Matthew Perry knows his role as Chandler Bing on the NBC sitcom “Friends” will probably be his best-known character. But he’s moved on from “Friends” by doing several TV shows and movies. In the NBC sitcom “Go On,” Perry plays Ryan King, a widowed sportscaster who is ordered to by his boss (played by John Cho) to go into group therapy. The members of his therapy group are an eclectic mix of people that Ryan has trouble bonding with at first because he doesn’t take the therapy seriously.
Meanwhile, group leader Lauren Bennett (played by Laura Benanti) is diligent at getting Ryan to face his grief and heal from his loss. “Go On” premiered on September 11, 2012. Guest stars in the first season include Bob Costas, Chris Bosh, Misty May Treanor and Lauren Graham. In a telephone conference call with reporters, Perry talked about “Go On” as well as how he’s come to terms with the legacy of “Friends.”
What attracted you to “Go On”?
I would say it was just written really well. I was looking to do a drama and had met all the networks and studios, in the development season, about finding a drama and was sent this. And it’s obviously a comedy and I could tell by, like, the amount of pages that it was a comedy and I called my manager and said why did you send me this and he said just read it. And I realized that it had all of the elements that I was looking for. It was definitely funny, it had a lot of funny characters in it. And also it posed a big dramatic challenge too. Plus, I had known [“Go On” creator] Scott Silveri — he was on “Friends” for eight years and he’d written a really great script so I was in.
Speaking of Friends, after “Friends” ended, there seemed to be a curse that no one from the cast could get on a hit show afterwards. But now, Lisa Kudrow is doing “Web Therapy.” Courteney Cox is doing “Cougar Town.” Matt LeBlanc is doing “Episodes.” Did it take a while for everybody to find the right vehicle or was people just expecting something different?
Yes, I never really, paid any attention to when … I think that was just sort of reporters searching for a story because to suggest that the six of us are like six of the luckiest people on the face of the planet. So to suggest that there’s some curse, I just never really listened to it. But I guess it’s good now that they’re not saying that anymore. “Friends” was a magical thing. No one’s going to ever have anything like that again, and you try to just search for good projects.
For me, I did “Studio 60,” which everybody thought was going to be amazing and it was pretty good, but it didn’t work. And then I took my hand at trying to write something and try to create a show myself, which was “Mr. Sunshine,” which, worked to a certain degree creatively but audiences didn’t really follow it. And then I learned that there was somebody else that could create a show foe me better than me. And that’s what happened with “Go On.”
It’s interesting to hear you say that you were looking for a drama initially because the base situation of “Go On” is actually quite sad. You know, it’s a guy who’s lost his wife, he’s surrounded by these people who have all gone through some very serious things to get to where they are. How do you walk that line between drama and comedy?
That’s the very tonal challenge of this show and nobody knew whether it was going to work. Nobody knew really whether people were going to laugh at these sad situations. But that’s Scott in the pilot, just did that tone thing perfectly. So there was a lot of funny things, but at the base of it is a very sad story. And then I think it was the third episode when we did a comedic run.
I had said, “It’s hard to tell people that my wife has passed away. I should just get vanity plates that say it.” And then everybody sort of starts pitching on what those vanity plates could say. You know, like “Dead Wife” or “No Mo Wife” and things like that. And that was a really risky scene, and people loved it. So then we knew that audiences were going to laugh at this stuff.
You mentioned dark themes and how to deal with that lightly. How do you deal with tough times in your life as far? Do you pull from that when you’re working on comedy?
Oh sure. Yes, you pull from everything. I think, just to be a comedian or somebody who’s trying to be funny, you have to have some darkness behind it. So, I think all comedians are able to draw on that and that’s why some comedians who do dramatic work, like, can do some of the best dramatic work. Like Robin Williams and Michael Keaton and Tom Hanks and all of that stuff. So in this show I certainly draw on my past and it helps.
In your scenes that you had with Christine Woods as the late wife, what did you feel like she was able to bring out in Ryan that maybe could change your perception of him?
Well, I thought it was really interesting to show Janie. You see what this guy has lost. So and then casting that part was very, very difficult because you need to show somebody of weight. You know, somebody who’s really good. And we were really luck that Christine Woods came in to do it and these scenes are some of my favorite scenes that we’ve done so far because I get to play a whole different sort of level in those scenes. So that character obviously has to be used very sparingly but, I’m glad that that’s part of the show.
Can you tell us a little bit more about your participation with the National Association of Drug Court Professionals? What is exactly what you do?
Sure. I guess the thing that I’m labeled is an ambassador for them and it’s a group of judges across the country that take first-time nonviolent drug offenders and put them into treatment program instead of just throwing them into jail. And I’m really proud to be a part of that whole thing because it’s a no-brainer.
