Contender Q&A: Matt LeBlanc

When former “Friends” writers David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik first approached Matt LeBlanc about their new Hollywood-skewering series, “Episodes,” in which the former “Friends” star whould play himself, the actor was not enthusiastic about being used as entertainment fodder. In fact, the intensely private LeBlanc had been quite content not acting, instead spending time with his 7-year-old daughter and putting his life back on track after 12 years in the white-hot global spotlight.

But the chance to work with Crane and Klarik again, as well as the assurance that the series would intentionally blur the lines between the scripted LeBlanc and the real person, proved alluring. With the next nine-episode season of “Episodes” set to start shooting for Showtime in November, LeBlanc recently spoke with The Envelope about being back at work and the odd nature of playing a version of himself on TV.

Why did you retreat from the spotlight after the “Friends” spinoff “Joey” ended?

Having been a part of “Friends,” it was a pretty radical ride, to say the least. And when that ended, there’s not going to be anything that compares to that. I don’t think any of the six of us will ever be a part of something that’s so globally well received. I’m not saying that there was withdrawal from that, but it was really busy, and my life was something completely different from what it is now. I did not want to go to work after that. I wanted to be a dad. I kind of wanted to retire. There were things that came across my desk that were big jobs. I mean, it wasn’t between me and Tom Cruise for things, you know, but there were significant television gigs. I just didn’t really want to do anything. I was fine with it. There was a part of me that missed it, but I felt that taking time away from it was the most important thing for me and my family.


So what drew you to “Episodes”?

[Crane and Klarik] pitched me the idea before they had put pen to paper. They had a really well-thought-out, well-crafted pitch that really was the whole first season. To be a show runner is more than just being a writer; you have to be able to keep it fresh, you have to be able to keep people on the edge of their seats. There needs to be a complexity that David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik seem to do with ease. Even to have a conversation with those guys you find yourself digging out your big words. They’re masters of the English language. To speak creatively with them is like an exercise in vernacular.

It seems you were hesitant about playing a version of yourself?

In that initial meeting, I was extremely hesitant about it. I’m a fairly private person, and I don’t like my life splashed out there. Once I expressed that to them, they said, “It’s a fictitious character, and we’re just blurring the line between you and him.” Once I got my head around that, that it’s just a character, it started to become this really interesting challenge that I never anticipated. I don’t mind being the brunt of the joke if it’s a good joke. People have [asked if] I am concerned that people are going to think that’s what I’m really like. [He laughs.] My answer to that is, well, people think I’m really like Joey. If people believe I’m Joey — and they do, they talk slowly to me — then I feel like I’ve done my job.

You had an executive producer credit on “Jonah Hex” last year. Is producing something you’re still interested in pursuing?

The way that went down is so bizarre. When I did “Joey,” along with that deal was a production deal at Warner Bros., so I had my own production company, which I didn’t really enjoy. If I could go back, I might have looked to develop only projects for myself so that I had a vested interest in the thing and maybe I would have enjoyed it more. But to develop shows, just to be a producer, it’s a lot of meetings that amount to nothing, and “Jonah Hex” was one of them. It went away and then it came back after my company had shut its doors, but I still owned the rights to it as a producer. So I got this credit and fee and was like, “Hey, right on.”

Has it been an adjustment to be back in the public eye?

Celebrity’s a little strange at times. Sometimes it’s great — I don’t want to sound like a hypocrite. But there’s no switch to turn it off. You walk into a room full of strangers and everybody knows your name, everybody knows a fair amount about your personal life. It’s not the worst thing in the world. Getting hit by a car is worse [laughs].