Perry has written a memoir about his rollercoaster ride with global sitcom success, addiction and rehab – extracts of which have already brought headlines, including his crush on co-star Jennifer Aniston and near-death experience with opioids.
Switching to his craft in an extract published in today’s Times, Perry explains how, right from his audition, he was inspired to give Chandler a speech pattern that stood out, with its emphasis on unusual words and syllables.
“I read the words in an unexpected fashion, hitting emphases that no one else had hit. I was back in Ottawa with my childhood friends the Murrays; I got laughs where no one else had.”
Becoming the final member of the lead cast of six, Perry took this same style of delivery into production:
“I was talking in a way that no one had talked in sitcoms before, hitting odd emphases, picking a word in a sentence you might not imagine was the beat.
“I didn’t know it yet, but my way of speaking would filter into the culture across the next few decades. For now, though, I was just trying to find interesting ways into lines that were already funny, but that I thought I could truly make dance.
“(I was once told that the writers would underline the word not usually emphasised in a sentence just to see what I would do with it.)”
Sure enough, despite the show finishing after ten seasons in 2004, Chandler’s expressions, including the memorable “Could I BE…?” remain in common parlance today, no doubt helped by the never-ending re-runs of the record-breaking sitcom, which a whole new generation of fans discovered on Netflix during lockdown.
Perry also recounts how, as soon as he was sent the script for the show, originally called Friends Like Us, he knew instinctively that Chandler was the character he needed to play.
“It was as if someone had followed me around for a year, stealing my jokes, copying my mannerisms, photocopying my world-weary yet witty view of life…
“It wasn’t that I thought I could play “Chandler”; I was Chandler.”
Perry was reunited with his fellow Friends alumni last year for a televised reunion. While the cast joined in remembering anecdotes from their time on the show, the actor – who has become a champion of rehabilitation for those suffering from addiction – talked about the pressure he put on himself to land the laughs for which he had become known:
“I felt like I was gonna die if [the live audience] didn’t laugh. And it’s not healthy for sure. But I would sometimes say a line and they wouldn’t laugh, and I would sweat and… and just, like, go into convulsions. If I didn’t get the laugh I was supposed to get, I would freak out. I felt like that every single night.”
Matthew Perry’s memoir ‘Friends, Lovers and the Big, Terrible Thing’ is released November 1.
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