When you’re part of one of the most popular—and highest-paid—TV series casts in history, it isn’t easy to find a follow up. Just ask Matt LeBlanc. After ten years as lovable dimwit Joey Tribbiani on Friends, his spinoff Joey fizzled, and it was five years before he tried again—and scored—with Episodes, the Hollywood-skewering Showtime comedy in which he played a self-absorbed, sex-obsessed actor named Matt LeBlanc, winning a Golden Globe for it in 2012.
Having finished taping Episodes’ fifth and final season and a new season of Top Gear, LeBlanc goes old school with his latest gig, the family sitcom Man With a Plan, premiering on CBS tonight (8:30/7:30c). He plays contractor and father of three Adam Burns, who goes from fun dad to disciplinarian when his wife returns to work and leaves him in charge. It’s not necessarily groundbreaking, but we gotta give them credit for a believable family unit, as opposed to the standard chubby hubby and—cough, King of Queens—unrealistically hot wife.
So we asked him a bunch of fun questions. Best bits below.
“Thanks to my daughter, I know the words to every Rihanna, Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift song. I would love it if she could throw a little Springsteen in there.”
What attracted you to this project? Were you looking for a new series?
Yeah. I wanted to get back into the multi-cam format because I have a family and the hours are shorter. You rehearse all week, and then you shoot in front of an audience, like a play. It’s like being part of an ensemble theater company. And I liked the idea of a family show. I’m not getting any younger, and I am a parent, so I wanted to explore what that would be like as a character. I’m a single dad, so my life is quite a bit different than Man with a Plan. But I do everything when I’m at home. I cook, I clean, I do all that stuff.
Adam is in construction. How are you with tools?
Good! I used to be a carpenter a long time ago, so the fact that I’m a contractor is kind of right up my alley.
Did you hesitate to work with kids?
No. I think if a project is good, a project is good. Look at Kramer vs. Kramer. That’s one of the greatest movies ever made and there’s a kid all over that movie. So that doesn’t scare me. For me, it’s like a constant reminder [that] this should be fun. There’s an innocence about them. Kids are so brutally honest. And it’s actually been really nice spending time around these new little people that I’m getting to know.
Are your kids interested in show business?
I have a 25-year-old stepson, a 22-year-old stepdaughter, and a 12-year-old daughter. My stepson is a sound engineer at a recording studio and my stepdaughter’s at FIT studying fashion, and my little girl likes to sing, ride horses and drive her Dad crazy. Thanks to her, I know the words to every Rihanna, Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift song. I would love it if she could throw a little Springsteen in there. I took her to see him at Wembley a couple of months ago and it was fun. She was like, “He’s good!”
What’s going on with Episodes?
We wrapped the end of June. We shot the last two weeks in L.A., all of the exteriors. There will be seven episodes and it will air sometime in 2017. We just felt like our story was told and it was time to move on.
“The studio portion of Top Gear is a little odd. The crowd is all the way around you. An elderly woman grabbed my ass once. I turned around and she gave me a big smile.”
Was it strange to play a fictionalized version of yourself in that?
I approached that role just like any other role. He just happened to look like me and have the same name. At first, I got really intimidated by it and paranoid: “Do I really want to say this about myself?” But then I approached it as a fictional character, and that enabled me to distance myself from it so that I could poke fun at it.
What is it about Friends makes it still so popular?
It was chemistry that made that show work.
Do you stay in touch?
Yes. I love all five of those people. We spend a lot of time together. I saw Matthew Perry yesterday. He’s on the soundstage next door. We still have this shorthand with one another. It’s amazing, really. Ten years in a building with no windows, with the door locked, we got to know each other pretty well.
What’s the best thing about doing Top Gear?
Probably the travel. I was in Morocco for a week, I was in South Africa for a week, I was in Northern Ireland. We filmed all through the streets of London driving some fun, cool cars. The studio portion of the show is a little odd. The crowd is all the way around you. An elderly woman grabbed my ass once. I turned around and she gave me a big smile.
Are you a Man With a Plan for the future?
I just turned 49. Anytime I’ve ever made a plan in life, it’s always just handed me a different set of cards to play. I’ll just see where it goes.
Photo: Elisabeth Caren/CBS