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
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
SCREEN BREAK: David Schwimmer is frustrated at his lack of a movie career.
LOWLIGHTS: star Matthew Perry has battled addiction – and many screen flops.