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In Matthew Perry’s new memoir, Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing, the author and actor spends most of the 250 pages discussing the Big Terrible Thing. For the very first time, he chronicles his addiction in great detail; Perry’s struggles with alcohol and painkillers have been known to the public for decades, but the book lays bare just how close to the edge he came — and how often.
Most of those disclosures have circulated in headlines in the days and weeks leading up to the memoir’s Oct. 28 publication, including that during the height of his addiction (and during many of the Friends years) he was taking 55 Vicodin pills a day; that he was in a coma several years ago and has had dozens of surgeries to repair his exploded colon; and that his Friends co-stars, most especially Jennifer Aniston, continued to reach out to him and offer help after the show’s finale (Lisa Kudrow pens the foreword for the book).
But Perry also dedicates time in the book to reflecting on his high-profile acting career. It isn’t a Hollywood tell-all in the traditional sense (most of the telling is used up with his stories about continually coming back from the brink), but offers very specific trivia that even the most die-hard of Friends fan wouldn’t know. Here are a few key revelations from Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing.
He was supposed to be in Don’t Look Up
While the Netflix climate-apocalypse satire was in development, Perry took a meeting with one Adam McKay, which resulted in the offer of a role. He was to play a Republican journalist, in a small role that called for several scenes opposite Meryl Streep (who played a comically narcissistic U.S. president). Perry was supposed to be heading to another rehab stint — this time in Switzerland, much farther afield than his past stays — and had recently broken eight ribs while getting CPR. He was on 1,800 milligrams of hydrocodone, but flew to Boston to film. He worked on a group scene with Jonah Hill that never made it onscreen, and had to leave the set before working with Streep because of his injuries. “It was heartbreaking,” he writes. “But I was in too much pain.”
Chandler’s speech style started in the audition
Perry says that when he auditioned for the role of Chandler — the last character to be cast — in front of Friends co-creator Marta Kauffman, he “broke all the rules.” To start, he opted not to carry the physical script pages with him, which is a standard practice that acknowledges to the writer that the script is a work in progress. He also “read the words in an unexpected fashion, hitting emphases that no one else had.” He got laughs where none of the actors in consideration got laughs, and the role was his. In later years, he would wind up begging the producers to let him drop Chandler’s verbal tic for the final few seasons. “That particular cadence — could it be any more annoying? — had been so played out that if I had to put the wrong emphasis in the wrong place one more time, I thought I’d explode,” he writes.
Courteney Cox set the collegial tone on the Friends set
When the sitcom started filming, Cox was easily the most famous of the group, thanks to her roles in Ace Ventura and Family Ties. But on the day that the six co-stars gathered for the first time on the Warner Bros. lot in Los Angeles, Cox said over lunch: “There are no stars here. This is an ensemble show. We’re all supposed to be friends.” As Perry explains, she’d seen a similar dynamic play out during a guest spot on Seinfeld — something he credits for kicking off the group’s eventual inseparability.
Perry’s courtship with Julia Roberts started with a fax about quantum physics
In season two, NBC was planning a big post-Super Bowl episode of Friends, and Julia Roberts agreed to guest-star — if she could be part of Chandler’s storyline. Marta Kauffman relayed this to Perry, along with a suggestion that he send her flowers. He did, along with a card that read, “The only thing more exciting than the prospect of you doing the show is that I finally have an excuse to send you flowers.” She replied, via fax, that she would only agree to the show if he “adequately explained quantum physics to her.” And thus, their fax flirtation was born. (He found a paper about wave-partical duality and the uncertainty principle to pass her way.)
Friends almost broke the fourth wall in season eight
During Sean Penn’s two-episode guest run, Perry pitched an end scene for the Halloween episode that started with him backstage in the infamous pink bunny rabbit costume. “Sean walks by and I say, ‘Sean, can I talk to you for a second?'” he writes. “‘I’ve been giving this a lot of thought and I think you’re a good person to talk to about this.’ I’m smoking as I say this, and as I put the cigarette out with my huge bunny foot, I say, ‘I’ve been looking to transition myself into dramatic work.’ Sean Penn looks me up and down for about five beats and just says, ‘Good luck.'” They rehearsed the bit at the table read, but ultimately the scene never made it to air — Friends had a hard and fast rule to never break the fourth wall.
David Schwimmer suggested a group contract negotiation
Friends made a lot of headlines going into its final season for their collective million-dollar-per-episode paydays. But, according to the memoir, the on-set collective bargaining started thanks to a suggestion from Schwimmer back in season one. Perry writes that the actor, who played Ross on Friends — and was the breakout star of the show in those early episodes (he was also the first to shoot a commercial, get his own movie, and buy his own house) — came into Perry’s dressing room and suggested they renegotiate their contracts as a team, and insist they all get paid the same amount. “It was a decision that proved to be extremely lucrative down the line,” Perry says. “David had certainly been in a position to go for the most money, and he didn’t. … It gave us a tremendous amount of power. By season eight, we were making a million dollars per episode; by season 10, we were making even more.”
Perry never filmed Friends while high
The actor is raw and honest about the many times he was using, but he maintains that he never used while on set. “I was never high while I was working,” he writes. “I loved those people — I wanted to always step up for them, and I was the second baseman for the New York Yankees.” He does, however, open up about the many times he worked hungover. At one point during the run of the show, Jennifer Aniston came into his trailer to tell him the cast knew he had been drinking because they could smell it on him. He also took limos to set when he was too hungover to drive, which he says earned him some “dubious” looks: “Everyone would ask me if I was all right, but nobody wanted to stop the Friends train because it was such a moneymaker.”
Season nine of Friends was the only one during which Perry was completely sober
The actor shot the season seven finale, which featured Chandler and Monica’s wedding, while living at a Malibu rehab facility. By the summer after season eight, he had gotten clean again, and Perry says he stayed that way for the entirety of season nine, which he describes as his most successful on the show — it was also the only season for which he got nominated for a best actor Emmy. “What did I do differently that season? I listened. I didn’t just stand there and wait my turn to speak,” he writes. (While recently promoting his book, Perry told The New York Times he had been clean for 18 months, which means he was newly drug- and alcohol-free when the Friends reunion aired in May 2021. “I’ve probably spent $9 million or something trying to get sober,” he estimated.)
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