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Mr Sunshine – Matthew Perry gets selfish

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Mr Sunshine, 1.01 - Allison Janney, Matthew Perry, James Lesure, Andrea Anders and Nate Torrence
Crystal (Allison Janney), Ben Donovan (Matthew Perry), Alonzo (James Lesure), Alice (Andrea Anders) and Roman (Nate Torrence) © 2011 ABC
Mr Sunshine, 1.01 - Matthew Perry
Pilot episode - Ben Donovan (Matthew Perry), a self-involved manager of a San Diego sports arena, the Sunshine Center © 2011 ABC

Following ten years on the phenomenally popular sitcom Friends, playing Chandler Bing, Matthew Perry went on to appear in the movies The Whole Nine Yards, The Whole Ten Yards and 17 Again.

He starred in the critically acclaimed series Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and was nominated for an Emmy for his performance in the TV movie The Ron Clark Story, which chronicled the life of an inspirational New York City school teacher.

His new series Mr Sunshine premieres on ABC on February 9th. In it he stars as Ben Donovan, a self-involved manager of a San Diego sports arena, the Sunshine Center, where strange mishaps and bizarre requests are ordinary day-to-day occurances.

A typical day at work would consist of trying to get rid of a hockey rink that won’t melt to looking for an elephant lost in the building. I spoke with Matthew last summer at the TV Critics tour about his new television venture, which he also co-writes and produces.

Were there things you learned from your last series, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip?

Mr Sunshine, 1.01 - Matthew Perry and Nate Torrence
Pilot Episode - Ben Donovan (Matthew Perry), a self-involved manager of a San Diego sports arena, the Sunshine Center and Roman (Nate Torrence) © 2011 ABC

Yes. One of the things that I came away from that show and watching Aaron [Sorkin] and all those brilliant people writing it, was I thought I wanted to take maybe a shot at writing something.

So actually the genesis of this, the reason that my character is selfish and has only thought about himself is because I know somebody who that was the case for a long time. So to take a comedic look at that, I thought, was interesting.

How much will you be in the writers’ room as the show goes forward?

[Before we started shooting] I was in there all the time, every day. I wanted to stay as close to the creative center of the show as possible. While we’re shooting I’ve had to learn to navigate it because I obviously can’t be in two places at one time.

Why was San Diego chosen as the location for the series?

I think we chose San Diego because it’s a beautiful place, and we wanted it to not be a top-of-the-line, Madison Square Garden-type arena. We wanted it to be just a small tier below that.

Have you spoken to anyone who runs a sports arena and found stories that you could use?

Mr Sunshine, 1.01 - Andrea Anders and Matthew Perry
Alice (Andrea Anders) ends her casual relationship with Ben (Matthew Perry) © 2011 ABC

Yeah, this guy named Lee, who does this job at the Staples Center. I spent a day with him and will continue to bother him through the process. What drove us to want to do a show at this place was having a dysfunctional family working in such a huge venue, how crazy some of these people are, but they have to get it together every night because 18,000 people are showing up.

I know as a kid, I was real excited and thrilled to go to any of those places like the Staples Center. And I just had this feeling that the people who worked there were excited too. We were just trying to think of a place where the most interesting, insane things can come up.

The first few episodes that we’re talking about there’s a Bruce Springsteen concert, but the next night there’s a lingerie football game. That’s actually an episode that I’m very much looking forward to shooting.

Can you talk about the title of the series?

The arena is called the Sunshine Center, and the title is slightly ironic because this guy while being really fun to be around, is just learning now not to be a selfish jerk. So I think it’s a slightly ironic title.

How much are you like your character?

Mr Sunshine, 1.01 - Clowns
Pilot episode - Clowns on the ice rink © 2011 ABC

I like to say that this character is me five years ago before any possible enlightenment could have come into my life.

But I’m very in touch with that kind of drive, a selfish guy trying to have a better life and how confused a selfish person would get if he were told that the way to have a better life was to just be nicer to people and care about people.

So that’s the character that I thought would be fun to explore in a sea of dysfunctional people, and a fun arena in which for it to take place.

So you’re really nice these days?

I’m much nicer.

I wasn’t aware they you weren’t a nice person, did something happen that made you decide to be a nicer person? And how does that connect with your decision to write for television?

Oh, I would say if you want to find out the answer to that, just pick up any newspaper from 1996. Look at any magazine cover.  They say, ‘Write what you know.’ An interesting road for somebody to go on is changing terrible behavior to being a better guy.

So I knew if I wrote something, I would like that to be a component of it.

Will past co-stars of yours pop up on this show?

Mr Sunshine - Matthew Perry
Matthew Perry (cast/executive producer) at the 2010 Summer Press Tour at the Beverly Hills Hilton in Beverly Hills, California in August last year © 2011 ABC

People ask a lot about guest stars, and we’re a little bit early in the process for that. We’re breaking stories and coming up with who these characters are going to be. There’s a lot of talk about will I ask some of my former cast mates to be on the show, and I think ultimately yes. But in the very beginning we want to convey to people that this is something new.

So in the third season, when we’re all excited, then maybe some of them can come back, but I don’t want to use them as sort of a launching pad. I want to show these new people and what their lives are like.

How tough is it to work against an established image like Chandler Bing in Friends?

Well, you can tell how successful the movies are by the fact that I’m here!

You know, it’s an interesting dilemma, because basically you want to do a lot of the old stuff because that was me too, and you want to expand on it somehow. I don’t think people want to see a character that’s night-and-day different than Chandler, but we want to try to do some different things.

So you want to take advantage of something that worked before, but you also want to show something new.