In Matthew Perry’s new memoir, Friends, lovers and the terrible big thing, the author and actor spends most of the 250 pages discussing the Big Terrible Thing. For the very first time, he recounts his addiction in detail; Perry’s struggles with alcohol and painkillers have been known to the public for decades, but the book shows how close he came to the edge — and how often.
Most of these revelations made headlines in the days and weeks leading up to the October 28 memoir’s release, including the one at the height of his addiction (and for many Friends years), he was taking 55 tablets of Vicodin a day; that he was in a coma several years ago and underwent dozens of surgeries to repair his exploded colon; and that his Friends co-stars, most notably Jennifer Aniston, continued to reach out and offer help after the show’s finale (Lisa Kudrow writes the foreword to the book).
But Perry also spends time in the book reflecting on his high-profile acting career. It’s not a Hollywood reveal in the traditional sense (most narrative is exhausted with its stories of continually coming back from the brink), but offers some very specific anecdotes that even the most diehard Friends fan would not know. Here are some key revelations from Friends, lovers and the terrible big thing.
He was supposed to be in Don’t look up
While Netflix’s climate apocalypse satire was in development, Perry met Adam McKay, which resulted in him being offered a role. He was set to play a Republican journalist, in a small role that called for several scenes opposite Meryl Streep (who played a comedic, narcissistic American president). Perry was supposed to be heading for another stint in rehab – this time in Switzerland, much further afield than his past stints – and had recently broken eight ribs during CPR. He was taking 1,800 milligrams of hydrocodone, but flew to Boston to film. He worked on a group scene with Jonah Hill which never made it to the screen and had to leave the set before working with Streep due to his injuries. “It was heartbreaking,” he wrote. “But I was in too much pain.”
Chandler’s speaking style started at 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.” For starters, he chose not to take the physical script pages with him, which is common practice that acknowledges to the writer that the script is a work in progress. He also “read the words in an unexpected way, hitting accents no one else had”. He had laughs where none of the actors in consideration had laughs, and the role was his. He would later end up begging the producers to let him drop Chandler’s verbal tic for the final seasons. “This particular cadence – could it be more boring ? – had been played so much that if I were to put the wrong accent in the wrong place one more time, I thought I would explode,” he wrote.
Courteney Cox set the collegiate tone at the Friends Position
When the sitcom started filming, Cox was easily the most famous of the bunch, thanks to her roles in Ace Ventura and Family ties. But the day the six co-stars first reunited on the grounds of Warner Bros. 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 had seen a similar dynamic play out during a guest spot on Seinfeld — something he credits with kickstarting the group’s eventual inseparability.
Perry’s courtship with Julia Roberts began with a quantum physics fax
In season two, NBC was planning a big post-Super Bowl episode of Friendsand Julia Roberts agreed to be invited — if she could be part of Chandler’s story. Marta Kauffman conveyed this to Perry, 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, by fax, that she would only accept the show if it “properly explained quantum physics to her”. And so, their fax flirtation was born. (He found an article on wave-partial duality and the uncertainty principle to pass his way.)
Friends almost broke the fourth wall in season eight
During Sean Penn’s two-episode guest run, Perry provided an ending scene for the Halloween episode that began with him backstage in the infamous Pink Bunny costume. “Sean walks by and I’m like, ‘Sean, can I talk to you for a second? “”, he wrote. “‘I’ve thought about it a lot and I think you’re a good person to talk to about it.’ I smoke as I say this, and putting out the cigarette with my huge bunny foot, I say, “I’ve been looking to transition into dramatic work. Sean Penn looks me up and down for about five beats and just says : ‘Good luck.'” They rehearsed the piece read at the table, but in the end the scene never aired – Friends had a hard and fast rule never to break the fourth wall.
David Schwimmer suggested a group contract negotiation
Friends made plenty of headlines heading into its final season for their collective million-dollar-per-episode paydays. But, according to the memoir, on-set collective bargaining began thanks to a suggestion from Schwimmer in the first season. Perry writes that the actor, who played Ross in Friends – and was the 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) – walked into Perry’s locker room and suggested that they renegotiate their contracts as a team, and insist that they all receive the same amount. “It was a decision that turned out to be hugely lucrative all down the line,” Perry says. “David had certainly been able 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 an episode; at season 10, we were doing even more.
Perry has never filmed Friends aloud
The actor is raw and honest about the many times he’s used, but maintains he never used during filming. “I was never stoned while I was working,” he wrote. “I loved those people – I always wanted to support them and I was second baseman for the New York Yankees.” However, he talks about the many times he worked hungover. At some point during the show’s run, Jennifer Aniston walked into his trailer to tell him that the cast knew he had been drinking because they could smell it on him. He also took limos to stage himself when he was too hungover to drive, which he says earned him “doubtful” looks: “Everyone asked me if I was okay, but nobody wanted to stop the Friends train because it was so profitable.
Season 9 of Friends was the only one in which Perry was completely sober
The actor filmed the season seven finale, which featured Chandler and Monica’s wedding while living in a Malibu rehab facility. By the summer after season eight, it was clean again, and Perry says it stayed that way for all of season nine, which he describes as his most successful on the show — it was also the only season for which he was nominated for a Best Actor Emmy. “What did I do differently that season? I listened. I didn’t sit there waiting for my turn to speak,” he wrote. (While recently promoting his book, Perry said The New York Times he had been sober for 18 months, meaning he was drug and alcohol free when the Friends meeting aired in May 2021. “I probably spent $9 million or something trying to get sober,” he estimated.)
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