Matthew Perry looks beyond “Sydney”

 

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
June 4, 1990

When he was a child, actor Matthew Perry said, he had a major crush on Valerie Bertinelli. She was the co-star of “One Day at a Time,” a popular CBS sitcom.

Years later, when CBS cast Perry to play the boyfriend of Bertinelli’s character on her new “Sydney” series, he was on Cloud 9. But after he had psyched himself up to kiss the actress, the producers told Perry they were changing his character from her boyfriend to her younger brother.

“You could say I was disappointed, but I was also a little relieved,” Perry said, laughing. “Here’s the opportunity to kiss the girl of your dreams and get paid for it! But on the other hand, here I am, this little geek kid hanging around Valerie, while her husband (rock star Eddie Van Halen) is watching. It’s a lot easier for me to deal with being her protective younger brother.”

“Sydney,” canceled last week by CBS, airs from 7:30 to 8 p.m. Mondays on WBBM-Channel 2. The last program is scheduled for June 25.

Perry takes an understated physical approach to his role as Billy, a police officer with a glib sense of humor.

Now 20, Perry began his acting career four years ago. His father, actor John Bennett Perry, wasn’t pleased when Matthew announced that he was going into show business. He hoped his son would attend college or, failing that, become a tennis pro. Raised in Ottawa, Ontario, the younger Perry was a nationally ranked junior tennis player in Canada.

“I thought I was pretty good at tennis, and had actually considered going pro, but then reality hit,” Perry said during a phone interview from Los Angeles. “My mom (and stepfather) and I ended up moving to California five years ago. I played against really, really good players there, and there was no way I could’ve made enough to eat as a pro in America. So acting started to look better and better.”

During the first years of his career, Perry suffered from being an appendage to his parents’ names. In Canada, the press referred to him as the son of Suzanne Perry, former press secretary to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. In America, he was the son of character actor John Bennett Perry, or NBC reporter Keith Morrison’s stepson.

Although Perry starred in Fox’s short-lived “Boys Will Be Boys,” had co-starring roles in the feature films “A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon” and “She’s Out of Control” and guest-starred on such series as “Highway to Heaven,” he is best known for his recurring role on ABC’s “Growing Pains.”

As Sandy, Carol Seaver’s college boyfriend, Perry won quite a following of fans. So he was surprised when the “Growing Pains” producers killed Sandy in a touching episode about drunken driving.

“I was all ready to buy a house, but then I was off the show,” Perry said. “I loved being on it and hated to leave, but I think the way they handled the death was really done well. Sandy was such a normal, all-American kid, and to have him die like that sent the message across to kids that drinking and driving don’t mix for anybody. I think it was a brave decision on the part of the writers.”

Now Perry must deal with the cancellation of “Sydney.”

“Having watched my father’s career over the years, I’m not naive enough to think that good acting and writing are all it takes to have a hit show,” he said. “There are so many factors that are relevant to which shows stay on the air and which ones don’t.”

Perry expressed nothing but praise for Bertinelli.

“Both she and her husband have so much to be snooty about, but they’re two of the nicest people I’ve ever met.  I can tell you one thing,” Perry added with a chuckle. “I certainly won’t be as nice as she is when I’m the center of a show. I’m going to milk it for all it’s worth.”

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