Matt LeBlanc talks 'Episodes' and more

Matt LeBlanc as himself in "Episodes."

Matt LeBlanc as himself in "Episodes." (Credit: Showtime)

Should you happen to ask Matt LeBlanc "How you doin'?" the answer you'll probably get is "Great, thanks." The 44-year-old actor played lovable dim bulb Joey Tribbiani for 12 years on TV, first on "Friends," then on the "Joey" spinoff. But then LeBlanc took a hiatus from show biz for four years. Last year he came back as the star of "Episodes," a critically acclaimed Showtime sitcom in which LeBlanc played a fictional version of himself -- a performance for which he won a Golden Globe. The second season debuts Sunday at 10:30 p.m. LeBlanc, 44, spoke with Newsday.

So the obvious question is, how much of you on "Episodes" is the real you?

It starts and stops in the mirror. There's not much similarity. The character is an exaggerated version of what we feel the public's perception of its celebrity, namely me, is. That gives me a lot of license in playing things, which is fun. Am I worried people will believe that's what I'm really like? My job as an actor is to make people believe that part. I try my best in every part I play. This is just another part. In the beginning I was a little concerned -- what do you mean I'll be playing myself? It's loosely based on me. Yes, we were on "Friends," we're both divorced, and that's kinda the end of it.

The cast is a real ensemble, just like "Friends." Was that part of the deal? Is it what you feel most comfortable with?

It makes more sense to me to have a show that has a lot of characters on it. If you have an ensemble, you have the opportunity for a lot of stories down the road, should the show go to multiple seasons. I didn't choose it because it was an ensemble, I wasn't looking to do anything. I was enjoying my time on the couch.

One of the real differences doing a show for pay cable is the R-rated material. Do you feel comfortable with it?

For me, it's been really great. The constraints on network TV are pretty firm, there's a lot of things you don't go near, and this is completely different.

I'm kind of intrigued that you're not afraid to go gray these days. I mean, you're young enough that you could dye your hair, and no one would know.

I went gray early; I was dying my hair on "Friends" almost the whole time. When "Joey" ended, and I took a long hiatus, I stopped dying my hair, and when this show started, there was a lot of talk about it, gray hair, silver fox. That's what I look like. It was kind of a no-brainer. At least I got hair.

Were you ever afraid that you were never going to get beyond being Joey?

I am always gonna be Joey. Hopefully people will accept me as something in addition to that. I'm not angry that people come up and say "Hey, how you doin'." That was a great experience, and I'm proud of what I did. I love that character more than anyone does. I'm Joey's biggest fan.

Your film career hasn't exactly been a glorious one. You've made some real disasters, like the overblown version of "Lost in Space" and "Ed," the baseball-playing chimp film. What happened?

It's been less than glorious. I have not had great success picking movies. A lot of it was timing, trying to fit in a movie during our summer hiatus, and I wanted to stretch my legs acting-wise. Looking back on it now, I wouldn't have made some of those choices.

You're about to make a small indie film called "Lovesick," with Ali Larter. What's it about?

I play a guy who has had a string of bad relationships; he realizes when he falls in love he goes clinically insane. Armed with this knowledge, he tries to control it as he enters another relationship. It's a funny take. It's a small movie. My fear is that now that I'm onboard, it becomes bigger than it should, that the expectations get higher.

You're a serious gearhead, a guy who owns scores of motorcycles and cars. You even appeared in the BBC show "Top Gear," and set a speed record in a Kia. What is it with you and the internal combustion engine?

You take a hundred or more inanimate objects, they go together like a jigsaw puzzle, and they harness an explosion and turn it into transportation. That fascinates me that someone was able to figure that out, and how far it's come.

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