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Mr Showbiz Interview
This interview is taken from the Mr Showbiz website

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Matthew Perry, Friends' resident wiseacre, rushes into his first big-screen lead

By Jean Oppenheimer

Keen observers will note that the straight-laced yuppie Matthew Perry plays in Fools Rush In looks suspiciously like the straight-laced yuppie he plays on Friends every Thursday night. The actor has an easy explanation for the conservative career move. "I want people who like what I do on the show to like the movie," shrugs Perry. No kidding--if all thirty million weekly viewers of Friends buy a ticket to Fools Rush In, he'll have a $150-million blockbuster on his hands. That isn't going to happen, but it doesn't mean that Perry's first leap at big-screen stardom falls short. Fools Rush In opened to a gross of $10 million, which ranks as the best first-weekend sum on the small but growing list of Friends-driven film projects. More important, the solid performance puts Fools on track to turning a profit, meaning that Perry can breathe a little easier, knowing there are more movie roles in his future.

His quick success on the big screen is out of step with the rest of his performing career, which took a little longer to develop. Perry grew up in Canada and moved to Los Angeles at the age of fifteen, intent on pursuing a professional tennis career. He quickly discovered that his skills were better suited to acting, and landed small parts in the films A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon and She's Out of Control, as well as four failed TV series. But several lean years passed before the role of Chandler Bing on Friends earned him fame, fortune, Julia Roberts (briefly), and a million-dollar deal to take a shot at movie stardom in Fools Rush In.

Perry's movie debut casts him as an uptight businessman who marries a vivacious Latina beauty (the stunning Salma Hayek) after a wild one-night stand leaves her pregnant. Loosely based on the relationship of two of the film's producers (now divorced), Fools depicts the couple's struggles to come to terms with their differences--and maybe even fall in love. Is this quirky romantic comedy the beginning of a long, distinguished movie career? Perry hopes so, but he's the first to point out that if it isn't, he's got a heckuva day job to fall back on. The actor sat down for a chat shortly before the release of Fools Rush In and discussed his career goals and anxieties, the TV show, and the perception (false, he says), that his Friends are big-screen failures.

"My first experience with a Mexican-American was with Salma . . . my hope is that everybody looks like that."

Mr. Showbiz: You've established yourself as a big TV star, but Fools Rush In is your first leading role on the big screen. That transition has been difficult--impossible, even--for many television performers to make. Are you feeling any pressure?

Matthew Perry: The predominant pressure I felt was to be good in the movie, and that's all I focused on. I hope it's a good movie and that I am good in it. The other stuff is out of my control. I would go crazy if I started obsessing about that. I saw Fools Rush In and I really liked it. I don't know how people do all these publicity rounds if they don't like the finished product. It would just be four days of lying.

You've undoubtedly had a lot of movie roles offered to you over the past couple years. How did you decide on this one?

My favorite genre currently is a romantic comedy that has something bizarre in the middle of it. I loved the movie Splash. That's what Tom Hanks did coming off of Bosom Buddies, and that's not a bad blueprint of a career to aspire for. I wanted to pick something that wasn't too far away from what I was doing on Friends because I want people who like what I do on that show to like the movie. Yet I also wanted to be afforded the opportunity to have some serious romantic scenes. Because the script for Fools Rush In was so good and I got so invested in it while reading it, it seemed to afford me all those opportunities.

Fools Rush In is loosely based on the true-life story of the film's producer and co-producer. How did you feel about performing scenes from someone's life with the real person sitting right there?

That was extremely helpful, because a lot of bizarre stuff happens in this movie. A lot of strange things are put in my character's path, and you wonder sometimes how somebody would react. And the guy it had all really happened to is standing right over there. But because he's the producer, of course, he was mostly on the telephone. But when he got off the phone, I could ask him how he reacted to a certain situation, and then go play it.

You're the last of the Friends stars to take a shot at movie stardom. Has it been frustrating to watch the others come back to the TV set after appearing in movies that haven't done well?

I think people are in search of a hook or an angle when they say that movies starring Friends cast members don't do well. Courteney Cox's movie [Scream] has done seventy million dollars. Nobody talks about that. I saw The Pallbearer. I thought it was a really good movie. David Schwimmer did his job. If it wasn't successful, that's not his fault. I thought Matt LeBlanc did a good job in Ed. I thought it was a high-concept movie that didn't necessarily work. You have to understand that six months before these things started, we were all auditioning for small parts in movies and not getting them. And then all of a sudden we are getting offered all these movies. It's a very strange time. You have to try to pick a movie out of those offered to you that you think is going to be successful. I feel that I was really lucky with Fools Rush In.

In the film, your character gets his first real exposure to the Mexican culture. Have you had any personal experience with Mexican families yourself?

No, I haven't really. My first experience with a Mexican-American was with Salma, so my hope, basically, is that everybody looks like that.

Your real-life father (John Bennett Perry) plays your dad in Fools Rush In. How was it performing with him?

