This Bizarre Pilot Nearly Cost Matthew Perry His Role on ‘Friends’

The Big Picture

  • Friends‘ iconic group dynamic almost didn’t happen when Matthew Perry’s commitment to another project jeopardized his chance to join the show.
  • Matthew Perry desperately wanted an audition for Friends and even helped his peers prepare for their auditions, but his window of opportunity was closing.
  • After the failure of his other pilot, Perry finally landed an audition for Friends and prayed for fame, ultimately securing the role of Chandler Bing.


As one of television’s most successful and popular sitcoms, Friends heavily relied on the seemingly effortless and natural chemistry among its six leads. Without each performer bringing his and her respective talents and comedic sensibilities to the small screen, the series’ ensemble of high-strung yet lovable New Yorkers navigating adulthood wouldn’t have functioned so hilariously for ten beloved seasons. However, what would become Friends‘ iconic group dynamic was nearly thrown into disarray when actor Matthew Perry‘s commitment to another project jeopardized his opportunity to land the role of a lifetime. Having secured a part in a science-fiction sitcom, LAX 2194, Perry’s prospects of joining Friends seemed grim until fate intervened.

Friends TV show Poster

Friends

Ross Geller, Rachel Green, Monica Geller, Joey Tribbiani, Chandler Bing, and Phoebe Buffay are six twenty-somethings living in New York City. Over the course of 10 years and seasons, these friends go through life lessons, family, love, drama, friendship, and comedy.

Release Date
September 22, 1994

Main Genre
Sitcom

Rating
TV-14

Seasons
10

Studio
NBC


What Was ‘LAX 2194’ and How Was Matthew Perry Cast?

While the list of failed television pilots is miles long, arguably few can claim to be as offbeat as one centering on baggage handlers at the Los Angeles airport in the year 2194. But that’s precisely what the creators of LAX 2194 had in mind with their 1994 pilot. As employees tasked with sorting through aliens’ luggage, the pilot starred Ryan Stiles, Kelly Hu, and Matthew Perry, who ultimately took his role after receiving troubling news from his business manager. On Late Night With Seth Meyers, Perry recalled being suddenly informed that he had “no money” and was in dire need of work. “So I called my agent and said, ‘You’ve got to get me a job, any job you can,'” he revealed.

Given his financial woes, it’s not difficult to imagine why an actor with Perry’s talent would agree to star in a pilot with such a bizarre premise. “So I was wearing a futuristic shirt,” he remembers. “And little people played the aliens in which I had to sort out the aliens’ luggage and that was basically the show.” While he was working on LAX 2194, a script for another sitcom, Friends Like Us, was generating buzz within the television industry. Having read the teleplay, Perry responded to the material and, in particular, identified with the bitingly sarcastic and charming Chandler Bing. Though he was desperate to get an audition, his involvement with LAX 2194 effectively took him “off the market” for the remainder of 1994’s pilot season, leaving the ambitious performer with a creative itch that couldn’t be scratched.

How Did Matthew Perry Get an Audition for ‘Friends’?

As far as Matthew Perry was concerned, it would take a miracle to get an audition for Friends Like Us, with the actor referring to it as “the hot read of the season.” Per Insider, Perry wrote in his 2022 memoir, Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing, “When I read the script for ‘Friends Like Us’ it was as if someone had followed me around for a year, stealing my jokes, copying my mannerisms, photocopying my world-weary yet witty view of life.” Confident in the notion that not only would he make the perfect Chandler Bing but that he was Chandler Bing, the fact that he couldn’t audition weighed heavily. “I was losing my mind,” he recalled years later.

Making the situation even more complicated and painful for the young actor, Perry was gracious and begrudgingly encouraged some of his peers to audition for a coveted role on Friends Like Us, and even went so far as to help them prepare for their auditions. Regarding his fellow actors, he recalled, “A few even went a long way, based on my choices and my choices alone.” As he called his agents “every three or four days” and begged them to book an audition, his window of opportunity was only getting slimmer.

Related

Matthew Perry Wanted Zac Efron to Play Him in a Biopic About His Life

Perry and Efron previously co-starred in the 2009 teen comedy ’17 Again.’

Good things, however, come to those who wait, and Perry’s career trajectory took a sudden turn for the better when he learned that LAX 2194 wouldn’t be picked up by Fox. One executive reportedly described the pilot as “the worst thing we’ve ever seen in our lives.” Such news would typically be crushing for any performer hoping to break into entertainment, but the failure of LAX 2194 was ultimately music to Perry’s ears.

Matthew Perry Prayed For Fame Before His ‘Friends’ Audition

After finally landing an audition for one of the most sought-after pilots in town, Matthew Perry sensed that life would never be the same, but that wouldn’t stop him from humbly seeking the assistance of a higher power anyway. According to People, three weeks before he was due to audition, the actor did something he’d never done before and prayed to God. “Out of nowhere, I found myself getting to my knees, closing my eyes tightly, and praying,” he recalled. “God, you can do whatever you want to me. Just please make me famous.” Whether the Lord intervened or not, being familiar with the teleplay for Friends Like Us, possessing an intimate understanding of and kinship with Chandler Bing, and having helped other actors with their auditions, Matthew Perry was primed and ready to go.

According to Perry, he knew the material so well that when he first auditioned, he did so with the entirety of his dialogue memorized and no script in hand. As it turned out, all the reluctant yet hard work he’d put into helping others would pay off faster and more lucratively than anticipated. His first audition, on a Wednesday, was for the series’ co-creator, Marta Kauffman. The following day, he auditioned for Warner Bros. Studios and, on Friday, did his third and final audition for the brass at NBC. “I knew I was going to get it,” he’d later say. “I knew it was going to be huge. I just knew.” And with that, Matthew Perry nabbed the role of Chandler Bing and was the last principal cast member hired for what would become Friends, which began production the following Monday.

Years later, after an iconic 10-year series run that would take him to great heights of fame and fortune, the notion that his bargain with God may have been a Faustian one wasn’t lost on the actor due to his subsequent personal and public struggles with addiction. “God has certainly kept his side of the bargain — but the Almighty, being the Almighty, had not forgotten the first part of that prayer as well,” he wrote with characteristic wit in his 2022 memoir. With hindsight clear as day, it’s understandably impossible to imagine anyone but Matthew Perry playing Chandler Bing. Thankfully, the actor himself was so acutely aware that he was the man for the job, and Fox executives had no interest in picking up a show about futuristic baggage handlers. If the chips hadn’t fallen where they did, who knows if audiences would’ve caught a glimpse of the powerhouse talent who still entertains them today?

Friends is available to stream on MAX in the U.S.

Watch on Max

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