Matt LeBlanc: Playing Dumb

On the beloved TV hit "Friends," Matt LeBlanc plays an I.Q.-challenged actor. In his screen debut, he plays a pitcher who learns life lessons from a monkey. But as we all know by now, stupid is as stupid does.

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If Malt LeBlanc were as dumb as the mostly unemployed actor he plays on the hit show "Friends," you still might want to meet him -- but only if his mouth were taped shut.

Luckily for me, the 28-year-old LeBlanc, a Massachusetts native best known before "Friends" for a Heinz ketchup commercial, is no dummy. LeBlanc and I meet on the set of "Friends," where his dressing room is decorated in black-and-white photos of naked women ("the prop guy gave them to me," he says), and end up at an El Torito, where the conversation turns to his screen debut in Ed, a buddy movie co-starring a chimp. Good thinking. Matt.

"I know, I know," he says, holding up his hands in surrender. "Everyone told me, 'Don't do the monkey movie, don't do it.' David Schwimmer's character on 'Friends' had this monkey, and in the middle of the scene, the monkey would take a shit, and then eat it! But the movie monkey was animatronic. And I loved the story, about this guy whose childhood dream is to be a pitcher, and when he finally gets his chance, the fans make him nervous and he chokes. So the owner of the team acquires a chimpanzee as a mascot."

"Who has more camera time, you or the chimp?"

"I think I do," LeBlanc says.

"Do you think actors have a responsibility to send a good message to kids?"

"To kids, yes," LeBlanc says, nodding earnestly. "Kids are very susceptible, and they idolize people that they see on TV. To the general public, I don't know."

"So maybe you could play a smarter character," I suggest.

"Don't I know it," says LeBlanc with a laugh. "Maybe it's because I'm flat-footed, or maybe it's my serious face, but they keep casting me as a guy who doesn't know much."

"Do you realize that everybody in this room knows who you are?"

LeBlanc looks genuinely shocked. "I'm not sure how to react to this fame thing. I saw my house on 'Hard Copy' -- they photographed it from a helicopter. Thank God I wasn't outside swimming nude. I know TV is a very intimate medium, but I really didn't know quite how intimate."

"Are you more cautious now?"

"Now it's Joey Clams. That's the name I use for reservations at restaurants."

Make that used to use. "OK," I say, "a little family history..."

"Do I have to?"

"Yes, you do."

"OK, alright. We're blue collar from Newton, Mass. My mom's from Italy, and my father wasn't around. I knew he had gone to Vietnam, but I didn't know if he was dead or MIA, and I knew it would make my mom sad to talk about it, so I never asked. On Christmas morning, the year I was eight, I come running downstairs, and on the couch is this guy wearing Army fatigues with long hair. He looked like Jesus Christ. I see his name on his shirt, LeBlanc. All I could think was, he's alive, he's come back, he's going to live with us, and I'm going to have a dad! So of course I ran to him. flung myself on him.. .and if there's one moment in my life I could replay, that would be it. Because what I really should have said was. 'Hey, man, where the fuck have you been?' He never came to live with us. My mother remarried a few years later."

"You were a construction worker before you became an actor, is that right?"

"Yeah. One weekend I went down to New York City and I met this really cute girl and she said, 'I have an audition, want to go with me?' And I went with her, and her manager had me read some commercials and signed me. So I moved to New York and got a commercial right away. I thought, hey, this shit's easy, I'm gonna be huge! Of course, that didn't happen, and I lived in a transient hotel for a couple of years."

"And now you're huge!" I say.

"I'm doing OK, yeah. This life is more than I ever dreamed of. It's just that sometimes it gets lonely."

"No girlfriends?" I ask.

"Nope. Had my heart broken a couple of times, so I'm taking it easy. But if you know anyone cool..."

"I'll keep it in mind. By the way, what do you carry around for luck?"

LeBlanc looks suspicious. "How do you know I carry anything?"

"Because you've got that superstitious look. Let me see your wallet." Incredibly, he hands it over. An ATM card, a driver's license with a photo that's worse than you can imagine, only one credit card, and a photo of a handsome couple. "It's my parents when they were married." he says. Stuck in with the money are Bazooka bubble gum comics.

"They've got great fortunes." he says, reading them off. "Angels guard your every step. The next two years will be lucky ones. You'll never run out of money. The mailman will deliver good news soon. I'm hoping that last one means residual checks!" he says, slipping them back in the wallet.

As we head to the car, LeBlanc puts on his glasses, which make him look like Clark Kent. When he notices my smile, he says. "The most amazing thing about getting famous is this: When I was broke and couldn't afford anything, nobody gave a shit. Now that I have some money, Ray Ban sends me dozens of pairs of glasses. They even put my prescription in. Is that the craziest thing? If you need a pair of sunglasses, just give me a call."

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Martha Frankel interviewed Steve Guttenberg for the November '95 Movieline.



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