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Image: "Friends" cast
Jon Ragel  /  NBC file
The cast of "Friends," from left, Matthew Perry, Courteney Cox, Matt LeBlanc, Lisa Kudrow, David Schwimmer and Jennifer Aniston will forever be tied to their iconic show.
By
TODAY contributor
updated 1/3/2011 11:20:55 AM ET 2011-01-03T16:20:55

Sardonic Matthew Perry has done quite few things since “Friends” ended and he stopped being Chandler Bing, but you wouldn’t know that from the questions he fields.

In a recent press conference for his new ABC series “Mr. Sunshine” (premiering Feb. 9), a reporter made the comment that all the “Friends” were “cooking along pretty well these days except, it seems, for David (Schwimmer). We don’t see him very much.”

“Now, if David were here, would you say ‘Except, it seems, for Matthew’?” Perry shot back.

Well, of course that would have been the question. Because Perry, Schwimmer, Matt LeBlanc, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow and Jennifer Aniston are forever tied to their roles on the iconic series. And when one of them is interviewed, it's likely that at least one other's name will be brought up.

The actors skyrocketed from relative obscurity to become some of the top-paid TV actors of their time. They famously stuck together to barter the best contracts for all rather than let each one attempt negotiations alone. Aniston and Schwimmer reportedly took pay cuts so that everyone could stay on equal footing. Eventually, they all earned $1 million per episode in the final two years, making them the highest paid ensemble cast in TV history.

Those tasty paychecks meant that between salaries and syndication, none of the “Friends”  need to worry about their next paycheck for the rest of their lives.

So why not kick back a little?

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“There’s only so many video games you can play,” Perry said. “We’re creative people who need to keep working.”

Even if working means their current careers will always be compared to their work on that seminal series. In a one-on-one interview, Perry admitted that at first he was resentful of the “Friends” albatross he carried.

“It took a while before I was grateful for what it gave me. I know I would not have had the opportunities I was given if not for that role,” Perry said.

In his new series "Mr. Sunshine," Perry stars as a sports-arena manager who experiences a midlife crisis when he turns 40. But he's not just acting in the series. Perry also came up with the concept for the comedy, co-wrote the pilot episode and is an executive producer.

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Like Perry, LeBlanc, who stars in the upcoming Showtime series “Episodes” (premiering Jan. 9), has come to accept that no matter what he does in his life, he’ll always be sweet, dim Joey Tribbiani.

“I don’t look at it as a
negative thing when people come up and say, ‘Hey,
Joey.’ I’m always, ‘Hey, hi.’ I take it as a
compliment because it tends to happen a lot,” LeBlanc said. “So
it’s easier on me to look at it that way.”

So why not play himself to make people forget about Joey? LeBlanc is doing just that in "Episodes" ... sort of. His character, Matt LeBlanc, is a send-up of himself, much like Kudrow’s self-deprecating character in “The Comeback.” LeBlanc jokes he would have been really ticked if he hadn’t been chosen for the role of Matt LeBlanc.

As for Cox, she’s always being asked when her “Friends” will pop up on her ABC series “Cougar Town.”

“I’d like to have them all on,” she said.

Aniston has already done an episode as a zany therapist, and Kudrow appeared as the frenemy/dermatologist of Cox's character, Jules. The boys have not yet appeared, but with Perry on the same network, perhaps there will be a crossover episode.

Perry said there’s already been a lot of talk about him asking some of his former castmates to be on “Mr. Sunshine.”

“I think ultimately, yes. But in the very beginning, we want to convey to people that this is something new,” Perry said. “I don’t want to use them as sort of a launching pad.”

While some of Perry's "Friends" might be able to launch his show into some nice ratings, others haven't had such high-profile post-pals success. Here's a quick update on our "Friends":

Jennifer Aniston, 41
Marrying Brad Pitt — and then getting dumped for Angelina Jolie — helped Aniston sidestep questions about her days playing Rachel Green. Perhaps not the best way of getting out of the conversation.

