In the REELZ channel original mini-series “The Kennedys After Camelot,” Matthew Perry takes on the role of Ted Kennedy. For TV viewers who are used to seeing Perry in sitcoms (“Friends” and “The Odd Couple”), this is a major departure for the actor. And the idea of Perry playing the role of Senator Edward Kennedy was something viewers could not wrap their heads around.
The mini-series has not had good reviews among the press, however viewers are basically split in their reactions. The four-part mini-series tackles the lives of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Ted Kennedy after the 1968 assassination of Robert Kennedy.
Perry was an executive producer on this project. He knew he had to change his appearance with the help of the makeup department, and alter his voice dramatically. After all, Ted Kennedy had a distinctive accent. Unfortunately, Perry didn’t quite master that accent and at times it sounded a little like a Southern accent than that of a man from Boston. Perry confided to the media prior to the airing of the show that he had a hard time bringing his voice down and playing smaller rather than larger, which he had been doing in a play just before he took this role.
As Perry explained, “We got to the first scene, which is a very intimate scene inside a limo, my first shot, and I think my line was, ‘I’m going to take the boat out. The kids can fly home.’ And they said, ‘Action.’ And I said, ‘I’m going to take the boat out. The kids can fly home.’ And immediately I just saw this skirmish of people gather together and go, ‘What do we do? That’s not usable. That’s not the way he sounded.’” Perry admitted, “And so that was scary, getting that voice down. But I had good people in charge, helping me out.” He acknowledged he attempted to tackle the accent in 12 coaching sessions and after each “take” of filming he was given notes as to what he was doing wrong and how to help overcome that.
About the man whose shoes he had to fill on screen, Perry said, “Well, you sort of realized what a tragedy this guy’s life was and all these horrible – the whole family – and all these horrible things that happened to them, and yet the most fascinating thing I found was what a wonderful politician he became later in life, and less of a playboy, and less of all of that stuff, and the bad habits seemed to subdue, and then he became a very valuable member of the senate. So that’s sort of [the]thing that we try to portray here. I play him from 38 to 67 years old, and he was a very popular politician by the end.”
Indeed, the mini-series does portray Ted Kennedy as being cruel to his wife Joan and self-absorbed, especially after the accident at Chappaquiddick, which takes up most of the first two hours of the series.
Besides mastering the accent and voice, or trying to at least get it a little right, the actor was transformed physically. “There [were]a lot of prosthetics used, a lot of wigs. So I had fake ears, and fake nose, and fake wig. And, often, I would forget in the middle of conversations that I was wearing all that stuff, so I’d feel kind of silly.”
For Perry, he said he ended up admiring Ted Kennedy. “As a man who has been forced to transform his life many times, I really admire the changes he made. And that’s depicted very well in this movie, the moment that you see him have a cause (of health care). And to then know that he spent the next 40 years following up that cause is pretty impressive. And how he was able to turn himself around from a younger guy, who had a lot of bad habits, to somebody who really helped a great many people.”
“I took this job because it scared me,” Perry admitted. He added, “There was a lot of emotion and tragedy to be played, and just the age range of stuff.” He added, “This was good material. And I thought it was a really good challenge for me.”
REELZ channel continues to air reruns of “The Kennedys: After Camelot.”