Interview: Jon Cryer: Failed Friend Who Became a Man
Photo: Robert Voets/CBS. ©2005 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.
by Scott Juba
Published: March 29, 2006
It was the middle of the night in London in the early 1990s when a young American actor in town to do a play received a call from Marta Kauffman asking him to audition for the role of Chandler on a new show named Friends. “She said, let me fax you the pages,” he recalls. “I didn’t have a fax machine but I did have my computer, so I figured I’d just hook it up to the phone and she’d fax me the pages. What I forgot was that the British phone jacks are different than American phone jacks. So I had to rewire the phone to hook up to the British jack and hook that into my computer. Then they faxed me the pages.”
Unfortunately, this story does not have a happy ending, because this actor was Jon Cryer, not Matthew Perry. Despite his late-night faxing headaches, Cryer didn’t land the role. “I didn’t get the pages until 3 a.m., so when I went in I was kind of in a fog and did the best I could with very little rehearsal time,” Cryer says. “It didn’t matter anyway, because the tape got stuck in customs and did not get back to the network until they had already cast Matthew Perry. But a friend of mine at Warner Bros. said I wouldn’t have gotten it anyway. So the real gist of the story is, I auditioned for it and didn’t get it. But that’s a boring story. It’s only interesting when you add all the other stuff in.”
Despite this setback, Cryer continued to deliver one solid performance after another, and his hard work earned him a starring role alongside Charlie Sheen in Two and a Half Men, the top-rated sitcom on television. Cryer says the show’s ratings success creates a tension-free work environment. “When you’re on a show that’s fighting for survival every week, you stop trusting your instincts, because you think, ‘My instincts haven’t worked so far.’ But when people clearly like the show and are watching it in great numbers, it takes a huge amount of pressure off you. It allows you to trust your instincts and go with what has worked for you before.”
Cryer, who acted with Charlie Sheen in “Hot Shots!,” says he and Sheen’s previous experience together enhanced their chemistry when they first began to work on the show. “Our relationship happened the second we auditioned together,” Cryer tells me. “We didn’t even need to talk about it. It was right there and was very easy and very natural. We both had the same sensibility about things. It didn’t even feel like work.”
Besides Sheen, Cryer also raves about the effortless acting of 12-year-old Angus T. Jones, who plays his son on the show. “We take him for granted a bit because he acts like such a pro that we forget that he’s actually 12,” Cryer remarks. “He’s an impressive kid.”
Much like Jones, acting comes naturally to Cryer, because both of his parents were also actors. “I don’t recall thinking that acting was any kind of a possibility for me until I was around 12,” Cryer says. “All of a sudden I thought, ‘Hey, I could try that.’…It didn’t really start happening for me until I was 18, but I started wanting it when I was 12.”
Having parents who worked in the industry exposed Cryer to opportunities that otherwise might not have come his way. “A friend of my dad’s was doing Torch Song Trilogy on Broadway at that time and he said to me, ‘You should audition for a part in this show. There’s a part you’d be perfect for.’ Literally, he got me an audition as an actor. I didn’t have an agent at that point. I went in and thankfully I had been studying long enough and knew what I was doing, so I got the part. I auditioned for two parts on the same day and got them both. I was just giddy….Interestingly, instead of taking Torch Song, I took Brighton Beach Memoirs and within about six weeks, I got fired. [Laughs].”
Cryer adds, “[The common misconception] is that there’s a Simon Cowell everywhere. People just aren’t like that in this business. In many respects, I wish they were that honest, because they won’t tell you that you’re not making the grade. They’ll just fire you.”
While Cryer may have still had a lot to learn about the business when he was fired from “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” his current success makes him an actor that just about any casting director would love to hire.