Interview: Matt Le Blanc
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After Friends ended in 2004, Matt starred in the spin-off Joey, which was moved from New York to Hollywood, from 2004 to 2006. The weight of expectation was driven home during the presentations to advertisers before the first season when Joey was billed as the new Friends and Matt had to stand on stage in front of an enormous poster of himself: "I thought, 'those are big shoes to fill – six pairs of shoes.'" It was a somewhat bruising experience, after which he decided to take a sabbatical, spending time with his young daughter and avoiding the Hollywood celebrity scene. He was regularly sent scripts, but he had not been interested in returning to work – until David and Jeffrey took him out for lunch and explained the premise for Episodes. He was instantly hooked. Matt explains: "I had been burnt out, 12 years playing the same guy. But when they told me the idea behind the show I thought 'That's probably going to be good – yeah, get off the couch!' In the beginning I was a little afraid of being exposed as the scripts hadn't been written yet – I was pretty nervous about what they might be making fun of." Matt has proved right from the start, however, that he's not afraid of making himself the punchline of the gag. In the taster trail put out by Showtime before filming began, the real LeBlanc has to audition for the chance to play himself: "How could I not get it?" a bewildered Matt asks his agent. "Well, they're seeing some really good people," the agent replies. After his audition an aide asks the casting director: "What do you think?" The director shrugs: "I think we've got better." His portrayal of Joey still affects the way people respond to him: "People will come up to me and speak slowly, or they'll ask me if I'm OK because I'm a lot more low-key and subdued than Joey Tribbiani was. He was very high energy, high-key. He talked loudly. But I'm not really like that. I had a lot of coffee when we were shooting Friends." He continues: "I didn't want the character to be too much like me because frankly it wouldn't be very interesting. He is more Matt LeBlanc than Matt LeBlanc, just as the Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm is some evil twin approximation of the real one. "In many respects it's not autobiographical at all, although sometimes it seems to get a little close. For example, there's a scene where I talk about my need to sabotage my own happiness, and another where I admit that I have an inability to appreciate the consequences of my actions. Sometimes I think 'Hmmm – that must be another made-up thing!' but in truth I am learning a lot about myself. "Episodes takes the whole Joey persona that I have and meets it head on. It's really liberating. When you get pigeonholed as one character, people tend to think 'That's all he can do.' In Episodes the network insists that the character stick to type and play a hockey coach. It's a kind of metaphor about the sacrifices you make, the compromises to your art when the idea of fame and success are introduced and how things get watered down." He found the whole experience very collaborative from the outset: "David and Jeffrey spent every day on set, watching proceedings on monitors side by side with James Griffiths the director and Jimmy the producer. In a happy divergence from the world they are describing, they have had little creative interference from the broadcasters. We had a great time and it shows. To work with such great material really is a blessing. It doesn't come around that often. The scripts are really tight, there's great economy in the writing, each joke is generally an integral part of the story or the character development." He continues: "The fictional Matt LeBlanc is a little more damaged emotionally than I am. He has two sons, whom he clearly adores, and is going through a nasty divorce."
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