After a five-year break from showbiz and TV, LeBlanc returned to screens last year and found the best way to move on from Joey and Friends was by poking fun at himself. Cast as an egotistical and faded star version of himself in Episodes, he proved that he was still a superb comedy actor and also snagged his first ever Golden Globe in the process.
Digital Spy caught up with LeBlanc to talk about season two of Episodes, letting go of Friends and putting salami in Stephen Mangan's scripts.
Were you a fan of British comedies and British humour before you came to work in the UK on Episodes?
"Yeah. You know, I think British comedy is very smart comedy. You don't get too much dumb comedy over here. Or at least I haven't seen it. If I'm wrong about that, I apologise to all the dumb comedy makers over here. It's a little more intelligent and a little more subtle, British comedy, but I don't think there's a huge difference between the UK and the US. I know that is kind of what Episodes is based around, but I always think funny is funny."
What British TV shows have you enjoyed?
"Some of the gameshows I've seen are funny. Top Gear I love. Lee Mack I met when I was on Graham Norton's show the other night, I saw some of his show and I really liked that. But yeah, bits and pieces here and there."
Do you enjoy being in a position where you can pick and choose roles? And do you have plans to do more acting beyond Episodes?
"I'll see how it goes. I'm not in a rush to do anything. And I wouldn't say I pick and choose. When it comes to producers picking people for roles I don't think it's between me and Tom Cruise, do you know what I mean?"
What is it like kissing Tamsin Greig?
"She is... um... a consummate professional. Surprisingly sexy. I have an actor's crush on Tamsin. When we worked together last season, first time we acted, first thing I said was 'Wow'. She is so good. I just want to hang around her. I find her so interesting as a person. As an actor, as a mum. She's just a fascinating human being - I really, really care for her.
"I don't know what it is. She's just... you know when you meet people and they look you straight in the eye. She's one of those people. Anybody that she deals with, people just gravitate towards. But Stephen? He's just a jerk. Yeah, she's pretty special."
Where is Matt, the character, when we meet up with him again?
"This starts about three or four months after the end of the first season and the show Pucks has been picked up and we're in production. Sean and Beverly are not together. And we're doing our best to navigate through this awkward love triangle and it's very, very tricky and we all have to work together still. It's very interestingly crafted.
"That awkward triangle has shifted slightly, but it's still as awkward, if not more. If that makes any sense. So there's a lot to play from an acting standpoint. The scenes with the three of us, there's all kinds of weird looks and feelings about where does this go."
Watch the trailer for series two of Episodes:
One of the highlights of season one was the big fight. Are they any more scraps we can look forward to?
"This season ends on another big fight. I won't say with who or who's involved, but yeah. Which is funny - maybe that's our trademark. 'Every year, someone gets their ass kicked!'"
There are some bleak elements of your character. Were you at all wary about taking on the role?
"When I first met with Jeffrey Klarik and David to talk about the idea, they pitched me the whole first season basically. My only hesitation was, 'What do you mean I'm playing myself? I don't understand what that means'.
"They said, 'Well, it's not a documentary. It's a scripted version and we'll navigate through it together. Anything that's not comfortable for you, we won't do'. I said, 'Okay' and once I got my head around the fact it's a character, then it became really fun. I didn't need to worry about 'I don't know about this, I don't know about that'. Once I realised it was a character like everyone else, then it became really fun. It was like 'Game on'.
"My whole career I've played very politically correct characters and to not have to worry about that, and to not have to worry about mainstream network constraints, standards and practices; 'you can't say that, you can't do that, you can't put your hand there, you can't refer to that.' It's just like 'F**k all that, I'm having a good time'."
Are you being offered different types of work?
"Nah, I think I'll stay in comedy. There haven't been a lot of offers, I'll be honest with you, but it's more about what products do I wanna be a part of and go after. I mean, I've been looking, there's not a lot. But I'm really spoiled in terms of comedy - I was a part of Friends - that's one of the funniest things on television in my opinion and this I think is equally as funny. I feel a bit jaded. Work to me has become kind of a hobby. I was a part of something that gave me financial independence and the rent is paid. Now it's just about projects that turn me on.
"You know, when I did Joey, I had my own production deal at Warner Bros. I'm not very good at that. I don't like producing. It's a lot of meetings you sit through that amount to nothing. I remember just thinking, 'Oh my god, I don't want to do this'. I like acting, that's why I got into the business. I like working on stories - that's fun, but I don't like, you know, 'how many people, the caterer needs to know how many people'. I'm not into that."
Your character is the star and has the big ego in the show. Do you think you get treated differently on the set of Episodes?
"They better. [Laughs]. I think that, you know, if I'm allowed to speak about myself in the third person for a second, I think if I'm the name in the show, it's my job to set an example about professionalism and don't take it too serious. I'm the first one to make practical jokes.
"I was the one to put salami in Stephen's script. Keep it light. It is a comedy after all. We're not working on the cure for cancer, unfortunately. We're just hopefully making people laugh. I think that I treat everybody the same, like I would like to be treated, I think it's check your ego at the door and best joke wins. That way everybody's voice is heard and everyone's emotions are considered. Makes it a nicer place to work."
The Matt LeBlanc in Episodes has been caught up in the money of Hollywood. How did you keep your feet grounded when Friends was at its height?
"Ooh, I don't know. I came from a very blue collar background. I always believe a job is a job. Once you break something down to the nuts and bolts of what you're doing it's not as glamorous as everyone from the outside thinks it is. That always helps you keep things in perspective."
Do you relish playing a character with some darkness after years of playing the loveable good guy Joey?
"Yeah, it's always funny to change it up a little. Why not? It's based so loosely on me that I can remove myself from the character and not have any hang-ups at all about it. I didn't have any problem with any of the scenes, I'm a good sport about things and it's all in good fun. The writers ran everything by me beforehand and if I had any problems I spoke with them and we talked about it, but that very rarely happened. I'm a big boy.
"But yes, the character Matt LeBlanc is heading into darker waters in series two. You will see more of an emotional dismantling of my character this year, so stay tuned!"
Have people started coming up to you in the street and started talking about Episodes rather than Friends?
"Yeah, I guess so, slowly. I mean, we're not going to top Friends with this. We're not looking to top Friends. This is a very different beast, this show. It's not on one of the big networks in the US, it's done on a much smaller scale in terms of volume and budget. It's more of a culty show in my mind.
"There are plenty of people who ask me about it and who enjoy it though, which is great. People who have seen it who I see on the street respond well to it. I think it's still pretty new... they're... reeling from the Friends thing. I think that'll always probably be there."
Do you resent that at all?
"No. It's the best ten years of my life. I really had the best time doing that, it was a lot of fun."
Do you miss that?
"I don't know if 'miss' is the right word. It has a very special place in my heart. But that was a time and a place and that chapter's closed. It was time when it ended and it was very sad, but we move onto other things."
How long do you think Episodes can run for?
"I don't know how long I see this show running. It's hard to see into the future because it depends on being in the mind of the writers. They are the only ones who know where the characters are heading. I think it could potentially run for as long as they want it to. As long as the ratings are good, right?"
Episodes returns to BBC Two this Friday at 10pm on BBC Two. Season two will premiere in the US on July 1 on Showtime.