“I’m Mattman.” Those were Matthew Perry’s last public words, in a cryptic Oct. 22 Instagram post accompanied by a photo of the Friends superstar reclining in his hot tub, the lights of the Pacific Palisades shimmering on the horizon. Six days later, Perry was found unresponsive in the same hot tub and was soon after pronounced dead at age 53.
And the mystery of “Mattman” — Perry’s “Rosebud” — would only deepen. Was it code? An inside joke? TikTok conspiracy theorists questioned if it was a cry for help.
In truth, Perry was obsessed with Batman. In 2017, he spent $20 million on 10,000-square-foot “mansion in the sky” replete with a “bat cave” to store his Caped Crusader memorabilia. It was the biggest condo sale of that year. Perry bought it, he has said, in part to live out his Bruce Wayne fantasies. (Rihanna purchased the property in April.) The final chapter of his 2022 addiction memoir, Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing, is titled “Batman.” And Mattman — or Matman, as Perry spells it in the memoir — was also part of that fantasy. He was convinced it was going to be his comeback vehicle.
How serious was Perry about Mattman? In November 2020, on the set of Don’t Look Up, he approached Adam McKay — who’d cast Perry in a small part as a smarmy cable news anchor in the film about an asteroid headed toward Earth — about producing the project.
For Perry, who only two years earlier had narrowly escaped death after his colon burst from prolonged opioid abuse, the opportunity to appear in a prestige movie satire alongside Meryl Streep, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence and Jonah Hill was the opportunity of a lifetime.
Casting director Francine Maisler first suggested Perry to McKay. “I was like, ‘Man, I haven’t seen him in anything in a little while,’ ” says McKay, 55. “I knew he had some health issues. And so I met with him and he was super cool. Francine and I had talked about the fact that, yeah, he’s famous for the Friends character, but he had done lots of movies and other shows, and he was always good in everything he did. He always popped in this really specific way.”
“So I met with him and he was great. He described how he had had some sort of major surgery involving his lower intestine and almost had died, and it was really major stuff, but you could tell he had recovered. He was back, and I was super excited to do the movie with him,” McKay recalls.
But when Perry showed up to set, there were obvious signs that he was not well. “His energy was low,” says McKay. “He looked not healthy. It was just the kind of thing where you’re like, ‘Are you all right?’ It was during COVID and it was before the vaccine, so it was already a very dicey shoot. I remember being a little worried — like, ‘Hey, did you take the COVID test?’ He was like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m clean.’ ”
McKay had experience working with brilliant comedic actors crippled by their demons. On Oct. 25, 1997, McKay was the head writer on Saturday Night Live when Chris Farley returned to the show to host. “Farley’s addiction was so large and obvious and dramatic. And I remember Lorne [Michaels] had him host because he was hoping it would remind him of the love that he has for this work. And obviously that one didn’t end well.” Farley died of a cocaine and morphine overdose seven weeks later, on Dec. 18.
Similarly, McKay had hoped the role in Don’t Look Up might set Perry back on track: “We selfishly wanted him in the movie — he’s very talented — but we were also hoping that doing the movie could be a little toehold to kind of get some degree of working rhythm back 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’d recognize him. His name is Matt and he’s very famous and about 50 years old. His life is a little bit of a mess. He’s lost. Out of the blue a distant relative dies and leaves him $2 billion — and he uses to become a superhero.”
McKay was fascinated by the pitch — not because he wanted to make Mattman, but because it offered a window into Perry’s mind. “Any movie idea is kind of like someone telling you their dream,” he explains. “And there’s kind of obviously a meaning behind it. And when I heard that idea, I was like, ‘Oh, that’s interesting that that’s the idea that he wants to do.’ ”
McKay wondered if Perry’s fixation on super powers was somehow an appeal to his own higher power. Perry may have succumbed to his own mortality. But, like Batman, Perry had devoted much of his life and his own millions to helping others. He wanted fellow addicts to find sobriety. And that work will continue posthumously with the newly announced Matthew Perry Foundation.
Perry pictured himself playing the lead, but was flexible in terms of whether it should be a movie or a series. McKay countered with his own idea — something less high-concept but no less autobiographical.
“My idea was just to do a show about being this incredibly popular, well-known TV guy who’s dealing with addiction,” McKay says. “Because the world has changed. You could actually do that show now. Ten years ago, people would have said you’re crazy. But now people can be more upfront about their mental health issues, their addiction issues, and it’s kind of wonderful.”
“Why don’t we just do a show that’s a fictional version of what you’ve struggled with,” he pressed on with his pitch to Perry. “The idea that everywhere you go, people yell your catchphrases a little bit of your past, the addiction, what it’s like, because everyone views you through this lens of this cheery, bright, multicolored show. And then, meanwhile, you’re a human being who’s dealing with real addiction, real pain. It could be an incredible show. It could be really funny. It could really affect 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, ‘OK.’ ”
As for Don’t Look Up, Perry finished one scene in Boston before flying via private jet to a rehab facility in Switzerland, where he faked pain symptoms in order to convince doctors there to prescribe him 1,800 milligrams of OxyContin per day. McKay ultimately cut Perry’s character from the film, “which was really too bad.
“I actually didn’t know that Switzerland was rehab,” says McKay. “I thought it was like 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.