“I’m Mattman.Those were Matthew Perry’s last public words, in a cryptic Instagram post on October 22, accompanied by a photo of the Friends superstar lying in his hot tub as the lights of the Pacific Palisades glitter on the horizon. Six days later, Perry was found unconscious in the same hot tub and was pronounced dead shortly afterwards at the age of 53.
And the mystery of “Mattman” – Perry’s “Rosebud” – would only deepen. Was it a code? An inside joke? TikTok conspiracy theorists wondered if it was a cry for help.
In reality, Perry was obsessed with Batman. In 2017, he spent $20 million on a 10,000-square-foot “mansion in the sky” replete with a “bat cave” to store his Caped Crusader memorabilia. It was the largest condo sale of that year. Perry bought it, he says, in part to fulfill his Bruce Wayne fantasies. (Rihanna bought the property in April.) The final chapter of his 2022 addiction memoir, Friends, lovers and the big terrible, is titled ‘Batman’. And Mattman – or Matman, as Perry spells it in the memoir – was part of that fantasy too. He was convinced this would be his comeback vehicle.
How serious was Perry about Mattman? In November 2020, on the set of Don’t look uphe approached Adam McKay – who had cast Perry in a small role as a smart cable news anchor in the film about an asteroid headed for Earth – about producing the project.
For Perry, who had narrowly escaped death just two years earlier after his colon burst from long-term opioid abuse, the chance to appear alongside Meryl Streep, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence and Jonah Hill in a prestigious film satire was the opportunity of a lifetime .
Casting director Francine Maisler introduced Perry to McKay. “I was like, ‘Man, I haven’t seen him in a while,’” says McKay, 55. “I knew he had health issues. And so I met him and he was super cool. Francine and I had talked about it that he is famous for the Friends character, but he had done a lot of movies and other shows, and he was always good at everything he did. He always showed up in this very specific way.
“So I met him and he was great. He described how he had had major surgery involving his lower intestine and almost died, and it was a really major surgery, but you could tell he had recovered. He was back and I was super excited to make the movie with him,” McKay recalls.
But when Perry showed up to sit down, there were clear signs that he was not doing well. “His energy was low,” McKay says. “He didn’t look healthy. It was just the kind of thing that made you think, “Are you okay?” It was during COVID and before the vaccine, so it was already a very risky shoot. I remember being a little concerned, like, “Hey, did you take the COVID test?” He said, ‘Oh yeah, I’m clean.’ ”
McKay had experience working with brilliant comedic actors who were crippled by their demons. On October 25, 1997, McKay was the head writer of Saturday evening live when Chris Farley returned to the show to host. ‘Farley’s addiction was so big, obvious and dramatic. And I remember Lorne (Michaels) hosting him because he hoped it would remind him of the love he has for this work. And of course that didn’t end well.” Farley died seven weeks later, on December 18, of a cocaine and morphine overdose.
Likewise, McKay had hoped to play the role in it Don’t look up could put Perry back on track: “We selfishly wanted to have him in the film – he’s very talented – but we also hoped that making the film could be a little help in getting a to regain some degree of work rhythm, to hopefully remind him how good he was.”
At some point between takes, Perry approached McKay with his Mattman idea. The pitch went something like this: “It’s about this guy,” Perry said. ‘You would recognize him. His name is Matt, he is very famous and about 50 years old. His life is a bit of a mess. He’s lost. Out of nowhere, a distant relative dies and leaves him $2 billion – and he becomes a superhero.”
McKay was fascinated by the pitch, not because he wanted to make Mattman, but because it offered a glimpse into Perry’s mind. “Every movie idea is like someone telling you their dream,” he explains. ‘And there’s clearly a meaning behind it. And when I heard that idea, I thought, ‘Oh, that’s interesting, that’s the idea he wants to do.’ ”
McKay wondered if Perry’s fixation on superpowers was somehow an appeal to his own higher power. Perry may have succumbed to his own mortality. But like Batman, Perry had spent much of his life and his own millions helping others. He wanted fellow addicts to find sobriety. And that work will continue posthumously with the newly announced Matthew Perry Foundation.
Perry envisioned himself playing the lead role, but was flexible on whether it should be a movie or a series. McKay responded with his own idea – a little less high-concept, but no less autobiographical.
“My idea was to just make a show about this incredibly popular, well-known TV guy dealing with addiction,” McKay says. “Because the world has changed. You could actually do that show right now. Ten years ago people would have said you were crazy. But now people can be more open about their mental health issues and their addiction issues, and that’s pretty great.”
“Why don’t we just do a show that’s a fictionalized version of what you were struggling with,” he continued his pitch to Perry. “The idea that everywhere you go people are shouting your slogans a little bit from your past, the addiction, what it’s like, because everyone is looking at you through this lens of this happy, bright, multi-colored show. And in the meantime, you are a human being dealing with real addiction, real pain. It could be an incredible show. It can be very funny. It can really impact people’s lives.”
But Perry had no interest in that show. “And it’s not the kind of idea you push on someone,” McKay says. “So I was like, ‘Okay.’ ”
As regards Don’t look up, Perry finished a scene in Boston before flying on a private jet to a rehab facility in Switzerland, where he feigned pain symptoms to convince doctors there to prescribe him 1,800 milligrams of OxyContin a day. McKay ultimately cut Perry’s character from the film, “which was a real shame.”
“I actually didn’t know Switzerland was a rehab facility,” says McKay. “I thought it was a health cleanse or something. Call me naive.”
A version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.