Matt LeBlanc on Episodes: 'Do I worry that people will think that character is me? I guess that's my job. I have to make it believable'

The American actor returns as a satirical version of himself in the fifth and final series of the BBC’s comedy ‘Episodes’, which won him his first ever Golden Globe award in 2012

James Rampton
Wednesday 28 March 2018 13:23 BST
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Trailer for season 2 of BBC comedy Episodes

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Stephen Mangan, who co-stars with Tamsin Greig as Sean and Beverly – a husband-and-wife British comedy team exasperated by having to work with the monstrously egotistical Matt LeBlanc in the BBC2 sitcom Episodes – outlines where the characters are at the start of the fifth series.

“Sean and Beverly are still butting their heads against Hollywood and the machine of celebrity that is Matt LeBlanc,” Mangan explains. “They’re still suffering all the pain that brings them.”

“You’re welcome,” interjects LeBlanc, as deadpan as if he were participating in the World Poker Championships.

This interjection sums up why LeBlanc has made such a success of his part in Episodes, which won him his first ever Golden Globe award in 2012.

Tamsin Grieg as Beverly, Stephen Mangan as Sean and LeBlanc in ‘Episodes’ (BBC/Hat Trick Productions Ltd/Sophie Mutevelian)
Tamsin Grieg as Beverly, Stephen Mangan as Sean and LeBlanc in ‘Episodes’ (BBC/Hat Trick Productions Ltd/Sophie Mutevelian) (BBC/Hat Trick Productions)

The 50-year-old, who is sitting alongside his two co-stars and clearly enjoys an affectionate and entertaining “triple act” relationship with them off-camera, brings an appealingly poker-based approach to the role of a heightened version of himself.

The American actor, who starred for 10 years as Joey in Friends, is one of the most successful comedy performers in history. It is reckoned that every second of the day an episode of Friends is showing somewhere in the world. LeBlanc is one of only a handful of actors who can truthfully claim to be big in Outer Mongolia.

And yet, how many performers of that magnitude would agree to play such a grotesque, exaggerated version of themselves in a sitcom? It says about LeBlanc that he is more than happy to take the rise out of himself in such a way.

I have interviewed the actor many times over the past few years, and he has always manifested characteristics such as dryness, irony and self-deprecation, which are perhaps more readily associated with the British rather than Americans.

When, for instance, the hoary old topic of a Friends reunion crops up in conversation, LeBlanc treats it with an admirably laconic sense of humour, declaring: “It’s funny you should ask that. I was hoping someone would bring that up.”

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The American actor, who starred for 10 years as Joey in ‘Friends’, is one of the most successful comedy performers in history
The American actor, who starred for 10 years as Joey in ‘Friends’, is one of the most successful comedy performers in history (Getty/Tribeca Film Festival)

Later on, he assesses the experience of working with his long-standing friends, the creators of Episodes, David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik. “It’s been an honour to say their words over all these years,” LeBlanc says, refusing to crack a smile. “We’ve done five seasons of Episodes over 15 years because they write so damn slow.”

The joy of Episodes, which begins its fifth and final series at 10pm on BBC2 on Friday 30 March, lies in its comic ambiguity. Throughout this razor-sharp satire of the outrageous egomania of Hollywood denizens, audiences can never be quite sure where reality ends and fiction begins.

LeBlanc, who was persuaded to take on the part in Episodes by his old friend Crane, one of the co-creators of Friends, relishes toying with those blurred lines in the sitcom. “Do I worry that people will think that character is me? I guess that’s my job. I have to make it believable. Hopefully people will think that’s exactly what I’m like. If I manage that, then I’ve done my job correctly, right?”

The actor has also shown courage in allowing Crane and Klarik to depict his screen alter-ego as the most appalling prima donna. “Nothing shocks me on this show,” LeBlanc reflects. “In fact, I pitched stuff to the writers where they said, ‘No, that’s disgusting, we’re not doing that!’”

In the new series of Episodes, LeBlanc’s character feels frustrated because his success hosting The Box has led to him being boxed in as a game show presenter. So he ropes in Sean and Beverly to write him a new sitcom. What could possibly go wrong?

