Matt LeBlanc spent 12 years in Joey Tribbiani's shoes — first on the classic comedy Friends, then on its not-so-classic spin-off, Joey. But on January 9, the three-time Emmy nominee returns to TV in Showtime's Episodes as someone he's even more familiar with... Matt LeBlanc. Or at least a spoiled, morally bankrupt (and, ahem, very well-endowed) version of the actor, dreamed up for the biting Hollywood satire by cocreator (and former Friends producer) David Crane and his partner Jeffrey Klarik. LeBlanc, now 43 and father to 6-year-old Marina, sat down with TV Guide Magazine for a frank and funny chat about his new comedy, life away from the limelight and why he's opposed to a Friends reunion.
TV Guide Magazine: How did Episodes happen?
LeBlanc: After Friends, David and I kept in touch, and about two years ago, he and Jeffrey called me up and said, "What are you doing?" [Laughs] I said, "Just being a dad — and spending some of that Friends money." They were like, "We have an idea. Let's get together for lunch." I said, "Great." But I really wasn't looking to do anything.
TV Guide Magazine: Why not?
LeBlanc: When Joey ended [in 2006], it was a weird time in my life. I'd gotten divorced, and my daughter had been diagnosed with this weird brain thing [a disorder that caused seizures]. Now she's out of the woods with all that stuff. But it was a really stressful time.
TV Guide Magazine: It sounds like you needed a break from Hollywood.
LeBlanc: I did. I never cracked, but I was tired of it. I just didn't want to have to be anywhere, do anything — just be a dad and ride my dirt bikes. For a little while, I had a full-on Mohawk.
TV Guide Magazine: Now your hair is a distinguished gray.
LeBlanc: I started going gray very young, and I started dyeing my hair during Friends. But after taking five years off, I was like, "What's the point?"
TV Guide Magazine: What convinced you to return to work?
LeBlanc: David told me his idea and I thought, "This is really cool. But I'd be playing myself? What do you mean I play myself?"
TV Guide Magazine: So how close is the real Matt LeBlanc to the Episodes Matt LeBlanc?
LeBlanc: I'd rather not say.
TV Guide Magazine: Why not?
LeBlanc: It's more interesting for people to watch and believe what they want.
TV Guide Magazine: You're not getting off that easily! Unlike the Matt in the show, you don't... what?
LeBlanc: Leave my phone on in a meeting. The only time I'd [do that] is if there was something important pending with a family member. I don't have my own jet. I would love to, but I don't. [Laughs] And I'll set the record straight: I have a perfectly human-proportioned penis. [The character] is less who I am and more the public's perception of celebrity. That's the guy we tried to write.
TV Guide Magazine: Most actors wouldn't be game for poking fun at themselves the way you do here. You're introduced as a punch line.
LeBlanc: I don't think I would've been up for that with anyone else writing it. But in Jeffrey and David's hands, I felt safe. They were careful that when they did throw me under the bus, it was in a very funny way that was also on-story.
TV Guide Magazine: There continue to be rumors of a Friends reunion. Do you want it to happen?
LeBlanc: No. I'd rather have a party and have everybody [from the cast] there. Friends was this magical, cool thing, like lightning in a bottle, and I feel superfortunate to have been a part of it. But I can't see [a reunion] not feeling gratuitous. What would the story be? We all get together and what? Have coffee? It would be almost sad. It's better to just imagine what those characters are doing now, because then it can be whatever you want it to be.
Episodes premieres January 9 at 9:30/8:30c on Showtime.