But hands down, Aniston has enjoyed the most post-“Friends” success. She's had a strong movie career that includes “Bruce Almighty,” “The Good Girl,” “Marley & Me” and many more. As of June of 2010, her films have grossed more than $1 billion in the U.S. and more than $1.8 billion worldwide, according to the-numbers.com. And coming in February, she'll star opposite Adam Sandler in "Just Go With It."

Then there's her ability to capture cover space on magazines ranging from Us Weekly to GQ. Forbes ranks her No. 26 in its power celebrity list for 2010. And that GQ cover featuring the actress clad in only a necktie was enough to make anyone forget — at least briefly — she once starred on “Friends.”

Courteney Cox, 46
Before she played Monica Geller on “Friends,” Cox was the best known actor in the group. She was Alex Keaton’s girlfriend on “Family Ties,” made a few movies (including "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective") and was the girl Bruce Springsteen pulled up on stage for his 1984 video “Dancing in the Dark.”

Since "Friends," Cox has plunged into the TV waters again, with the short-lived FX drama "Dirt," and a guest-starring role on the sitcom "Scrubs." Now she stars on the successful ABC series “Cougar Town,” for which she earned a Golden Globe nod. She has also starred in the popular “Scream” movie series, and is reprising her role as Gale Weathers in the upcoming fourth film.

Lisa Kudrow, 47
Right after "Friends," Kudrow starred in the short-lived 2005 HBO series “The Comeback,” poking fun at herself. (She played the self-centered former star of a hit sitcom.) But her work isn't limited to TV. She has had roles in "P.S. I Love You," "Easy A" and more. And coming up in February, she plays an angry ex-wife in the film "The Other Woman," starring Natalie Portman.

But that's not all. The former Phoebe Buffay currently produces “Who Do You Think You Are?” the NBC series that traces family roots. Kudrow will also be bringing her web series, “Web Therapy,” to Showtime as a half-hour comedy this spring. She produces and stars as a self-proclaimed therapist who dispenses advice through a webcam.

Matt LeBlanc, 43
Right before the end of “Friends,” LeBlanc started hustling movie jobs that proved to be less than stellar. He also signed up for a dismal spin-off series, “Joey,” which bombed. He then opted to take some time off.

“You know, 12 years, every day, was a lot. It was a great time, but I wanted to take some time off and spend time with my daughter and just sort of take some time away from the business,” LeBlanc said.

This year he executive-produced the film “Jonah Hex,” but he still isn’t ready for full-time work. He's happy the "Friends" cash allows him to make decisions not based on financial need.

“I’m not working that much,” LeBlanc said. “('Episodes') doesn’t take that much time because it’s short. I’m happy with where I am right now.”

Matthew Perry, 41
Perry readily admits he suffered a personal downward spiral after the end of “Friends.” When asked about the catalyst for his move to become a better person, he said, “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. An interesting road for somebody to go on
is changing terrible behavior to being a better
guy.”

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His movie career stalled. (“Well, you can tell how successful
the movies are by the fact that I’m here,” he joked during a “Mr. Sunshine” interview.) But he did have a meaty role in Aaron Sorkin’s critically acclaimed “Studio 60 on Sunset Strip,” which ran for only 22 episodes.

David Schwimmer, 44
Ah, Schwimmer. What is he doing these days? The man who played Ross Geller has avoided much of the spotlight post-“Friends.” He did voice work in two “Madagascar” movies, appeared as himself on “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and guest starred on “30 Rock.”

“I have not seen David in a while, but I would assume he’s doing exactly what he wants
to be doing. He loves directing. He 
loves the theater. So he’s probably doing a bunch of that lame stuff,” Perry joked.

So right. Schwimmer directed the drama "Trust," about an online sexual predator who grooms a teenage victim. The film was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. He also directed the 2007 Simon Pegg comedy "Run, Fatboy, Run."

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Discuss: When you see one of the "Friends" stars in a new project, can you divorce them from their sitcom character?

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