LeBlanc as Joey in ‘Friends’ – he is reunited with ‘Friends’ co-creator David Crane who also created ‘Episodes’ with Jeffrey Klarik
LeBlanc as Joey in ‘Friends’ – he is reunited with ‘Friends’ co-creator David Crane who also created ‘Episodes’ with Jeffrey Klarik

This season explores the continuing turbulence in the triangular relationship between Matt, Sean and Beverly. In one memorable scene, Sean is once again made to feel like an inadequate man when Matt takes him shooting on his ranch.

“That’s another butch episode for me!” laughs Mangan. “The whole experience of Episodes has been chipping away at my manhood. In real life, I’m brutal. I pack a pistol. I’ve got one on me now. I’m the British Steven Seagal. No, of course I’m not. Like all British people, I’m scared to death of firearms!”

Crane and Klarik disclose that they spent an entire week creating the hilariously sadistic fictional game show, The Box. LeBlanc, who is also enjoying positive reviews as the lead presenter on BBC2’s long-running car show, Top Gear, contemplates whether he could ever be a game show host in real life. “I’m already doing a factual show,” he says. “It’s funny how life imitates art.”

The scary aspect of Episodes is how true to life it really is. LeBlanc, who recently won a People’s Choice Award in the US for his performance in his other current hit sitcom, Man with a Plan, observes: “You ask, ‘Is it really like that in Hollywood?’ Absolutely.

“David and Jeffrey have shown great bravery in writing something that is slightly exaggerated here and there, but for the most part is right on the money. Hollywood is an awful place to try and make a living sometimes, and David and Jeffrey underline certain things that are really funny about it.”

LeBlanc recently won a People’s Choice Award in the US for his performance in his other current hit sitcom, ‘Man with a Plan’
LeBlanc recently won a People’s Choice Award in the US for his performance in his other current hit sitcom, ‘Man with a Plan’ (CBS)

Klarik reveals that they often have to tone down reality in order to make it plausible in Episodes. “It’s incredible. Every day something happens in Hollywood that could go in this show.

“In season one, we created a fictional show about a talking dog, and this year ABC have had a show about a talking dog. Then we wrote about Matt hosting a game show in Episodes, and now he’s hosting Top Gear in real life!”

The comedy in Episodes also works because it plays on the clash between British and American sensibilities. LeBlanc says he has certainly noticed that British crews work harder. “You get more done in a work day here.”

“That’s because there is less food on set,” Mangan chips in.

“It’s true that the most common thing you hear is that the food on set is terrible here,” LeBlanc continues, without batting an eyelid. “Maybe that’s why there is a difference. In America they have cupholders on the camera!”

LeBlanc hosting ‘Top Gear’
LeBlanc hosting ‘Top Gear’

Episodes highlights other transatlantic differences, too. According to LeBlanc, who starred in two seasons of the Friends spin-off, Joey: “Brits tend to keep their cards closer to their chest than Americans. We are more gung-ho – well, at least I am. I don’t speak for the entire country.”

“Someone else is trying to do that,” Greig interjects.

“People always ask me, ‘Is it just the two American guys who write the show or are there British guys as well?’” LeBlanc carries on. “David and Jeffrey have really done a great job capturing the Brits.

“There is a dryness to British humour. American comedy tends to hit you over the head, and sometimes it insults an audience’s intelligence. In Britain, they assume the audience is more educated. The writers have really succeeded in balancing my voice and their voice.”

Finally, how do the cast feel about the fact that Crane and Klarik are now bringing the curtain down on Episodes? “I’m still waiting for the spin-off series: Seany,” Mangan jokes.

For her part, Greig, applauds the decision to go out on a high. “I’m a real fan of the bravery of knowing when to leave a party. When it’s time to go home, it’s time to go home.”

“I’ve never mastered that,” LeBlanc cuts in, demonstrating his quicksilver ironic wit one last time.

“People always have to drag me out.”

‘Episodes’ begins its fifth and final series at 10pm on BBC2 on Friday 30 March

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