Few actors have achieved the kinds of successes that Matt LeBlanc has enjoyed. He had the rare distinction of starring in a television series role that was nothing short of iconic — as the ultra quotable Joey Tribbiani in Friends — and he has also starred in the title roles of more than one spin-off series. He later returned to headline two other shows as well, including one which even featured him as himself (or at least a caricatured version of himself). All the while, LeBlanc nabbed Primetime Emmy and Golden Globe nominations galore, along with some very impressive paydays.
Even so, though, LeBlanc’s professional and personal life has been checkered by some familial woes and a few rough career patches that saw him walk away from the Hollywood scene for years on end. From his early days trying to break into the business to his decision to reclaim the spotlight once again, let’s take a look back at some of his highs and lows. This is the untold truth of Matt LeBlanc.
He worked his way to the top
Much like the character that would make him a household name, Matt LeBlanc had to work his way into the big time. He moved to New York City when he was a teenager and tried to model, but once he learned he was too short to make it in that industry, he turned to acting. LeBlanc kept the lights on with a few commercial spots for brands like Coca-Cola and Heinz Ketchup in the late ’80s and early ’90s.
He was also able to wrangle some work in the music video realm early on in his career, starring in the videos for songs like Jon Bon Jovi’s "Miracle" and Alanis Morissette’s "Walk Away," among others. All the while, he began forging his career as a television star, earning a guest role on the hit dark comedy Married … with Children as Vinnie Verducci which would result in him starring in two of the series’ spin-offs, Top of the Heap and Vinnie & Bobby. Those experiences would no doubt come in handy for the actor when he finally stepped into his fateful audition for Friends because, as the showrunners would later reveal in an oral history discussion, he absolutely nailed it on the first try. Perhaps the fact that the role was so meta for LeBlanc, career-wise at least, made stepping into Joey’s shoes that much easier for him to do.
His pockets were shallow at first
Matt LeBlanc might have been able to round up a respectable amount of work in commercials and TV guest spots before he landed his much steadier role in Friends, but his bank account was somehow still very humble before he got the career-marking part. Although he would later command the kind of loot worth bragging about — and he has not been shy about boasting that salary, which may have been as much as $100 million or more, in all — he walked into the series with very little to show for his growing resume.
"Friends when it came my way, was my fourth TV series — and the other three had failed. I had exactly $11 in my pocket the day I was hired," he later revealed to The Independent. His initial financial straits were so severe that he said his mother tried to convince him to give it all up when she once visited his shabby place in the city. "I was living in a cheap hotel which was dank and nasty. Junkies and hookers were all over the place when she came to visit for the weekend. I remember the look on her face and she said, ‘Oh, please come home. Give this up. You won’t make it.’"
Of course, by sticking with his ambition, he persevered and ultimately managed to win the role of a lifetime soon after.
His non-Joey-ness confuses people
One of the downsides of playing a character so many people know and love so well is that audiences may tend to expect the actor portraying him or her to behave the same way as their screen counterpart during their downtime. For Matt LeBlanc in particular, this has created an interesting dilemma, as Joey Tribbiani was a notorious doofus, albeit a lovable one, who really exemplified the old expression that ignorance is bliss. The actor, however, doesn’t share the character’s daftness in real life, nor does he have the same happy-go-lucky demeanor as Joey, which throws people for a loop when they meet him.
"People will speak slowly to me sometimes," he told The Guardian of his encounters with fans of the show. "And they always ask me if I’m all right, because I’m much more low-key and reserved than my character in Friends. They think that I’m depressed, or I’m sad, or upset – but I’m just not amped up to go out in front of an audience and do a TV show. That’s not who I am."
His relationship status has often been complicated
One thing Matt LeBlanc does have in common with Joey is that he’s had some trouble making love last. His marriage to former model Melissa McKnight (pictured above) began to fall apart just after the end of Friends aired, and rumors of infidelity soon followed their separation. In 2006, reports said the actor’s wife was "blindsided" when he decided to leave her, despite them having a two-year-old daughter with some concerning health problems (she "was diagnosed with cortical dysplasia," according to The Telegraph). McKnight reportedly believed he was seeing someone else (and the actor has allegedly conceded to having an inappropriate encounter with a stripper around that time), but he cites his daughter’s health scares and his workload as the real reasons for the dissolution.
Shortly after his split from McKnight, he began dating actress Andrea Anders, who played his love interest in the Friends spin-off sitcom Joey, and the two stayed together for several years before calling it quits in 2015. Once again, though, cheating rumors soon followed their split, with LeBlanc categorically denying them. He was also accused of having an affair with Friends co-star Jennifer Aniston, who was married to Brad Pitt at the time, after his father Paul LeBlanc claimed that the actor had bragged about them "mak[ing] out in the dressing rooms." Of course, LeBlanc’s dad might have had other reasons to sully his son’s reputation, but LeBlanc can’t seem to escape whispers of infidelity all the same.
