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Episodes – Matt LeBlanc is not really himself

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Episodes - Stephen Mangan, Matt LeBlanc and Tamsin Grieg
Sean Lincoln (Stephen Mangan), Matt LeBlanc (himself) and Beverly Lincoln (Tamsin Grieg) © 2011 Showtime

Best known for his role as Joey Tribbiani on the iconic TV sitcom Friends, Matt LeBlanc went on to act is several movies including Charlie’s Angles and Lost in Space.

Seven years after the finale of Friends, LeBlanc is back on TV, playing himself … well, a version of himself. The new comedy series Episodes, conceived by David Crane (Friends) and Jeffrey Klarik (Mad About You), which is a co-production between Showtime and the BBC, spotlights a British sitcom named Lyman’s Boys, tremendously successful in the UK which is now going to be remade into an American series. The US network president promises the creator/producers of the original sitcom that nothing is going to change, that is until Matt LeBlanc is brought on board as the new star of the series.

How surreal is this for you to be playing yourself?

Well, it’s not really myself. It’s just a character that David and Jeffrey wrote that happens to have the same name as me (he laughs). There are some similarities, but for the most part, it’s a fictitious character.

Are you concerned that fans will think your personality in this is really you?

Episodes - Matt LeBlanc
Matt LeBlanc (himself) © 2011 Showtime

When we started that was really my only concern. Is it a version of me, is it me, what exactly are we doing? And we went through it carefully and anything that was not right or I was uncomfortable with we censored out and it worked out. It’s a character, it’s not me.

So there was a little hesitation, but I think when people watch it it’s fairly obvious that it’s not me. One thing is we inflated everything more – they did print in the paper how much money we all made [on Friends], in this I have my own jet, [in real life] I don’t own a jet. Things like that. It’s the public’s perception of me more than really me.

You played Joey Tribbiani for twelve years. What sort of offers were you getting between then and now?

There were a few network shows that came and went that crossed my desk, and I said no to. I just took my time. Twelve years, every day, was a lot. It was a great time, but I wanted to take some time away from the business. I was really burned out, I just wanted to be a dad and spend time with my little girl, we have a great bond and she’s the best thing in my life.

How did this come about?

Episodes 1.03 - Matt LeBlanc and John Pankow
Episodes 1.03 - Matt LeBlanc (himself) and Merc Lapidus (John Pankow) © 2011 Showtime

I got a call from Jeffrey and David, and they said, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘Just hanging out. Nothing.’ And they said, ‘We have an idea. Let’s get together.’ So I met them for lunch, and they pitched me the idea, and I committed right there at the table.

Their writing is so special, expositions are done with punch lines and character development is done with expositions and punch lines, it’s so clean and linier and it really is a joy to read the forty page scripts and feel like they’re five pages long.

It was the fact that I’d be working with David and Jeffrey that got me off the couch.  It’s nice to be back now in something that I really like and have faith in, with a cast that’s really talented.

This is a little different. This is a single camera versus multi camera in front of an audience. So when the punch lines come up and you say them and there’s no crowd laughing, it’s a little unnerving. But aside from that, I think we had a really good time and I think it shows.

Lisa Kudrow had a peripherally similar show with The Comeback. Do you think that there’s something about the type of fame that you guys achieved on Friends attracts you to projects like this in retrospect?

Episodes - John Pankow and Matt LeBlanc
John Pankow and Matt LeBlanc (himself) © 2011 Showtime

I can’t really speak for what Lisa’s reasons were for doing that show. With my last experience [on Joey] the biggest problems were in the writing. To be able to work with David and Jeffrey, writers I really trust and know, was great.

A lot of times, if you’re unsure about the direction of a scene, you go for it tentatively. But when you have writing that you really believe in, it’s really easy to just blindly commit, and if you trust them that much, and they say, ‘Alright. Bend it a little this way or that way,’ your own personal judgment doesn’t tend to get involved.

Do you hope that the constant recognition you get from Friends will die one day?

Well, I’ve tried not to imagine it dying. My job is to make you believe what I’m saying, that’s an actor’s job. So if people really believe me as that character then, in my opinion, I’ve done my job. So 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. So it’s easier for me to look at it that way (he laughs).