Matt LeBlanc plays himself, and a bit of Joey, in sitcom Man With a Plan

Actor will never shake off his Friends character, Joey Tribbiani, and nor would he want to, but is throwing himself into new series Man With a Plan and relishing his part in car show Top Gear

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 September, 2016, 5:31pm
UPDATED : Friday, 16 September, 2016, 9:52am

Shades of Joey Tribbiani still linger in Matt LeBlanc’s mannerisms – in the transparent bemusement on his face when asked a question he doesn’t know how to answer, the genial tone of his voice and in his easy smile. Any second now, you expect him to nod in your direction, raise his eyebrows, and utter Joey’s catchphrase, “How you doin’?”

That LeBlanc will most likely never be able to fully shake off Joey is to be expected. It was, after all, that role on the show Friends that made him a household name, a very wealthy man, and endowed him with the opportunity to pick and choose his projects.

He went ahead and picked four – although one of them, the sharply observant comedy Episodes, is drawing to a close. (The less said about the short-lived Friends spin-off, Joey, the better.) His newest is the upcoming sitcom Man With a Plan, in which he plays a father who takes on more child-rearing responsibilities.

And, at some point, LeBlanc will return to the set of the British auto show, the global behemoth Top Gear, to resume co-hosting responsibilities.

I’m Joey Tribbiani’s biggest fan. I’m very proud of being on Friends.
Matt LeBlanc

On a recent afternoon in a Beverly Hills hotel, LeBlanc, 49, was philosophical about the life-transforming event that was Friends, which ended in 2004 after a decade-long run. He says he wishes he had a “great, grand master plan”. But he didn’t.

His hefty Friends pay cheques meant he could basically retire. And he did. He initially planned on taking just a year off, but enjoyed retirement so much that it turned into five.

Despite widely reported innuendo that it infuriates him to be called Joey, the reality is the opposite of that.

“I’m Joey Tribbiani’s biggest fan,” he says. “I’m very proud of being on Friends. I don’t try and get away from it. People call me Joey all the time. I was part of something that was iconic, and I’m really proud of those 10 years we spent together. We made a lot of people happy.”

LeBlanc does more of that on Episodes, in which he plays a highly satirised version of himself, in a role that garnered him a Golden Globe award in 2012. The final season will air later this year.

Man With a Plan is a traditional multi-camera sitcom filmed in front a live audience . He plays Adam Burns, co-owner of a construction company, whose wife elects to go back to work after a 13-year absence raising their three children, and enlists her husband to take over more parenting duties.

“I’m not Mr Mom,” he says. “My character has a job, so it’s not like it’s role reversal. Families these days come in all shapes and sizes, and this is just one of the many shades of whatever you want to call it that families come in.”

While filming the series has been a recent priority for LeBlanc, he says he’s been able to indulge an enduring love of his, and has parlayed that into another on-screen opportunity. The long-time car enthusiast was a few years ago a guest on the British version of Top Gear, promoting Episodes. That led to a lasting connection with the show’s creators, and LeBlanc is set to become co-host of the series for the second time once it resumes production.

“We still don’t know what’s happening with that,” he says. “They take long vacations over there. We’re still talking about what it will look like, and working out a schedule.”

There was some controversy over the exit of host Chris Evans, with reports in the media suggesting that LeBlanc wanted his co-host gone.

The actor, however, pays no attention to the gossip. He says that series producer Alex Renton is “a really smart guy, and the right guy to be in charge of the show”.

Top Gear is a travel show, too. We spent a week in South Africa, a week in Morocco, a week in Ireland. You get to see parts of the world that you wouldn’t think to go to
Matt LeBlanc

“He has creative control of the show now that Chris has left,” he says. “I’d love to go back.

“I love cars. I love anything with an engine. It doesn’t have to be a fast car. My dad was a mechanic. I’ve always tinkered about with stuff. Top Gear is a travel show, too. We spent a week in South Africa, a week in Morocco, a week in Ireland. You get to see parts of the world that you wouldn’t think to go to, and to go there with a TV show, on somebody else’s budget. It’s great.”

Whatever happens with Top Gear and LeBlanc’s new series, he’s aware that the phenomenon that was Friends is rare in the entertainment business.

“I travel around the world, and people have said things like, ‘my mum was dying of cancer, and you guys made her laugh’, ‘I went through a divorce and Friends made me laugh’, ‘I had no friends in college, but I had you guys’. Those things don’t come along too often. You thank your lucky stars when they do.”