Matt LeBlanc is a pretty big jerk on Episodes, and not in the neurotic Larry David-on-Curb Your Enthusiasm-kind of way. In the Showtime comedy, LeBlanc plays himself as a lame-brained has-been — with a stinky Joey cologne line to match — but also a womanizer, bum dad, and most recently, the kind of guy who sleeps with his friend's wife without remorse.
It's a complicated if depressing alter ego to take on, and certainly one attention-grabbing way for the real-life LeBlanc to jump back into the spotlight following the 2006 failure of Joey. Executive producers David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik say that they didn't craft the part around the real LeBlanc, who in person is pleasant but serious, relaxed but not overly friendly. "Occasionally, he'll be playful, but he's not Joey," Klarik says.
"Fake Matt is its own thing. Really, our only rule when we were writing him was that he couldn't be Joey," Crane says. "We wouldn't have him be dumb for its own sake. He's frustrating, but he's not dumb. He's got his priorities." At the end of Sunday's season finale, those priorities will become painfully clear as Beverly and Sean's marriage reaches its breaking point at the moment the fate of Pucks is decided.
In fact, LeBlanc wasn't looking for any sort of TV comeback when Episodes came along. "I was enjoying life," the actor says. But he was willing to listen when Crane, who executive-produced Friends, and Klarik called with an idea. (Crane, after all, had nothing to do with Joey.) How about a scathing satire about the world of network TV in which the actor would play a well-endowed version of himself that's not really like himself at all?
"In the beginning I said, 'Really, guys?'" LeBlanc says of his character's now oft-mentioned anatomy. "They were like 'Yeah! We think it's funny!' And I was like, 'Well, yeah, it's funny but ... I can just see that somehow coming back to bite me in the butt."
"I was a little nervous because it was a strange part for me," LeBlanc continues. "I didn't know what playing me meant. They said, 'Well, we're not making a documentary. It'll be a scripted character who we'll build together and anything you're not comfortable with, we won't do.'" So far, real LeBlanc has been game in letting fake LeBlanc be all sorts of crass. At one point, his fake self has even acted out fellatio while pushing a friend to go after his hot co-star.
"I like that he's not always so likable," LeBlanc says. "I like that he's kind of an a--. He's not ashamed to say, yeah, he likes money. And let me say this: Anyone who says they don't like money is flat-out lying. It's OK to like money. Money is nice."
"The whole cologne thing killed me. 'How you smellin?'" the actor adds, laughing.
Good reviews for the series help in keeping that sense of humor, and LeBlanc has been only too willing to let viewers blur the lines between the real deal and his on-screen persona. Asked whether or not there are similarities, he says, "I think it's more fun to have people make up their own mind. How much is like me? How much is he not? I'd rather not discuss. I will say my anatomy is completely normal. I'll leave it at that."
His participation was a dealbreaker for the producers, who say they would have moved on to another idea without him. "I always felt he was underrated on Friends," Klarik says. "The season he had a relationship with Rachel, I thought, 'This cartoon guy can make me care. It became so rich and heartbreaking and sweet. We wanted to make sure Episodes was a good showcase for stuff Matt could do, and that's why you get to see him be twisted and manipulative and cunning."
LeBlanc says it's also much better being the butt of a good joke. "I've dealt with bad jokes before," he says. "These are not those, and to get to say them without having to stand on one leg and make a big funny face, it's a great luxury."