Matthew Perry’s most impressive acting was not portraying the clumsy character of Chandler Bing. He was deemed “exceptionally brave” for his performance.
Matthew Perry’s legacy as a TV icon would remain intact even if he had never starred in any projects following Friends. For most actors, landing a role like Chandler Bing is nearly impossible. Similar to how James Gandolfini’s talent as a dramatic actor is primarily associated with his portrayal of Tony Soprano, Perry’s brilliance is most evident in his portrayal of Chandler. He had a knack for elevating the already funny lines and making the average lines humorous, effectively creating a unique sense of humor that extended far beyond the show. It’s undeniable when someone embodies the essence of a Chandler or when you yourself make a Chandler-esque joke; roles like this on television are exceedingly rare.
The other actors from the TV show Friends have had a hard time reaching the same level of success as the show, perhaps because their characters from Friends don’t provide enough material for interesting roles in the future. There isn’t much left to discover about Joey, Ross, or Monica. However, a person who is always funny, even when they should be serious, and constantly waiting for opportunities to turn situations into jokes? Even in a cheerful and polished show like Friends, there was always a hint of darkness underneath. Despite his personal struggles and less successful solo career compared to his co-stars, Perry’s willingness to explore those darker themes makes his post-Friends body of work the most intriguing. In certain moments, it could even be considered his best work.
One of Matthew Perry’s most notable roles outside of Friends was on the show Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Written by Aaron Sorkin, the creator of The West Wing, this series delves into the high-stakes world of a Saturday Night Live-inspired comedy show. It explores the pressure and challenges of creating at such a high level, as well as the toll it takes on the individuals involved and the type of people drawn to this type of career. In his role as head writer Matt, Perry captures the constant stress and urgency that comes with creating a successful show, a sentiment that Sorkin seemed to struggle with as the show’s quality declined in its only season. Sorkin’s focus on drawn-out romances and political storylines detracted from the original premise and left viewers longing for his days on The West Wing.
Perry, however, remained committed to his role throughout, taking the opportunity to portray not a comedian, but a man whose job is to be funny. He was skilled at using anything and everything around him for comedic effect. He excelled at delivering Sorkin’s fast-paced dialogue and was adept at finding subtle and gentle moments in between the lines, something that was not possible in a sitcom. However, the heart of Perry’s performance was his ability to incorporate his own personality into the character. At times, this was painfully evident, such as in the scene where his assistant, Suzanne (Merritt Wever), realizes that he is using prescription drugs to fuel his constant pursuit of creative validation. This was a brave and powerful performance by Perry, who was known to have struggled with addiction during his time on Friends.
Perry’s body of work outside of Friends is similar to Studio 60 in that it consists of scattered appearances and missed opportunities. He had previously collaborated with Sorkin on The West Wing, portraying a Republican lawyer who joins the Democratic White House but becomes embroiled in a scandal beyond his control. This role hinted at the potential for Perry to frequently play sharp and successful characters, which would have been enjoyable. However, he also had the ability to portray wholesome and likeable heroes, as seen in the TV movie The Ron Clark Story.
His potential as a villain is a major loss. In both The Good Wife and The Good Fight, Perry portrays the character of Mike Kresteva, a deceitful lawyer with a cunning ability to manipulate words and twist the truth for his own malicious purposes. There is a scene where Kresteva is aggressively blackmailing Peter Florrick (played by Chris Noth) and is interrupted by strangers who want to use the elevator. In a split second, Kresteva changes his tone to politely ask them to wait for the next one before returning to his attack with a menacing growl. In that moment, he resembles Chandler from Friends once again, but throughout his career, Matthew Perry has proven to be just as exceptional while portraying other characters.