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To most people Matt LeBlanc will forever be the good-hearted, amiable aspiring actor Joey Tribbiani from the widely popular show Friends. The series was a must watch in the mid nineties and it ended its successful run in 2004 after ten years. The actor went on to star in the spin off Joey, which saw the character relocate from New York to Los Angeles.
That show was short lived; unfortunately it struggled to find an audience because of the (unfair) comparison with its predecessor. So LeBlanc took some time off which helped sorting out some personal family matter; he was going through a divorce and his infant daughter had just been diagnosed with a form of dysplasia, which luckily regressed over the years. Five years later David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik approached him with the idea for Episodes, a satire about American television, in which LeBlanc would play a fictionalized version of himself.
As long as it was funny and didn’t step the boundaries of his private life LeBlanc gave his ok to participate to the project. “It’s the same writers of Friends, very funny show. I play myself, but I get to be this exaggerated version of myself. And we get to swear!”
This time it proved largely successful; the show has concluded its fourth season and will begin shooting his fifth next year. And right off the bat LeBlanc won a Golden Globe Award and was nominated four times for Best Actor at the Emmys.
We recently met during the press tour for the Showtime channel which airs the outstanding series Episodes. I always wondered about his Italian lineage, since he often plays an Italian-American character on screen, so I saw our conversation as the perfect occasion to ask him the question. “People don’t often realize it because my last name is French, but my mother is Italian. Her last name is Di Cillo. She is from Arce near Frosinone,” he said with a grin. “I visited when I was on vacation in Italy. We stayed in Rome for three days,” which, if you ask me, is never enough time for a tourist to visit the Eternal City, but LeBlanc was particularly impressed by the Ancient Ruins and the hotel where he was staying, “beautiful hotel on top of the hill, I forget what it is called,” it turns out it was the luxurious Cavalieri, which also has a dramatic view of the city.
It was very important for him to connect with the place his mother comes from. In fact Matt is really close to his mother, as his father left when he was young and Matt never really had a full relationship with him. His mother eventually remarried but for a long time she raised him on her own. “I’m still a mama’s boy. I always want her to be proud of me,” he says.
When he was little Matt remembers going every Sunday to his mother’s mother’s house, his grandparents’ house. “She was a great cook, and my mother’s one of nine kids so all of the cousins, aunts and uncles were there. It was a big deal.” One dish that was never missing from the dinner table? Lasagna. None of Matt’s aunties could make it as well as grandma though. Matt recently revealed the secret of her sauce, “She put sausage, ground beef, and flank steak in the sauce, and by the time it was done, the steak was almost like pulled pork, falling apart in bits and pieces.” In recent times he has been constantly trading cooking tips with his mother. “I make the sauce a lot. With Italian food, if you get the sauce down, the battle is halfway done.” Matt grew up in one of the thirteen villages that constitute Newton, Massachusetts, a small area called Nonantum which is predominately an Italian neighborhood, as many people in the village are descendants of natives of San Donato Val di Comino in Italy.
Matt actually wanted to be a carpenter growing up as he was and still is very good at fixing things; one day, when he was about eighteen, he decided that he was meant for more and moved to New York to pursue modeling and acting. He got his start thanks to a chance meeting. He has often told the story on how checking a girl out on a train led to accompany her to an audition and getting introduced to her agent, who signed him on the spot.
He started with commercials and moved onto small roles until Friends came around and changed his life forever. After such a long time playing the same character audiences tend to overlap what they see on television with what the actor is really like, it can be bothersome, but LeBlanc has only good things to say about the character that made him famous. It has given him a great life and anything that follows is, in his own words, “gravy”.
As he gets ready to fly to London and shoot what will possibly be the final season of Episodes, he is taking full advantage of the break time. He is enjoying spending quality time with his daughter at his cattle ranch north of Santa Barbara and on press days like these he can finally catch up with old pals, like Matthew Perry who was also present to promote his own show, The Odd Couple. Seeing them joking around and being so close after so many years, even though an on TV Friends reunion will and should never happen, was a great validation of the bond that exists between them.