Everybody agrees that it’s a good thing. It’s a bipartisan thing: Republicans and Democrats both are behind it. And it’s good because it just doesn’t throw these drug addicts away. It puts them into a treatment facility where they can become valuable members of society instead of just putting them in prison.
Matthew, you’ve said in the past that you have a tendency to avert kind of a personal thing and to go with the joke whenever you can instead. And that really seems to be Ryan’s characteristic too. Is that still a trait or yours and what do you find interesting about that when Ryan has that trait?
Well, I don’t that that is a current trait of mine; it certainly used to be. One of the tenants of [my “Friends” character] Chandler was that, given any kind of serious situation, he will divert it by trying to make it a joke. And it makes for a very good character in a sitcom because it’s a built in excuses for someone to be funny.
Ryan King, my character in “Go On,” in the pilot, is certainly like that, but by Episode 3 or 4, for the most part he has realized that he needs this group of people sort of in spite of himself. So he’s less apt to make fun of it now and more apt to take part in it. But he’s a character just like myself that’s a lot older and is less in need of doing that.
Can you talk about what the “Go On” guest stars Bob Costas, Chris Bosh, Lauren Graham are going to do on the show?
Sure. There’s an episode coming up that Bob Costas and Rich Eisen are both in. It’s just a really fun episode where Bob Costas calls my character, Ryan King, and says that he really is a fan of the show and wants to give me a tryout for a national TV job. And Rich Eisen is a character who, Rich Eisen’s playing himself, obviously, and Bob Costas is playing himself.
But Rich Eisen is sort of a competitor and he’ll be back as sort of an adversary. And I do get my shot with Bob Costas and you can imagine, given the fact that it’s a comedy that it does not go that well. And Chris Bosh has a little Cameo on the show. Misty May Treanor’s coming on and it’s just really fun because we get to have these athletes come on. And it’s across the board, they’ve all been great, which make me think that acting is easy and it makes me sad.
You talked about the quality of writing you found in the script but could you talk a little bit about your co-stars, the cast that you’re surrounded with each episode?
Yes. Scott Silveri, like, panicked about a month before we started the show and was like, “This is a show about a guy who lost his wife. We have to have as many funny people surrounding him as possible.” And sort of that panic led to the casting of Sarah Baker, who’s hilarious, and Brett Gelman, who’s just really, really funny. Laura Benanti is hilarious.
And so it’s sort of my job if I’m looking to do a TV show to try to surround myself with the funniest people possible. And it was Scott’s job to make that happen as well. So John Cho is playing my boss. Allison Miller is playing my assistant. Everywhere you look is just a funny, smart, talented, driven person, which makes the show even better.
Your dynamic with John Cho on the show is so great and he said before in interviews that you’re kind of his comedic hero, especially with Chandler and “Friends.” What are your thoughts on that and working with him in general?
Well, I love working with John. We were very lucky to get him. He had been hired in the pilot as a guest star, and then we asked him to be a regular and we were very fortunate that he said yes. As for me being his comedic hero, he has mentioned that to me in the past and all that does is make me feel old.
You have also great comedic timing when it comes to working with Julie White. Can you talk about working with her?
Julie White was the first person hired. She was even hired before I was, so she was the first person on board. And I knew that they were going for great people because she’s this wonderful Broadway actress and she is just terrific. She plays a role that could be dismissed as being not very likable because she’s very angry and her character sort of can be mean from time to time, but you still pull for her because you know that she’s had this loss in her life. She is just yet another incredibly talented person in all of those grief therapy scenes. It’s great to have her.
When you were growing up, when did you first realize that you were funny?
I would always be the kid that got in trouble in school, that’s for sure, for joking around. And I guess it was seventh grade I got put in a play in school in Ottawa, Canada. Greg Simpson was the head theater guy, and he cast me in a role in that. And it was funny and I felt so good to get laughs. So it was probably then: seventh grade in Ottawa.
Ryan is a sportscaster. Why did the show decide to go with that franchise or that kind of profession for him? Was it certain type of person you were looking for to portray that would kind of be completely opposed to therapy or how did that go down?
Scott Silveri, who wrote the [“Go On”] pilot — and this answer is filled with stereotypes so I apologize in advance — but I think because the show is so touchy-feely, and it so is dealing with emotions and people talking about their problems, that Scott wanted to go like unapologetically male with the sports part of it. He wanted guys to watch it too. And I think it lends itself to sort of a smart-alecky kind of guy on the radio who is not, not prepared to be talking his feelings and emotions all the time. So, I think it’s just like the cliché answer is it just my character being in sports just gives something for everyone to enjoy on the show.
