the one dragging her feet. Apparently the one member of the cast who isn’t down for a Friends reunion—and who would have the most to gain from one—is Matthew Perry. But why? In 2017, he told Vanity Fair that he fears it wouldn’t be any good. “I have this recurring nightmare—I’m not kidding about this. When I’m asleep, I have this nightmare that we do Friends again and nobody cares,” Perry said. “We do a whole series, we come back, and nobody cares about it. So if anybody asks me, I’m gonna say no. The thing is: we ended on such a high. We can’t beat it.” The closest thing to a Friends reunion actually went down in 2016. A televised tribute to prolific TV director James Burrows featured five out of six friends—guess who was missing? Perry’s reps said he couldn’t attend because he was stuck in London rehearsing his play, The End of Longing.
He likes acting, but he really likes writing
As stated, a lot of Matthew Perry’s post-Friends television projects didn’t become massively popular cultural touchstones, but they at least gave him some experience for the burgeoning next phase of his career: making stuff, rather than just acting in stuff. For example, Perry came up with the idea for Mr. Sunshine, and he co-wrote the first and last episodes of the short-lived series. He was an executive producer on that show, the same role he’d have on Go On, The Kennedys: Decline and Fall, and The Odd Couple. Perry also co-created and starred in an unsold 2008 pilot called The End of Steve, a comedy about a potty-mouthed talk show host. Creating and writing to supplement his acting is definitely where Perry’s heart lies these days. In 2017, his play The End of Longing moved from London to New York. New York Times critic Jesse Green described it as the story of “a Chandler gone to seed, a round-the-clock drunk named Jack who is eking his way through his late 40s on sarcasm and a last filament of charm.” That sounds familiar… uncomfortably so.