“I really can’t take much credit for it,” Matt LeBlanc says of his repeated Primetime Emmy Awards nominations for playing the role of “Matt LeBlanc” on Showtime’s satirical sitcom Episodes. Through four seasons on the series, he’s depicted a selfish, self-destructive parody of himself that, he’s quick to make clear, could be even worse of a person. Now with the show’s fourth season having nabbed him his fourth nomination (and seventh over his career), LeBlanc is at times almost philosophical, crediting the show’s writers and co-stars Tamsin Grieg and Stephen Mangan for his and the show’s success.
You’re pitched this show in which you’re playing the worst version of yourself that you could possibly play…
I could probably play worse. (Laughs.)
What’s it like then playing such an awful version of yourself?
It’s funny, because a lot of people assume that it’s this tricky sort of thing to arrive at. And I don’t look at it as playing myself, I look at it as playing any other character. He just happens to be a lot like me and look a lot like me. In the beginning, that’s kind of how I started approaching it, but it got very weird very quickly, so I abandoned that approach. I thought, “I just need to look at it like any other character.” Then it became easier for me to find the funny in it. And find the funny in his faults.
What are the funniest things in those flaws?
There’s a few things I like about playing him. He’s a guy who takes no responsibility for the consequences of his actions, just really lives in the moment, is not concerned about other people’s feelings, and sort of uses his fame—he’s famous in an interesting way, for playing a guy that’s not that smart. That’s something I injected from my real life. A lot of times people will approach me and they’ll speak slowly because I played Joey and they think I’m stupid. (Laughs.) And I find that really funny. So I chose to make Matt a guy who uses that to his advantage, ’cause that’s very disarming to people. He preys on people by using that assumption.
Have you ever found yourself tempted to use that in real life as a defense mechanism?
A lot of times people will say, “Are you alright?” “Am I tired or down?” I’m not that super high-energy character that Joey was and people don’t realize that. They think there must be something wrong or (I’m) having a bad day. “Is he hungover, what’s going on?” I’m just much more laid back.
This is the fourth time you’ve been nominated for an Emmy for playing “Matt LeBlanc.” How do you feel about your chances this year?
I’m flattered. You know, I think we have a great group of actors, and we have great writing, and we have a really good time. It’s not really something, at least we don’t set out to win awards—you set out to make the best show possible. We make this strange little world. And my character is probably the hardest to ground in reality. I see what he does and I think, “How does this person even exist?” It’s difficult at times, so I have to pick my points that ground him. There’s another interesting thing about the show—it’s that the Sean (Mangan) and Beverly (Greig) characters are so grounded, almost dramatic at points, that the balance allows me to be broader and bigger with the comedy.
This particular year is quite different from the other seasons. For the first time Sean, Beverly and Matt are all on the same side of an issue—the fact that Pucks has been picked up just to block me from going to a rival network, so everybody has to go back and reluctantly make more episodes of a show that’s never going to see the light of day. So that’s tricky. I was actually in that position on Joey at the end. We filmed a bunch of episodes we never aired, which was a shame because they were some of our best episodes.
Why do you think that Emmy voters respond to the character so much, and your performance?
First of all, it starts with the writing. I’m really proud of our writers, they were nominated as well, ’cause I really can’t take much credit for it. It really needs to start on the page. And the stories we tell are great stories, and the jokes are really funny, smart, and they have this way of writing—they can write a really poignant moment and undercut it with a toilet joke at the end that doesn’t feel like a cheap joke. Or they can have a crazy story that makes no sense, that’s ludicrous, but by the end has this poignant moment. Friends was a lot like that too, there were jokes that you didn’t see coming. To me, I don’t like low-hanging fruit; I like jokes that the audience has to pay attention to get. Every now and then, sure, there’s some stuff that’s pretty straight-forward, but there’s an interesting way to say those jokes that’s not.
There’s an episode where Matt is talking to his lawyer after his DUI and the lawyer says something like, “You are the worst client I have ever had…”
“I’d rather have two Mel Gibsons and a Charlie Sheen,” or something like that.
And Matt is just stunned into saying “wow” over and over. What’s it like to play things more muted compared to Friends and Joey?
That’s the difference between multi-cam and single cam. On multi-cam the audience is in the scene with you, you have to hold for the laughs. There’s an arch-ness to the performance that allows you to let them into the scene—a broadness that suspends belief, whereas single-cam is a lot more like life. I remember the first scene I ever shot for Episodes—I think it’s the scene where I ask, “How long do you think Friends would have lasted if Rachel was gay?” I say the line and no one laughs. I thought I’d botched it, that I’d fallen out of practice, then we cut and everyone on set laughs and I realized, “Right, single-cam, you’re not supposed to laugh.”
What can you say about the next season? What do you have going on in the meantime?
I don’t really know. They’re taking about it now. I don’t know if they’ve put pen to paper yet, but they’re discussing it. They keep their cards very close to the vest because they don’t want to tell me something and then if they change their minds, they don’t want to hear it from me. I’m also looking at stuff, looking at life after Episodes is potentially over—this is probably going to be our last season—so I’m talking to writers about potentially developing another show.
When thinking about the end of Episodes, is it a matter of the show having reached its natural progression and trying to determine when that moment will be?
It’s more (co-creators) David (Crane’s) and Jeffrey (Klarik’s) decision, but they think this is probably the last one, because I bet they could probably keep going. The show’s not about Pucks, it’s about the relationship between these three people. So even if they’re not working together anymore I’m sure you could craft episodes with those characters all within it.
For more on Matt LeBlanc’s Episodes character Matt, click play below: