Matthew Perry almost turned down ‘Friends’ for sci-fi sitcom

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By Dan Sears

Matthew Perry, who died Saturday at age 54, is beloved for playing Chandler Bing on the NBC sitcom “Friends.”

But he nearly didn’t take the famously funny role.

In 1994, Perry was virtually unknown and, as he said on a 2015 episode of “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” he had “no money.” He needed a gig. 

“So I called my agent and said ‘You’ve got to get me any job, any job you can,’” Perry said. 

The agent found him one — a bizarre ABC comedy pilot called “LAX 2194,” about, of all things, airport baggage handlers of the future. 

Perry, however, was much more taken with the script of a little show called “Friends Like Us” — later, “Friends” — which was “hilarious and great,” Perry said.

“Friends” co-creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman were in the thick of casting their series, and were having a particularly difficult time finding the right Chandler.

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Matthew Perry almost turned down playing Chandler on “Friends” to star in a sitcom about futuristic baggage handlers at LAX.
NBCUniversal via Getty Images

“Chandler was gonna be the easiest part to cast because he’s not just a character — he’s got jokes. He’s got actual real jokes. So, I thought, ‘Here we go. This is gonna be great,’” said Crane on “Friends: The Reunion.” 

Then, “we saw actor after actor, and it wasn’t funny.”

Until Perry walked in.

“We had worked with Matthew Perry on ‘Dream On,’” Kauffman said on the 2021 HBO Max special. “And when Matthew reads that dialogue, it sparkles and it comes alive. And for the first time through the casting process, we knew there was a character there and that this was the only guy to play it.”

The problem was he was still committed to “LAX 2194.”

“Friends” ran for a hugely successful 10 seasons, and became Perry’s best-known role.
NBCUniversal via Getty Images

“There was this part that was perfect for me and it was making me crazy that I couldn’t go up for it because [of] the baggage handlers show,” he told Seth Meyers. “I was losing my mind.”

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Thankfully, “someone from Warner Bros. was actually at the taping of ‘2194,’” remembered Crane. “And [they] thought, ‘This show is never going. Put him in ‘Friends.’ We’ll be OK.’”

Perry put the exec’s response more bluntly on “Late Night.”

“‘It’s the worst thing we’ve ever seen in our lives. He is available. You can hire him for your little show called ‘Friends Like Us,” which then became ‘Friends,’” he said.

“When Matthew reads that dialogue, it sparkles and it comes alive,” said “Friends” co-creator David Crane.

Perry skyrocketed to superstardom when the series — which also starred David Schwimmer, Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Matt LeBlanc and Lisa Kudrow — premiered in 1994 on NBC. The show ran for 10 hugely successful seasons, and Chandler became the part that the late actor is best known for.

“He spins the lines in a way that they’re his,” said Kauffman. “There’s so many comedy skills there.” 

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