American-Canadian actor Matthew Perry is perhaps best known today for his iconic performance on the hit NBC sitcom Friends. For his 10-year performance as the sarcastic, witty prankster who became the serious dad of the acclaimed series, Perry was nominated for a Primetime Emmy in 2002 and was even described by EW as “managing to find shift” early in the series after subtle shift in Chandler’s Density” as an actor.
However, like most of his Friends cast members, Perry was relatively unknown at the time he appeared on the show, which would eventually make him a household name. He previously had some screen credits, but it wasn’t until 1994 that he achieved the fame so many actors, including himself, were hoping for. “There was steam in my ears, I really wanted to be famous,” he told the New York Times in 2002 of his rise to stardom. “You want the attention, you want the money, and you want the best seat in the restaurant.”
So what was Perry doing before Friends? Well, while some fans may be surprised at the actor’s change of direction, it’s abundantly clear that his competitive spirit and drive to succeed have always been there.
Matthew Perry was a tennis player as a teenager
Born in western Massachusetts to a Canadian mother and American father, Matthew Perry grew up mostly in Ottawa after his parents divorced and his mother brought Perry to Canada, then a toddler, according to IMDb. And while Perry is perhaps best known today for his acting, many fans may be surprised to know it was in Ottawa where the Friends graduate was a senior junior tennis player.
According to IMDb, Perry was 17th nationally in Canada for junior (under 16) singles and third in double. How did he rise so high? Well, Perry revealed in a 2002 New York Times profile that he practiced the sport more than 10 hours a day as a young teenager. “I needed to be successful at everything I did so I could feel better about myself,” Perry told the outlet at the time, adding that he had an “incredible drive” when it came to tennis.
However, when he moved to Los Angeles with his father at age 15, things changed for him. “I was a very good tennis player in Ottawa, Canada – nationally ranked – when I was about 13,” he told Men’s Health in 2012. “Then I moved to Los Angeles when I was 15, and everyone in LA only killed me. I was pretty great in Canada. Not so much in Los Angeles.”
How Matthew Perry translated his athletic talent into acting
Although Matthew Perry gave up his tennis aspirations after moving to the United States at age 15, he obviously made a big name for himself, just in a different field. In his 2012 Men’s Health profile, Perry revealed that he decided to pursue acting when he realized he could no longer play professional tennis. “Are tennis and acting the same? I don’t know,” he explained. “They are both very mental games. They are both very difficult things to participate in.”
Perry echoed that thought when he told the New York Times that his passion for tennis “translated into acting” as he recalibrated his mindset. That fits with Perry’s story. Fans will remember that on HBO’s 2021 Friends Reunion, Perry recalled how he “felt that way [he] would die” if audiences didn’t laugh at his performance throughout the show. Given that competitive spirit that has been a part of Perry since he was a young man, it makes sense that he felt the need to divert him from athletics to acting for once The first didn’t work out for him.
In the years since, however, Perry has been able to rein in his competitive spirit, telling Men’s Health, “Now I just want everyone to be successful … As you get older, maybe you start wanting.” Everyone to have [success] Also.” Even today, Perry can still live out his former passion on the side, both as an amateur player and now and then as a as a spectator.