Life’s no sit­com for th­ese Friends in need

The ac­tors from one of tele­vi­sion’s most well-loved shows aren’t on an easy cruise to fame and for­tune, writes PAUL SCOTT

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

ONE RE­CENT Satur­day morn­ing at an un­pre­pos­sess­ing diner in the hills above Mal­ibu, three men are gath­ered around a small, rick­ety ta­ble shar­ing a low-key late break­fast.

As first im­pres­sions go, they make for a rather glum-looking tri­umvi­rate, hunched over plates of Dan­ish pas­tries and nurs­ing halfempty mugs of cof­fee. Dressed down in jeans and T-shirts, they are marked out only by the ar­rival at their ta­ble of a pro­ces­sion of ner­vous fel­low din­ers bear­ing pa­per nap­kins for the three men to sign.

In­deed, were it not for the pres­ence of th­ese im­promptu au­to­graph hun­ters, the ca­sual ob­server would be for­given for think­ing they were watch­ing a scene from the fic­tional Cen­tral Perk cof­fee shop, made fa­mous in the much-loved sit­com Friends.

On this oc­ca­sion, how­ever, the show’s three male stars, Matt LeBlanc, David Sch­wim­mer and Matthew Perry, are very much off­duty. They are meet­ing for one of their male-bond­ing ses­sions that have be­come a reg­u­lar fix­ture since the se­ries ended nearly six years ago.

More and more, how­ever, th­ese once cosy get-to­geth­ers have be­gun to re­sem­ble some­thing more akin to a self-help group than a chance to catch up over a low-fat latte.

Which is hardly sur­pris­ing, per­haps, given the in­creas­ingly par­lous state of their re­spec­tive ca­reers – not to men­tion the trio’s equally dis­as­trous pri­vate lives.

Take, for ex­am­ple, Matt LeBlanc. Af­ter four years dur­ing which his ca­reer has re­sem­bled a waste­land and fol­low­ing the hu­mil­i­at­ing can­cel­la­tion of his Friends spin-off se­ries, Joey, in 2006, he has at long last landed an­other act­ing job.

On the face of it, his new role does not sound like the sort of thing one might imag­ine LeBlanc – who played the dim-wit­ted Joey Trib­biani in Friends – would in­stantly have been at­tracted to.

In his new com­edy se­ries, Episodes, which is be­ing made jointly by US ca­ble chan­nel Show­time and the BBC, LeBlanc will play him­self in a fly-on-the-wall­style drama about a re­al­ity show.

In one early scene, how­ever, art seems to re­flect life rather un­flat­ter­ingly, as LeBlanc is forced to au­di­tion for the role of him­self with a group of younger and bet­ter­look­ing ac­tors.

Af­ter he tries out for the part, the scene cuts to a mem­ber of the show’s staff, who asks the pro­ducer what he thought of LeBlanc’s per­for­mance. To which the pro­ducer replies: “I think we’ve got bet­ter.”

This can be seen in one of two ways: as a know­ing, post-mod­ern take on the cult of celebrity, or the rit­ual hu­mil­i­a­tion of a one-time big shot on the slide, who is so des­per­ate for any star­ring role he is pre­pared to de­mean him­self by be­ing the butt of a rather lame gag.

Ei­ther way, Hol­ly­wood gos­sip that plans are near­ing com­ple­tion to bring Friends back for a big-screen ver­sion could not come at a bet­ter time for LeBlanc and his co-stars.

Though given the ac­tor’s al­most un­recog­nis­able ap­pear­ance this week when he made a rare pub­lic out­ing, per­haps the joke that he can’t even land the role of him­self might not seem so im­prob­a­ble.

The 42-year-old one-time heart­throb cut a dis­tinctly portly fig­ure as he left Hol­ly­wood’s trendy Kat­suya Ja­panese restau­rant.

Gone was LeBlanc’s trade­mark dark fop­pish fringe, re­placed by a grey­ing head of salt-and-pep­per hair. Mean­while, his baggy jeans and lum­ber­jack shirt did lit­tle to hide the ex­tra kilo­grams he has gained since dis­ap­pear­ing from our screens.

Few could blame him, though, if he has been feel­ing the urge to com­fort eat. The can­cel­la­tion of Joey, which saw the fic­tional out-of­work ac­tor from Friends re­lo­cat­ing from New York to Hol­ly­wood, co­in­cided with the break-up of his mar­riage to model Melissa McKnight.

The cou­ple, who mar­ried in a lav­ish cer­e­mony in Hawaii in 2003, went on to have a daugh­ter, Ma­rina, now four, and moved into a pala­tial es­tate in Santa Bar­bara, Cal­i­for­nia.

Shortly af­ter her birth, Ma­rina was di­ag­nosed with cor­ti­cal dys­pla­sia, which causes seizures and af­fects bones and mus­cles.

The ac­tor and McKnight split three years af­ter LeBlanc ad­mit­ted grop­ing a strip­per in a Cana­dian night­club in 2006. There were also ru­mours he was see­ing his Joey costar An­drea An­ders.

To make mat­ters worse, the strip­per, Stephanie Stephens, launched a li­bel action against LeBlanc af­ter he shame­facedly con­fessed their li­ai­son to an Amer­i­can news­pa­per and ac­cused her of egging him on.

At the same time, a for­mer busi­ness man­ager hit him with a $1 mil­lion (R7.5m) writ for al­leged non-pay­ment of com­mis­sion. Since then, LeBlanc has be­come some­thing of a reclu­sive fig­ure.

But he has not been alone in suf­fer­ing what has be­come known in Hol­ly­wood as “The Curse of Friends”. Perry, who played up­tight Chan­dler Bing, has also seen his ca­reer floun­der.

