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People Online Interview 1998

Always a 'Friend', Almost a 'Hero'
Interview is taken from the People Online Website

Matthew Perry is tan -- very tan. His athletic frame and charming wisecracks are certainly a relief to anyone who worried when the then-reed-thin sitcom star checked himself into rehab for an addiction to the prescription painkiller Vicodin a year ago. But there's something unsettling about this new tawny glow, to say nothing of Perry's hair, which matches his complexion. It's all very. . . un-Chandler-esque. Perry looks less like Friends' neurotic nice guy and more like a giant Ken doll -- handsome, strong-jawed, strapping and an even burnt sienna from head to toe. "I'm just constantly embarrassed," Perry, 28, deadpans of his coloring. Actually, his new look is indeed part of life beyond Chandler -- it's for his role in Three to Tango, a romantic comedy Perry is shooting in Toronto. "[Costar] Neve Campbell and I looked like twins," he says. "And since she's more famous than me, I had to change." It's not the only change Perry has made of late. In his new film, Almost Heroes, Perry departs from his trademark Friend to play Leslie Edwards, a wool-suited Colonial prig bent on beating Lewis and Clark to the Pacific Ocean with the help of Bartholomew Hunt, an earthy tracker played by Chris Farley. Riffing off of the comic's thundering style gave Perry a chance to go over the top (or at least up to it). "There was a fear that I would just be the straight man," Perry says. "[Then] we found that Leslie was scared of everything. I think I did about 75 scared takes. I do king-sized takes, just huge. I stole a lot from Jackie Gleason and W.C. Fields."
"It was really hard. Just sad," Perry says of Farley's death. "I miss him, because I got to see sides of him that I think only people he let get close got to see. I was amazed at how smart a man he was, how sweet a guy he was. You looked across the room and wanted to hug him."
Perry was also influenced by the man he considers "maybe the funniest person in the world," Heroes director Christopher Guest (Spinal Tap and Waiting for Guffman). "Working with him was intimidating as hell at first," he says. "If you make Christopher Guest laugh, which is something that rarely happens, you're in a good mood for about two weeks." Perry said his mood then was generally good. But since the shoot, Perry's mood has often been somber, especially after Farley died at the age of 33 last December. "It was really hard. Just sad," Perry says. "I miss him, because I got to see sides of him that I think only people he let get close got to see. I was amazed at how smart a man he was, how sweet a guy he was. You looked across the room and wanted to hug him." Farley was also, of course, a troubled man who battled myriad substance abuse problems. But Perry says Farley "was completely straight, healthy" while shooting Heroes. He and Farley compared notes on their demons, Perry told TV Guide. Fortunately, Perry's struggle to shake his addiction to Vicodin (following the removal of wisdom teeth and an accident on a Jet Ski) ended more happily "[I]t's strange to say, but it's probably the thing I'm most proud of in my entire life," he told TV Guide. "Anything can come at me now and I feel like I can take it because I got myself through that."
"It's sick and disgusting, but we really, really like each other a lot," Perry says of the Friends cast.
Not that Perry's life had been a free ride. His parents (to whom Perry is still close), divorced before their only child turned one. Growing up with his mother Suzanne, a press secretary and TV anchor, Perry spent his free time on the stage and tennis court and became the number two-ranked junior tennis player in Ottawa, Canada, at the age of 13. Two years later he decided to move to L.A. to bond with his father John Bennett, a TV actor, and to sharpen his game. Finding the California competition much stiffer, Perry shifted his career sights to acting. Though Perry got off to a quick start in Hollywood, appearing in his first TV role a week after graduating high school, it took seven years of guest spots and failed pilots to land Friends in 1994. The sitcom's instant huge success put Perry on the map (and the cover of PEOPLE), and he's in no rush to see the series end. He's pleased about this season's "kind of sad" finale. And he still enjoys working with his, well, pals. "It's sick and disgusting, but we really, really like each other a lot," he says a little sheepishly. "We got lucky, because out of six, there's not a jerk in the group."
That camaraderie and support has come in handy with the cast members' often shaky forays into film. Though Perry's big-screen debut, last year's Fools Rush In (which nabbed a decent, if hardly blockbuster, $29.3 million), fared better than some of his castmates' initial ventures, he insists there's no competition. "We're all kind of pulling for each other," he says. "We're really supportive. I went to see Ed (Matt LeBlanc's monkey-baseball flop that scored only $4.4 million). I can joke with him about it because I read for Ed and didn't get it." Perry also dismisses the so-called Friends curse at the box office, pointing to the recent success of LeBlanc's Lost In Space and Jennifer Aniston's Object of My Affection.
But there are disappointments. Though Friends is still a regular in the Top Five, it lost next fall's coveted Seinfeld time slot to Frasier. "I had a 10 minute childish, 'Why isn't it us' [reaction to NBC's decision]," Perry admits. "But we're doing really well where we are. Why rock the boat?" Scrupulously self-deprecating, Perry can't help adding under his breath, "Or shake the boat, as I said earlier. Wrong."
Ultimately, Perry hopes to model his career on Michael Keaton's. "I just think he's terrific. In the same calendar year, he did Beetlejuice and Clean and Sober," he says. "That would be nice to have." In the meantime, he'll settle for his TV pas de deux with Keaton's former flame, Courtney Cox. "Monica's even more neurotic than Chandler," he notes brightly. "They could make a kind of cool couple." Not that that would be the best way to show off a Keatonesque range. "My neuroses are kind of similar to Chandler's," he sighs, "just on some lower, less funny scale."
-- LAURA SMITH KAY