It was fantastic for two reasons. First, just as a kid, it was so cool to have your dad around. It was surreal. It's like, "What's your call time, dad? You want to go over lines together?" That was kind of a dream come true. And as a lead in a movie I was so happy to be surrounded by such a talented group of supporting players, him being one of them. He is so funny in this movie, and in a very un-fatherlike way, steals every scene he's in. He has been an actor for years.

Your dad was in the entertainment biz when you were growing up, and you saw a lot of what he went through. Was there any point in time when that exposure turned you off to the idea of a career in acting?

I always wanted to be in the business, and I was lucky enough to have someone in the other room while growing up that everything had happened to: everything good, everything bad. So when something would happen to me as an actor I'd come home and say, "This happened. What do I do?" And he'd say, "Well, 1973--here's what I did." It was great.

"All six of us thought it would be nice to be making the same
amount of money, whatever that amount turned out to be."

You were cast in your first film role after being "discovered" by director William Richert while sitting in a restaurant. Will you elaborate on what happened that day?

I was skipping school, I was in the tenth grade. Let that be a lesson to all the children out there. I was at a restaurant with three girls, so I was trying to be funny in an effort to impress them. And I got a note on a napkin from William Richert saying he would really like me to be in his next movie and to call him. So I did and two months later I was on the set of A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon in Chicago. This would be a much better story if the movie had been a huge success.

I've heard that when you moved to Los Angeles, your goal originally wasn't to get into acting, but to play tennis.

Yes. I came to Los Angeles to be a professional tennis player because I thought this was where the best tennis was. And it was so good that I got killed by everybody, so I had to decide to go into something else. I auditioned for a school play and had such a fun time doing it I thought maybe I ought to pursue this.

George Clooney talks about the frustration of being in television shows that don't work. He was in five of them. You've had a few of those yourself--what does that feel like?

I was in four failed series. You feel lucky on the one hand because you are working. Eighty percent of actors are not working. You feel it's too bad the show isn't working. But on most of the shows, I felt stifled creatively. I thought "Hey, I can be funny in this kind of format and situation. Please let me." And most of the [producers] I worked with didn't let me. Which is why it was such a relief to get to the set of Friends where they said, "If you come up with some funny things and we think they're funny, we'll put them in."

How has Friends changed your life?

Pretty much completely. Mostly, it gave me the opportunity to do the exact kind of work I had always wanted to do and the exact kind of format that I had always loved, which was having an opportunity to be funny and to work in an environment surrounded by funny, talented people, in an open kind of forum. There is nobody tyrannical on the set of Friends. The producers are open to our ideas and thoughts. I have been in certain TV shows and movies where I was just a talking head--just read the line the way it's written and go home.

You're also a writer. Do you ever write characters for yourself?

Yes. My writing partner, Andrew Hill Newman, and I wrote a TV pilot [called Maxwell House] in 1992 because I was convinced I could write something better than the things I had been in on television. We were lucky enough to sell it, and I was lucky enough to be a writer for a year. After the success of Friends, Andrew and I decided to write a movie. So we wrote a movie and we sold that, too [to Warner Bros.]. It hasn't been filmed yet, but hopefully that's in my future. The script is called Imagining Emily. It's a story about a guy who is kind of set in his ways when his imaginary friend from childhood, who is a girl, comes back into his life--grown-up and beautiful--and he falls in love with her.

Did you have an imaginary friend when you were a little boy?

No.

Do you now?

Yeah--she's right here. [Laughs.] No, I don't.

Tell us a little bit about your next film, Edwards & Hunt.

It's a period movie that takes place in 1803, about Chris Farley and I trying to discover the Pacific Ocean before Lewis and Clark. Chris refers to the movies he has done before as "Fatty Fall Down"--that's a direct quote from him. He was excited about this movie because it's a comedy, but he's not Fatty Fall Down. He has a real part and real goals. [Spinal Tap's] Christopher Guest directed it. He is one of the funniest men in the world.

What was really going on last summer between the Friends cast and producers? We heard a lot of talk about a possible walkout, exorbitant contract demands, and so forth.

It wasn't true. There was never talk of a strike or walkout. It's a successful show. In between the second and third seasons of a successful show, actors renegotiate their contracts. So we did that. The unfortunate thing is it played itself out in the press, in such an incorrect manner. The good thing is I was busy on the set of Edwards & Hunt, trying to find the Pacific Ocean, so I didn't have to deal with it too much. The only difference between this negotiation and others is all six of us thought it would be nice to be making the same amount of money, whatever that amount turned out to be; because we're all doing the same job.

How much do you have riding on the success of Fools Rush In?

I can't let my head go there. It's too weird. The easiest way to answer that is this: if it doesn't work out, I have a pretty great place to fall back to. I think Fools Rush In is a great way to spend a couple of hours, especially on Valentine's Day. I love the fact it's being released then. If it doesn't work out, and if Edwards & Hunt doesn't work out, and these are the two only movies I make in my entire life, I'll be okay. I'm doing Friends and having a lovely, lovely time doing it.