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Saying Goodbye to Friends

04/08/2004 at 01:00 PM EDT

Saying Goodbye to Friends
The final shoot put the Friends back where it all began: the couch at Central Perk.

Matthew Perry

The pilot for Friends – or Friends Like Us, as it was called in the very beginning – came around. It was the pilot everybody was talking about. So I read it, and there was this character named Chandler who I was just like. I thought, "This is insane. This is me."

And that's who I really was – I had just spent my early 20s not living a life and making fun of other people, and that's what Chandler was at the beginning. ... [Marta Kauffman and David Crane] took everybody separately out to lunch in between the pilot and the first episode and found out what made us tick. ... They said, "Tell us something interesting about you, so maybe we can incorporate it into the show."

I remember telling them, "I'm not an ugly man, but I don't do very well with women." They also saw how I tend to break up emotional or serious moments with a joke whenever I can, because I'm not comfortable in serious moments. And you know, that's Chandler. ... I remember telling them I had just been on a date the previous night. I got home, I called my friend and he said, "How did the date go?" And I said, "I'm going to die alone." So then four episodes into Friends, Chandler said that.

I was 24 when I got on the show. I'll be 34 when it's over, and those are really important years in somebody's life. So to do it all in public ... was difficult. At first you have the wave of "I'm famous, and this is exactly what I've wanted my whole life." But then you go through the whole recluse stage where you think, "I wish everybody would stop staring at me." And then you eventually, hopefully, get through all that. You find things in your life that are grounding, like your family and good friends.

For all six of us, [life] changed in the exact same way, so we could really lean on each other. It really started on the third day of the pilot with Courteney Cox, who was pretty much the only name going in. She was the one who said, "There's no Jerry Seinfeld on this show, so let's all work together. This is a true ensemble." That was what she said, and we all held to that.

Courteney is amazing. She likes to work really hard and she's very into the whole process. She's a brilliantly gifted comedienne, and I don't think she knew that at the beginning. But she just grew into it, working with all of us. ... She's an amazing dramatic actress too, and that's what has helped me a great deal in my career and on the show, because we can stop with the joking and have a real moment together. ... The more emotional and serious material [we've done] has been some of the most rewarding, and it's certainly the direction I'm heading for my career in the next 10 years. Believe it or not, I learned I like doing dramatic stuff by doing a sitcom.

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