What are your three favorite classic TV shows?
“The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “The Honeymooners” and “Lost.”
What do you look for in a character in order to play it?
You kind of look for people that you can relate to, that you can sort of shake hands with and understand. I have a tendency to try to find characters that are sort of bent or broken and on a path to become better people. And Ryan King certainly has those traits. He’s a guy who I think if this tragic thing had not happened to him, he would’ve lived his life as sort of a rather unexplored life. But, this thing happen to him so he reluctantly gets on this path to be a better person.
You’re also continuing your role in “The Good Wife.” Is it interesting balancing these two different roles on TV?
Yes, I really love doing “The Good Wife,” I hope that I get to come back and do more. It’s really fun to play a guy who is just so evil. And, I’ve been looking to do, I like to do both. I like to do comedy and drama and, I got both jobs on the exact same day. I got “Go On” and “The Good Wife” both on the same day and it was a great day. So I’m really happy with how “Go On” is going and, I hope to get to do some more “Good Wife” in the future too.
At this point in your career, you’ve played so many characters in both TV shows and movies. Which has been your favorite to play?
Oh, I mean, I loved playing Chandler. I grew up sort of playing that part. I would saying probably in all honesty, it’s Chandler and this character that I’m playing now, the character of Ryan King. It’s a very sort of deep, enriching character to play because he’s going through so much and he’s also being very funny about it. So I guess I would say Chandler and Ryan King.
What do you think is the key to securing that amazing connection with your audience and makes you so identifiable?
Oh, I don’t know. I think it’s sort of a wearing his heart on his sleeve kind of people that I’ve played a lot and I think people can sort of relate to that journey, maybe not that openness about it but that journey. I like to play people that say things that normally people don’t say that they’re sort of feeling or thinking but that they wouldn’t say. And I think both Chandler and Ryan King have that aspect. When I read “Go On,” it was almost like this is Chandler like 10 years later if something really bad had happened to him. And hopefully both characters look the same, except one looks a little bit older.
You got past directorial experience, with “Scrubs” and stuff. Would you like to get behind the camera for an episode of “Go On” and if so, is there any chance of that actually happening?
Yes, actually it funny. We just talked about that the other day. You know, if we’re fortunate enough to do a second season I think that I’ll probably end up doing that. It’s a very, very busy time already and directing is, pretty all encompassing. But, it is certainly something that I think would be interesting to do somewhere down the line.
“Go On” has done an outstanding job introducing your character to the audience. We’ve seen his work life, his personal life and the pain he’s suffering through as he continues to mourn the loss of his wife. Are there any episodes coming up that divulge further into the loss of other members of the transitions group are going through, such as Owen, Yolanda, or Mr. K. and possibly flashbacks?
Yes. Throughout the life of the show we’ll definitely find out all of these things. We have an episode where we deal pretty heavily with Owen and what he’s going through coming up in a couple of weeks. So, the longer the show goes on, the more we can expand on those characters and find out exactly. I too am very curious as to what Mr. K.’s deal is and what he’s doing in there. So I think it just promises to be, even deeper and more fun the more we get to explore these other characters and why they’re there.
Who were some of your favorite actors when you were growing up?
Sure. My favorite actor is Michael Keaton. I think in the movie “Night Shift,” he did something brand new that I hadn’t seen before that we all sort of steal from now. And then, and I think it was in 1987 he did the movie “Clean and Sober” and “Beetlejuice” in the same year and that was when I sort of said, “ow, that’s what I want to do.” So I think I’d have to say Michael Keaton.
You talked earlier about the guest stars that you’ve had on the show. Is there someone whom you would love to have on the show eventually?
Well, we had asked Wayne Gretzky. I’d love to have on the show at some point. We’ve talked to David Beckham and he said that he would do it, so that was very exciting. My favorite athlete of all time I was lucky enough to have on Mr. Sunshine but maybe we can have him come back on Go On too, which – who is Jimmy Connors. So, I guess my hope is that we get Jimmy Connors to come back and work with me again, which would be a dream come true.
Could you talk about Lauren Graham’s role in “Go On”?
Yes, my friend Lauren Graham agreed to come on the show, which we were really excited about. She plays a character named Amy, who was an old college buddy of mine. There were some sparks back in college, but then my character got married. And now that things have changed in his life, Amy, Lauren Graham, comes back. It was really fun to work with her again, and she’s just so good. So there were some, sparks there, which is the first time that Ryan has had any kind of feeling like that in a long, long time. So it was really interesting.
You mentioned that you got “Good Wife” and “Go On” at the same time. Can you talk about enjoying the ups and not getting too down about the downs in a career that can be so fluctuating?
