“How you doin’?”
Anyone who has ever watched TV knows that phrase belongs to Joey Tribbiani, the lovable character immortalized by Matt LeBlanc on Friends. LeBlanc has the opportunity to make fun of himself and his career in the Showtime series, Episodes, which has its third season finale March 9 at 10:30 p.m. The hilarious comedy skewers the television industry, and LeBlanc, who plays a heightened, fictionalized version of himself, is always in on the joke. Paste recently had a chance to talk to LeBlanc about the series, what the Friends legacy means to him and why he likes only working four months a year.
Paste: Were you ever worried about playing an outrageous version of yourself?
Matt LeBlanc: I was really cautious at the beginning. It’s [executive producers, writers, creators] David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik. I have so much trust and faith in them protecting me. We’re in the third season, about to go into the fourth, and I’ve kind of dropped that really. I’m not that concerned about it anymore.
Paste: So nothing about it worries you now?
LeBlanc: One thing I sometimes question is if it gets into my family and things like that. But that’s the only area of the show that’s really quite different. I have two sons on the show. My relationship with my ex-wife is completely different from my relationship with my real ex-wife. We’re friends. We get along fine. I have two grown step kids who are still in my life. We’re still a family.
Paste: Were you always the kind of person who was able to laugh at himself?
LeBlanc: I’m not working on a cure for cancer. I’m working on a TV show. You got to be able to laugh at it. If you can’t laugh at it and with it then I don’t think people are going to laugh with you. You’ve got to try to keep it light. It’s nice because this has similar rhythms to the way Friends was written. These characters are really funny, very dependent on each other. There are moving, poignant moments that are undercut with really funny, funny jokes, and I really admire that. The complexity of their writing is really a pleasure to be a part of.
Paste: Do you mind when people constantly talk to you about Friends?
LeBlanc: It’s flattering and really nice, and I don’t see that as a bad thing. I’m extremely proud of that show. We had a great run. We had a lot of fun. We all stuck together and accomplished a lot of things. It changed the course of our lives forever, my kids’ lives, and my grandchildren’s lives.
Paste: What feels different about this show?
LeBlanc: This is a different animal. It seems like a much smaller audience. More intimate kind of thing. I get asked a lot if people confuse the Episode’s Matt LeBlanc with the real Matt LeBlanc. I’ve always been kind of hesitant to say what the differences are because the differences are irrelevant. What’s relevant is if you believe it, then great, I’ve done my job. I think people know it’s a character. Like the way we make fun of the network people. We take a seed of an idea and expand on it. Makes it a little larger than life. It’s fun. I’m having a great time.
Paste: Do you like having all the episodes of Episodes written in advance?
LeBlanc: To have all the episodes written in advance before we start each season in production is a huge luxury because you can see the arc of the whole season, and you can map out your performance, plan where you want your character to go and have all this time to think about big moments that are coming up.
In things I have been involved with in the past, even on Friends, you would get it week to week, and it would be sort of hard to maintain your consistency sometimes, and you would think, “Oh, I wish I would have played that last bit last week a little differently.” But this has a real linear feel to it as a result of that.
Paste: The show films four months out of the year. Do you have any plans for the down time?
LeBlanc: I’ll tell you, four months a year of work for me is plenty. I’m a dad. I have a ten-year-old daughter and, you know, making her breakfast and taking her to school and getting her after school and helping her with her homework—that’s really fun. And we spend time together—take trips and do all kinds of stuff like that. I feel really fortunate to be in a position where I don’t have to work.