Matt LeBlanc is saying goodbye to Episodes after one more season, but he still plans to nail laughs on TV. The 49-year-old Friends alum and Top Gear host stars on the CBS family comedy Man With a Plan (tonight, 8:30 p.m. ET/PT) as Adam, a contractor who takes on more parenting responsibility for his three kids when wife Andi (Yes, Dear‘s Liza Snyder) goes back to work. The show also returns him to the multicamera format that made him famous. EW caught up with LeBlanc to hear about his Plan and to see, you know, how he’s doin’.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Episodes is an edgier cable comedy. What appealed to you about doing a network family comedy?
MATT LEBLANC: Episodes was a lot of fun, but that was single camera, so now coming back and doing a multicamera show in front of an audience—in a way I feel like I’m home again…. I took about five years off prior to doing Episodes. And Episodes was nine episodes a year — and this last season we did only seven — so it was sort of a part-time job, but it kind of wet my whistle again to work. I miss working, so I wanted to have more work, so I thought, “I really enjoy doing multi-camera.” The schedule is good if you have kids. I’m home for dinner every night. I can help my daughter with her homework. When I met with [series creators Jackie and Jeff Filgo], I had an idea that I wanted to play a family guy. I haven’t done that before. I’m almost 50. It seems like the right time to shift gears into that.
How fast did the multicam muscles come back?
Pretty quick. The first run-through, I was like, “Oh yeah, I remember this.” Just kind of chucked the script. “This is good.” It’s amazing, the hold for the laughs, turn everything downstage, and all the little technical pieces of information you don’t use in single-cam shows, they all come flooding right back. I mean, I have more experience on a multicam stage than I do anywhere else, so it’s a lot of fun. You know if the jokes are working, because if they’re not laughing then it’s probably not funny. [Laughs.]
You play an exaggerated version of Matt LeBlanc on Episodes. What is the most Matt LeBlanc thing about Adam?He’s a guy’s guy. He’s a contractor; I was a carpenter. He likes cars. We talked about having a project car in the garage to have a man-cave thing and take story lines in there.
How does your parenting style differ from Adam’s?
Adam’s a little more of a bull in a china shop. I’ve been doing it longer. And I don’t make as many mistakes as I used to. Everybody makes mistakes. That’s what makes it fun.
Jenna Fischer starred as your wife in the pilot but was replaced with Liza Snyder. Why the switch?
Jenna’s a good actor. She did a good job. The network felt like the chemistry wasn’t right between her and me, and that decision was above my pay grade. Liza Snyder is really funny and fantastic and tough…. She’s great with the kids, even though she doesn’t have kids. She’s got enough sitcom experience so she knows what she’s doing. She knows her way around a joke.
Kevin Nealon plays your brother. What’s one thing you have learned about him since you started working together?
I didn’t know he was as tall as he is. The lighting department has to adjust the lights because he’s always casting a shadow. And he has the innate ability to smell where the joke should be. He’s just got this rhythm of speech that’s fun to listen to.
James Burrows, who directed the first few episodes of Friends, is directing the first few episodes of Man With a Plan. What’s the first thing he said to you when you were back on set?
“Oh, I thought you were doing construction these days.” [Laughs.] I fought to go after Jimmy. He’s a great problem identifier and a great problem solver. He has a great ability to establish characters. “Say this line with an activity and be doing this… and with this one, don’t have anything in your hand.” You go out on show night with supreme confidence in your choice because if Jimmy’s behind it and says, “Yeah, that’s the funniest way to do that,” then, okay, that is the funniest way to do that.
With the Friends getting together recently (at NBC’s Burrows tribute special), there’s all this talk about the show. What’s the most underrated episode or moment that doesn’t get its due?
Gosh. I don’t know. It feels like people bring up just about everything we’ve done. People bring stuff up to me, and I’m like, “What are you talking about? What scene? What? Really? I don’t remember that one.” We did around 250 episodes, and I can never remember what stories were together in which episode. I can remember stories but if you were to say “what else happened in that episode?”… I don’t really watch it that much. If I’m flipping through the channel guide and it’s on, I’ll stop to see which one it was. And if it’s a real old one, maybe I’ll flick it on and say, “Oh my god, look how young we are.” It’s a decade of my life documented. It was a good time, that show — career-wise, probably the best thing that’s ever happened to me by far.
It seemed to work out okay.
Yeah, not bad.
NEXT: LeBlanc on the possibility of a Friends cast member popping up on Man With a Plan[pagebreak]
You’re going to be asked a lot about guest appearances by the Friends cast. Would you sum up the situation as “They’ll be there for you” or “We’re on a break”?
We’re on a break. Because there’s no plan to have anything like that. The most logical one would be Matthew [Perry] because he’s on another CBS show [The Odd Couple] and they’re right next door, but there hasn’t been any talk for any of that yet. There’s been a lot of questions about that…
What’s the strangest place that anyone has brought up Friends to you?
I was in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, shooting a thing for Top Gear. I mean, we were far away from civilization. And these people were wearing robes, and they live in caves and stuff. They called me Joey and said “How you doin’?” in a really butchered accent. It was like, “Oh, wow. Did not see that one coming.” The show is everywhere. It still holds up.
How much debate was there about ending Episodes? Or did it feel like the right time?
It really started with David and Jeffrey [Crane and Klarik, the show’s creators]. They felt like they had told their story, and the five seasons were enough. It kind of ends in a very organic, nice way. It’s really hard to keep those three people in the same room together. Not impossible, but they felt that it was time, so I was like, “Okay.” We always had a deal, the three of us: David, Jeffrey, and I. When the time has come, the time comes, and we all support that.
Can you give us one cryptic tease about the final season of Episodes?
It’s probably the most poignant season. How’s that for cryptic?
What was the craziest or worst pitch that you got after it was announced that Episodes was ending?
There was one about a guy who just nothing went right for, ever. I mean, ever. Nothing. It was just so morbid. I was like, “I don’t want to watch that show, that’s so depressing.” He didn’t win at anything, anytime, anywhere, anyplace. I was like, “This is—?” “Yeah, that’s what it is!” I was like, “Well, then it ain’t me! I ain’t in that, I’ll tell that right now.” You gotta have some type of a victory, however small. There has to be something to root for.
If you could guest star on any show you wanted to, what would it be?
Ray Donovan. It’s set in Boston, I’m from Boston. It’s so well-written and so well-acted, I would love to be on that show sometime. I’ll do it in a heartbeat… Maybe [I’d play] an old friend of Ray’s. I’d like to work with Liev [Schreiber]. That guy’s dynamite.
If Man with a Plan did a crossover episode with any show on TV, which one would you choose?
Top Gear. That way I could get paid twice for being in the same place. Take the family on a 200 mile-an-hour road trip across the Bonneville Salt Flats.