Fol­low­ing the fi­nal se­ries of the sit­com in 2004, Perry has watched his once blue-chip stock in Tin­sel­town slump dra­mat­i­cally. In 2006, he landed the lead role as a TV writer in the much-vaunted Stu­dio 60 on the Sun­set Strip. But it was dropped by US net­work NBC af­ter one se­ries be­cause of poor rat­ings.

Perry’s at­tempts at a film ca­reer have been equally dis­ap­point­ing. He starred as a chron­i­cally de­pressed film writer in the quickly for­got­ten

Art seems to re­flect life rather un­flat­ter­ingly, as LeBlanc au­di­tions for the role of him­self with a group of younger ac­tors

movie Numb, which was mauled by crit­ics and flopped at the box of­fice.

It was a role that re­quired pre­cious lit­tle dra­matic in­ven­tion from 40-year-old Perry. He has ad­mit­ted to suf­fer­ing from de­pres­sion, and has said he locked him­self away for days in his Hol­ly­wood Hills home to es­cape the pres­sure of fame. He has also fought a long bat­tle with ad­dic­tions to al­co­hol and pre­scrip­tion drugs.

His prob­lems be­gan 10 years ago when he checked into a Min­nesota clinic af­ter he be­came ad­dicted to the painkiller Vi­codin, fol­low­ing a jet-ski ac­ci­dent. At his low­est ebb, he was drink­ing two pints of vodka a day and swal­low­ing up to 30 tablets.

Perry had to aban­don film­ing the box of­fice flop Serv­ing Sara, in which he co-starred with El­iz­a­beth Hur­ley, to check into re­hab again. His lat­est film role, in last year’s 17 Again, saw him play­ing sec­ond fid­dle to High School Mu­si­cal heart­throb Zac Efron.

He will next ap­pear on screen this year as a down-on-his-luck sports sta­dium man­ager in yet an­other sit­com, Mr Sun­shine.

Like his co-star LeBlanc, Perry has some­thing of a che­quered love life. He has dated Hol­ly­wood lead­ing ladies such as Meg Ryan and Ju­lia Roberts. Since 2002, he has been see­ing ac­tress Lauren Gra­ham, but it’s been an on-off re­la­tion­ship.

Perry’s co-star Sch­wim­mer, who played wimpy palaeon­tol­o­gist Ross Geller in Friends, has pre­vi­ously re­sisted at­tempts to re­unite the cast on the big screen. He has spent the past six years work­ing with his own small the­atre group, the Look­ing­glass The­atre Com­pany, in Chicago and has been try­ing to launch a ca­reer as a movie di­rec­tor.

But he has had only lim­ited suc­cess. Three years ago, he di­rected Bri­tish film Run, Fat Boy, Run, but he is said by friends to be frus­trated that he has not been able to land star act­ing roles in big-bud­get movies.

The 43-year-old Sch­wim­mer re­cently ad­mit­ted that de­spite his fail­ure to make the step up from tele­vi­sion to movie star­dom, he is a self-con­fessed worka­holic whose ob­ses­sive ten­den­cies have cost him a string of beau­ti­ful girl­friends, in­clud­ing Aus­tralian singer Natalie Im­bruglia and ac­tresses Mili Avi­tal and Carla Alapont.

Like his fe­male co-stars, Jen­nifer Anis­ton, Courteney Cox and Lisa Kudrow, Sch­wim­mer is said to have come around to the idea of mak­ing a movie ver­sion of the hit se­ries – al­ready be­ing chris­tened Friends Re­united – fol­low­ing the suc­cess of the big-screen adap­ta­tion of Sex and the City. Ac­cord­ing to in­sid­ers, it is Anis­ton who has been most re­sis­tant to do­ing the film.

Un­til re­cently, she has been rather grandly declar­ing she is “too fa­mous” to re­turn to her part as for­mer wait­ress Rachel Green.

Of all the ex-Friends, she has had the most suc­cess. Last year she ap­peared in the box of­fice hit Mar­ley And Me, and she also starred in the suc­cess­ful The Break-Up.

She has fared con­sid­er­ably bet­ter than 45-year-old Courteney Cox. In 2008, her TV come­back – play­ing the ed­i­tor of a celebrity mag­a­zine in Dirt – was can­celled be­cause of poor rat­ings.

Be­fore sign­ing up last year to an­other sit­com called Cougar Town, things had be­come so bad ca­reer­wise that Cox, who played Mon­ica Geller, ap­plied for a li­cence to work as an es­tate agent.

Like­wise, Kudrow has also seen her ca­reer flop since Friends. The 46-year-old blonde, who played Phoebe Buf­fay, has ap­peared in a se­ries of for­get­table, mostly sup­port­ing roles in a string of sec­ond-rate come­dies.

How­ever, none of the for­mer Friends – who are said to have ne­go­ti­ated £10m (R123m) each with Warner Bros to re-form on screen – would end up com­pletely pen­ni­less if the film were not made.

They all re­ceive sub­stan­tial roy­al­ties ev­ery time re-runs of the se­ries, which aired for 10 years, are shown around the world.

None­the­less, the Friends in need will be hop­ing that their up­com­ing screen re­union re­vives their flag­ging Hol­ly­wood ca­reers. – Daily Mail

PIC­TURE: REUTERS

SCREEN BREAK: David Sch­wim­mer is frus­trated at his lack of a movie ca­reer.

PIC­TURE: REUTERS

LOW­LIGHTS: star Matthew Perry has bat­tled ad­dic­tion – and many screen flops.

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