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The fact Matt LeBlanc is calling EW from the U.K. to talk about his debut season as a host of the BBC car show Top Gear is strange for a couple of reasons. One of them? Just yesterday afternoon, he was at the Upfronts in New York hyping his new CBS sitcom, Man With a Plan.
“I thought I would be a lot more tired than I am,” says the Friends star. “We just shot the first of the Top Gear studio shows. I flew in, and I’m here in the countryside outside London, but I’m okay. I’ve had a lot of coffee today!”
It might also surprise some readers that he has agreed to become a host on the show (which returns to BBC America on May 30) at all. LeBlanc is not short of work — in addition to the upcoming Man With a Plan, he is also currently shooting the last season of the Showtime sitcom Episodes — and Top Gear garners a comparatively small audience in the U.S., by network standards anyway. Its worldwide audience, however, is massive, as LeBlanc discovered after he appeared as a guest on the segment, “Star in a Reasonably-Priced Car.”
“I was a fan of the show but I didn’t realize that it was as big around the world until after that aired,” he says. “People would stop me in the street in America, in the U.K., wherever, and say, ‘Hey I saw you on that episode…’ — and I was expecting them to say Friends‘and they’d say Top Gear. I started looking at the numbers and I couldn’t believe the global reach the show has.”
Last year, the show’s previous presenters, Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May, departed after Clarkson and a producer became involved in what was described as a “fracas.” To replace them, the BBC recruited a half dozen new hosts, including LeBlanc, British DJ and TV personality Chris Evans, and former Formula One team owner Eddie Jordan.
“They asked me if I wanted to be a host,” says LeBlanc. “I thought, I really like that show, and I love cars, and it just seemed like a cool, fun thing. It’s a great group of people. They’re all really dedicated to making the best show possible. Chris Evans is a ball to hang out with and you get to travel to far off places. I thought, ‘Yeah, absolutely, I’m in!'”
One of the far off places viewers will see LeBlanc visiting this season in the name of “work” is South Africa.
“We did a show in South Africa with Chris Evans, myself, and Eddie Jordan in the cars,” says the actor. “Each of us had a singer with us. I had Tinie Tempah, Chris had Seasick Steve — this blues singer — and Eddie Jordan had Sharleen Spiteri, from the band Texas. So, that was good: Go to South Africa and make a car movie!”
You can see a trailer for Top Gear, below.
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