Matt LeBlanc was all smiles. Elegantly attired in dark blue suit, crisp white shirt and navy tie, he was taking a day off from his ‘day job’ over at Warner Brothers to talk up his starring role in the independent film All the Queen’s Men. A World War 2-set comedy-drama, LeBlanc plays a soldier who has to dress up in drag in order to help retrieve a coding device from the Nazis.
Suffice it to say, he looks nothing like Joey Tribbianni, the character he has played on TV’s Friends for the past eight years. And that, says the 35-year old, suits him just fine. “To do different things is to me very exciting. In terms of my career, I’ve been really successful playing that character on the show, so there’s a philosophy of: If it’s not broke don’t fix it. So maybe one strategy might be to go and do the same character in a lot of different movies as there are people that make very nice careers out of playing a similar type of character again and again and again.”
But not LeBlanc and the soldier-in-drag character was a refreshing change of pace for the Emmy-nominated actor, though his attraction to this low-budget film went beyond that, he insists. “It was the story more than the character,” explains the actor. “The character went through a little bit of development along the way but the story itself, I thought was really interesting. You basically have a group of four spies who are chosen for a mission they feel for the fact of how competent they are and how their expertise and they’re the right one for the job. But ultimately they find out they’ve been actually chosen for their incompetence. Very rarely do I read a script cover to cover without stopping and this was one of them.”
Known very much as a man of today, getting into the swing of a 1940s character was a challenge. “I found myself watching like old documentaries of the way people moved and their mannerisms, cadence in speech. It was a really hard thing to try and get away from, so the research was a challenge so that I didn’t come across contemporary. And you have the costumes and the sets that sort of help you get into that mood.” Far from playing the macho, womanising Joey that audiences know and love, LeBlanc’s other challenge was getting into the spirit of transferring himself into a credible woman.
He laughingly admits that both the most comfortable and uncomfortable pieces of women’s clothing he had to wear, “would be a toss up between the shoes and the bra.” As to whether this character brought out Matt’s feminine side, the actor pauses and smiles. “We could sit here and poke fun at it, but the character was very reluctant to dress in drag, which made it easier for me to play. If I was playing a transvestite, and that were the story about a man’s journey toward being a transvestite, then it would be a much different thing and that I guess would have brought out my feminine side more.”
It seems that LeBlanc is far more confident that he was when doing press for Lost in Space or the beginnings of Friends. With a greater sense of humour, yet filled with a genuine sense of self-reflection, LeBlanc won’t confirm that this year will see the demise of the series that turned him, and five other unknown actors, into stars, but he has mixed feelings for the show’s eventual close. “I’m not looking forward to the end because it is going to be really sad. These are people I’ve evolved with and whom I’ve really learned from,” LeBlanc says. “I’ve grown tremendously as an actor by being there. It is comic writing the likes of which I don’t know that I’ll ever see again and it’s been a great, great experience.”
LeBlanc adds that he has evolved considerably since Friends began. “I would say that I’m more confident which I think is one of your biggest assets as an actor especially in comedy. In comedy, you have to be unafraid to hang from the tree branch naked in the high wind and you have to be absolutely unafraid to look ridiculous and silly. And if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. You go back to square one and try again, but you have to not be afraid to fall.” LeBlanc has fallen – remember Ed? But the actor has remained undaunted by failure and this season Friends, the actor says that Joey’s journey is wonderful, but denies that there are parallels between the character’s desire to get married and his own. “I think Joey’s at a point this season where he has learned from the experience with Rachel and has also learned that maybe he is ready for something a little more substantial. How he goes about getting that or what that means exactly, he’s not so sure and it’s not so easy for him to let go of the past, I suspect.” As for Matt, the actor remains engaged to 37-year old Melissa McKnight and confirms “that we hope to be getting married soon.”
LeBlanc laughs when asked what the biggest misconception there is of the actor. “Probably that I have the same I.Q. as Joey does. But as an actor, the biggest compliment you can get, in my book is for someone to believe that you’re the character. For someone to say, ‘Hey, Joey,’ that’s the greatest compliment they can give me. It means I’ve done my job well and that they believe 100 percent that I’m him so that’s the best you can ask for.”
While some of his co-stars have received considerable publicity in their private lives, LeBlanc has managed to somehow avoid the celebrityism that has remained part and parcel of the Friends phenomenon. He says that he has managed to deal with Hollywood’s fame game, because “maybe that’s who I am which is very blue collar,” recalling that “this whole acting thing was always just for me and was always an absolute shot in the dark. If it didn’t pan out, I had my hammer and tool belt, banging nails again tomorrow if I had to,” he says. The Massachusetts-born actor recalls never having made a conscious decision to be a comic actor, it just happened that way. “When I was younger and studying acting, I never ever saw myself in the sitcom world; it was drama that really turned me on and still does. Comedy is just to me, maybe it’s a natural knack, if I can see where the joke is in the writing and I can see where the setup is and I can tell this is the way to make it. And if you have great writing, it’s really easy, but if it’s not so great and you have to work a little harder, I could tell where the work needed to be done but comedy is just fun.”
And it continues to be as the Emmy-winning hit series comes to a possible close. Matt laughingly says that if it is up to Joey to write the series finale “I’d probably end up in bed with all three girls,” he says laughingly. But if it is up to Matt, he “would like to see, and I’ve said this from day one on the show, Ross and Rachel together because that’s where the show started. I think it would be just fitting that it come full circle and see the two of them sail off together and the other characters to me aren’t as relevant.”