Oh, yes. Yes, that really would be the key would be to enjoy the ups and not have the downs get you down. I think I’ve done a pretty good job about that in my career. But I’m a really lucky guy. I had the biggest up, which is being on “Friends” for 10 years.
So all the downs don’t seem as down after that happens to you. I’ve just been very, very fortunate. And the key to all of it is to make sure that acting is not the only thing you’ve got going on in your life, so you don’t identify solely with the ups and downs of that.
What’s your opinion of Seth MacFarlane, who made fun on your show on “Saturday Night Live” by calling it “Goon” instead of “Go On”?
Yes, well, he’s hilarious, and I didn’t actually think he was making fun of the show, he was more making fun of the guy he was playing. You know, it’s Seth MacFarlane, so if he doesn’t like something, you’re really going to know it. And so I was nervous when I heard that he mentioned the show, but quite relieved when I saw what the joke was.
You mentioned when you were talking about Lauren Graham that Ryan is going to have sparks with someone for the first time in a very long time. So are we going to see Ryan go through the various phases of his grief and maybe eventually get a new love interest, or will the show just stick with a limbo as in now and keep making fun of many situations he finds himself in due to his loss and this new group of friends?
The interesting thing about this show is we couldn’t pursue any potential romances or any of that for a while because of the situation he’s in. But just like any person, he’s going to sort of grow and move forward and part of that will be what’s now much delayed but, some dating and some getting himself out there stuff.
We’re talking about a story right now where he really throws himself out there into the single scene and it’s pretty funny what’s coming up about it. Just like any other human being, he’s going to evolve and move forward and start to get into that world for sure. And Lauren Graham — couldn’t ask for a better person to come on the show and sort of jumpstart that.
Is there was any actor or actress on “Go On” who is similar to their character at all?
I think what happens on all great shows is the writers end up writing to the actors who are playing the part. So, the charters are becoming more and more like the actors that play them. That’s certainly what happened on “Friends.” I think that’s the direction they’re leaning in here. So I’m pretty similar to my guy. Laura Benanti is pretty similar to her character. I’d like to say that Brett Gelman is similar to Mr. K., but I don’t know if any human being on the face of the planet is similar to Mr. K.
Do you notice a difference from the ‘90s with “Friends” to today either, in terms of what the audience expects or how you do it from a technological perspective?
Are you talking about the difference between four-camera and one-camera?
Yes, and the difference in what makes people laugh, what an audience expects. Do you notice that they approach it differently?
Yes. When you’re doing a four-camera show it’s sort of like doing a different one-act play every week so you’re playing to sort of the backseat in the house. I think it breeds a slightly bigger performance than when you’re doing one camera. I think you can afford to tone it down a little bit, be a little bit more real when you’re doing a one camera show because, you’re not playing to a live audience.
And in terms of comedy, I still think whatever’s funny is funny and people are going to laugh at it. But in terms of performance I think the not-so-new craze anymore of doing one camera comedies. I think it just breeds a slightly more realistic performance. Like, if you’re angry on a sitcom, you’re sort of winking and go, “Hey, everybody, watch me be angry, you’re going to enjoy this.” And on a one camera show, you’re just sort of playing angry. If that makes sense.
“Friends” is coming out on Blu-ray. Did you do anything special for that?
I did not do anything special for that, no.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned about being an actor?
I think would say that to look at it as it’s fun and an interesting challenge and a job and not something to make your entire life and your entire identity about. I think that’s the thing that I’ve learned the most. But parcel of that is to just really have fun doing what you’re doing, which I certainly am doing on “Go On.”
One thing about “Go On” that you obviously couldn’t do much of in “Friends” is you’re able to do a certain amount of on location shooting. How do you think that that sort of makes “Go On” more interesting to do?
It doesn’t seem that different to me. I mean, if you ask, 10 people where “Friends” was shot, I think five of them would say New York. And, of course, we shot all of it at Warner Brothers [in Burbank, California]. I guess it makes the show, a little bit more of a full canvas of a show when you can go out and shoot things on location.
So the fact that on “Go On” we can go off and do some of those scenes and show like the exterior where the rec center is — and we shot a little bit of the Staples Center, which was obviously really fun for me because I’m a fan of that place — I think just visually it keeps things more interesting.
You have done both comedy and drama. Do you have a preference between the two and which do you find to be more challenging?
I don’t really have a preference between the two. I love doing both. I think doing a comedy is potentially more challenging because, you’re sort of forced to do a joke a page and you’re forced to, be funny at a certain rate. And I’m sure that will surprise most people because most people would think that I would say drama is harder because I’ve have so much experience in comedy. But, they both pose their challenges. But I actually think doing a comedy is harder than doing a drama.
For more info: “Go On” website