Matthew Perry: Stage struck Friend

By Rebecca Jones
Arts correspondent, BBC News

  • Published
Matthew Perry with Jennifer MudgeImage source, Publicity
Image caption,
The End of Longing gives the message "people can change", says its writer Matthew Perry

Friends star Matthew Perry is starring in London's West End in the play The End of Longing, which marks the premiere of the actor's playwriting debut.

Perry was a favourite "friend", playing the awkward and sarcastic Chandler Bing. But what is less well known is that Matthew Perry also had a hand in writing the scripts.

"I was in the writer's room for Friends," he says. "It was a pretty big writer's room.

"There were probably 20 people in there, 15 guys and five women. And they had a pie chart drawn up, so each character would have the same amount of time and had the same amount of scenes."

Perry was the only member of the cast who wanted to be in the writer's room. "I was curious about it", he says.

"In my off hours I would go there, just hanging out and pitching jokes. Writing is something that has always interested me."

He says he pitched jokes for all the characters, not just his own.

But the Matthew Perry I meet could not be further from Chandler Bing.

There are no quick-witted gags, no self-deprecating quips. We talk during rehearsals for his new play The End of Longing, which opens in London's West End this week.

Not only does he star in the play, but he has also written it. It marks his debut as a playwright. And he is nervous.

"I was scared to write something on my own and scared to see what the reaction would be.

"I'd never written anything by myself before, I'd always written with a partner. And I decided to try write something on my own and I started writing and these monologues came out, so I realised what I was writing was a play.

"And I just kept writing and kept writing until I was finished."

Perry says he wrote the play in 10 days, but it took another year of rewriting before he was happy.

He thinks it will appeal to "the Friends generation: it's really aimed at people in their 30s and 40s." It is about "four very broken people who are trying to find love."

Image source, PA
Image caption,
Perry (front centre) says he'd be happy to have a Friends cast reunion

Their lives are changed after they share a night in a bar in Los Angeles. "The message of the play is that people can change," he adds.

Perry's own struggles with drink and prescription drugs are well documented. He recently admitted his addiction meant he had little or no recollection of three years of Friends.

But while he plays an alcoholic in The End of Longing, and admits he has written about what he knows, he insists the play was not "very" autobiographical.

The character he plays is, he explains, "a very exaggerated form of myself. The roads we travelled are similar, but the way that he drinks and the way that he stops drinking is different from my road."

Perry's face looks older than the one currently looming out of promotional posters for The End of Longing. He is 46 but he is playing a 40-year-old in the play.

He thinks it is easier for actors to age in Hollywood than actresses: "It's a lot less fair to women." He says he has never been under any pressure to lose weight for a role or have plastic surgery.

He is unforthcoming when we talked about the controversy surrounding the whiteness of this year's Oscar acting nominees.

Image caption,
Perry says he wants to write more plays

"I really can't comment on that, I don't know anything about that," he says.

But he adds that he does not think subliminal racism is at work. "A lot of black actors have won Academy Awards before, I don't really see that that's an issue."

He is more comfortable discussing the theatre and says he would like to write more plays. But however hard he tries, he knows he will never escape from Friends.

The cast gathered recently for a reunion to honour the television director James Burrows, which will be broadcast on American television later this month.

Perry was not there, because he was rehearsing in London. But that has not stopped speculation about a reunion.

"I don't know if that will ever happen," he says somewhat wearily, but: "I know a lot of people are interested in it happening.

"People still like the show, people still watch the show, it's on all the time and everybody would be interested to see the characters go on."

And for all those fans with their fingers crossed, Perry is not ruling out a revival.

"I think I'd be up for it, yeah," he smiles.

The End of Longing is at London's Playhouse Theatre until 14 May.

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