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“Nobody wants to see Joey at his colonoscopy,” cracks Matt LeBlanc, the beloved TV comedy actor best known for playing struggling actor Joey Tribbiani on NBC’s landmark comedy series Friends (for which he received three Emmy nominations, two Golden Globe noms and a SAG mention) and its less successful spinoff Joey (one Golden Globe nom), as we sit down at the offices of The Hollywood Reporter and begin discussing why he is opposed to doing a Friends reboot. “That show was about a finite period in your life, after school and before your life really gets started. And if you think about the end of Friends, now their lives are starting — Ross and Rachel go off, Monica and Chandler move to the suburbs with the babies, Phoebe and Mike are married, Joey goes off. It was that time prior to that where they were each other’s emotional support system — that’s what that show was about. After that? It’s a different show.” He adds, “That was what the magic of that show was, how — no pun intended — they were there for each other,” referencing the show’s theme song.
LeBlanc, who is now 50, emphasizes that he feels “very, very, very fortunate” to have been associated with Friends, but he is also hopeful that the work he has done since returning to the business, following a five-year hiatus after Joey, isn’t lost in its shadow. Most notably, between 2011 and 2017 he starred as “Matt LeBlanc” — a heightened version of himself — on five seasons of Showtime’s Episodes, a quirky comedy about Hollywood and celebrity that was co-created by David Crane (who also co-created Friends, with Marta Kauffman) and his partner Jeffrey Klarik (who had also been very involved with Friends). The show, which came to an end in October, is Emmy-eligible this cycle; LeBlanc has received a best actor in a comedy series Emmy nom for all four prior seasons and Golden Globe noms for two, winning a Globe in 2012 for season one. “Obviously, Friends I’m very proud of,” he says, “but Episodes I’m really, really proud of, as well.”
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LISTEN: You can hear the entire interview below [starting at 21:06], following a conversation between host Scott Feinberg and Aaron Couch, the senior editor of THR‘s ‘Heat Vision’ blog devoted to fanboy entertainment, previewing the summer movie season.
Click here to access all of our past episodes, including conversations with Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep, Lorne Michaels, Gal Gadot, Eddie Murphy, Lady Gaga, Stephen Colbert, Jennifer Lawrence, Will Smith, Angelina Jolie, Snoop Dogg, Jessica Chastain, Jerry Seinfeld, Barbra Streisand, Aaron Sorkin, Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, Kate Winslet, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Aziz Ansari, Natalie Portman, Denzel Washington, Nicole Kidman, Warren Beatty, Alicia Vikander, Justin Timberlake, Reese Witherspoon, Tyler Perry, Judi Dench, Tom Hanks, Mandy Moore, Michael B. Jordan, Emilia Clarke, Jimmy Kimmel, Jane Fonda, Bill Maher, Claire Foy, Michael Moore, Amy Schumer, RuPaul, Jennifer Lopez, Robert De Niro, Margot Robbie, Ryan Murphy, Emma Stone, Ricky Gervais, Kris Jenner, James Corden, Sally Field, J.J. Abrams, Rachel Brosnahan, Jimmy Fallon, Lena Waithe, Jake Gyllenhaal, Elisabeth Moss and Bill Maher.
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LeBlanc was born and raised in Newton, Massachusetts. Throughout high school and after dropping out of college, he, like most of his family, pursued blue-collar work. But, at the encouragement of a friend, he ventured into New York City to try his hand at modeling, which led to him landing an acting agent as well. Before long, he was appearing in high-profile commercials and eventually, TV work as well, spending several years in the universe of Fox’s Married … With Children, including its spinoffs, Top of the Heap and Vinnie & Bobby. Still, LeBlanc had just $12 to his name when he auditioned for and was cast in a Jim Burrows-directed pilot called Friends, which is, as much as anything, why he was thrilled when it was ordered to series.
Friends, which ran from 1994-2004, starred six performers — the other five being Jennifer Aniston, David Schwimmer, Courteney Cox, Matthew Perry and Lisa Kudrow — who were all relatively unknown at the time it went on the air, and it didn’t develop a large following until after its first season came to an end and people discovered it via reruns. It was then that the public fell in love with the sextet, none more so than Joey. “Everybody wanted to be friends with Joey,” LeBlanc says. “Joey was that guy everybody wanted to hang out with. Girls liked him. Guys liked him.” He was goofy — his catchphrase was “How you doin’?” — but he was not, LeBlanc insists, stupid. “For me, he was never ‘dumb.’ For me, he was always just incorrect. He had his own sort of parallel-universe stream of logic.” Making the show was life-changing for all of its stars, who became rich, internationally famous and true pros over its decade on the air. “It felt like a 10-year education,” LeBlanc reflects.
As Friends‘ series finale neared, NBC approached LeBlanc about continuing to play Joey on a spinoff named after and centered on him — after all, he was the only character whose future was left largely uncertain at the end of Friends — and he was agreeable. He soon realized, though, that Joey faced a daunting, almost impossible challenge. “The pressure was huge,” he says. “I can’t lift the weight that six people were lifting. Those were big shoes to fill.” Due to disappointing ratings, at least relative to those of Friends, Joey was canceled after two seasons, and is largely remembered as a cautionary tale about spinoffs — but LeBlanc still stands behind it. “It didn’t get the care it deserved,” he asserts. “I thought it was a good show, I really did. Was it Friends? No, it wasn’t — nothing would have been. But I was proud of it.”
After Joey, LeBlanc, by his own choosing, did not work again for five years. But then his old friends Crane and Klarik came to him with the idea of making a new show in which LeBlanc would play “a fictitious Matt LeBlanc” — not unlike what Louis C.K., Larry David and Ricky Gervais had done on other shows — and he agreed to head back to work. The actor says he would not have taken the job unless Crane and Klarik were captaining the ship — “It’s sort of this parody of myself, so it needed to be someone I could really trust.” Episodes proved a very different experience than Friends in many ways — Friends had been shot in Los Angeles, whereas Episodes was largely shot in England; Friends had been a multicamera show shot in front of a live audience, whereas Episodes was a single-cam show shot without an audience; Friends had churned out 18 to 24 episodes every year for a decade, whereas Episodes released seasons of seven to nine installments as often as its principal talent felt like putting them out; and Friends aired on a broadcast network, reaching many millions, whereas Episodes aired on a pay-cable network, reaching an audience a fraction of that size.
With Episodes now having come to an end, LeBlanc, a single father of a 14-year-old daughter, is largely focused on making Man With a Plan, a CBS sitcom on which he stars that was recently renewed for a third season — but he says he envisions a day, not long from now, when he might retire from acting altogether. “My favorite thing to do is nothing,” he says sincerely. “I’m great at it. I swear to god, I really am. It would be great to do nothing. I like my job, and I feel like I’ve reached a point in my career — and I feel very fortunate — where I’m afforded good opportunities to go work with good material. And I’ve been fortunate enough to make some decent money, so I’m OK there.” He smiles and adds, “But it really might happen.”
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