He’s not his father’s son
Matt LeBlanc has a solid relationship with his mother Patricia — he even used his first bits of Friends money to buy her a home and still proudly refers to himself as a "mommy’s boy" who rings her up for pep talks before public appearances, according to The Telegraph. However, he doesn’t share the same kind of connection to his father Paul LeBlanc, who has been more than willing to share the dark details of their damaged relationship with the media.
Matt’s father left his mother when he was still a baby, and he has blamed his parents’ failed marriage(s) as part of the reason his own didn’t last, telling The Telegraph, "I don’t have a prime example set by my parents. My mum was married twice. My dad has been married eight, nine, 10 times. He was a ladies’ man. Now he’s old. I don’t talk to him." However, Paul has offered some stinging critiques of Matt as well, accusing him of being something of a scoundrel. "[Matt]’s not the Joey Tribbiani that everybody loves," Paul told news.com.au." He’s still my son but I’m very hurt by the type of person he’s become."
Those public comments about Matt (including the allegation that he’d stepped out with Aniston) apparently drove the nail in the coffin of their relationship, and the two reportedly stopped speaking altogether shortly after Paul’s interview went live.
His daughter’s health issues might have derailed ‘Joey’
Matt LeBlanc’s daughter Marina Pearl, who was born in 2004, began showing symptoms of a neurological condition as an infant. LeBlanc revealed that she began tipping over while trying to crawl, and that was warned her condition could have some devastating long-term effects upon her motor functions. Fortunately, Marina overcame the issue at a young age and has since grown up to be healthy and unaffected. However, LeBlanc has pointed to that period of personal crisis as being a reason things didn’t work out with his Friends spin-off, Joey, which was unable to recapture the ratings or fanfare of its parent show.
"I’d go home at night keen to find out what was going on with my daughter, and then I’d have to go into work and be funny, and all I wanted to do was focus on my daughter," he told The Telegraph in a separate interview. It didn’t help matters that his daughter’s nanny went and publicized the story of Marina’s health woes without LeBlanc’s permission. Of course, the fact that he was trying to shoulder a show by himself, when he had been part of a large ensemble before, was also a major hurdle he couldn’t overcome. As he later explained, "The show had an unfair amount of pressure on it. It was meant to fill the shoes of Friends. But when you have six pairs of feet, and you take away five, it’s harder to walk."
He took a much-needed hiatus
After Joey was cancelled in 2006, Matt LeBlanc decided to take a little time off from Hollywood to recuperate from the stresses of living in the spotlight. He also revealed that he almost suffered "a nervous breakdown" during the height of his fame. What was supposed to be a temporary break, however, eventually became an extended hiatus due to how much he enjoyed being away from the limelight. "When [Joey] was over, I just, I said, ‘I don’t want to do anything for — I want to at least take a year. I don’t want to do anything, and that turned into six years. I was enjoying myself," he explained to The Hollywood Reporter.
LeBlanc had no trouble keeping busy during his break. He owns a massive ranch in Santa Barbara, California and spent his time co-parenting his daughter with his ex-wife, taking care of cattle, riding horses and motorcycles, and playing around on his bulldozer when he wasn’t working. As he told The Telegraph of his decision to leave, "I knew I wasn’t missing out on anything. I had dabbled with the celebrity world. I’d partied a bit. But there wasn’t anything there that could fulfill me." It wasn’t until he got a call from Friends producer David Crane that he decided to get back into the game.
He was willing to poke fun of himself for the right producer
In 2011, Matt LeBlanc made a triumphant return to television by starring as himself in the Showtime comedy series Episodes. The series was pitched to him by Friends executive producer David Crane, and while LeBlanc was initially hesitant to take the job, he trusted Crane and co-creator Jeffrey Klarik enough to go along with it. "It was because of my history with them that I really felt comfortable," he told Variety. "I don’t know that I would have played that part with someone that I had a new relationship with. It was because of the trust that I said OK. I felt safe in their hands."
LeBlanc still had to get used to the idea that he was not only playing an exaggerated version of himself in the series, but that he was also poking fun of his own image. "It’s [clear] his flaws aren’t my flaws," he told IndieWire to distinguish himself from the character. However, he’s okay with it if people think that screen version is his real-life persona. "People would ask me, ‘Are you worried people will think that’s what you’re really like?’" he explained. "I got past that early on because the writing was good, and I didn’t mind being the butt of the joke because the joke was good." Indeed, the showrunners have since given him credit for never returning a script to them for taking the self-deprecation gag too far.
He’s had some set drama on a new show
Matt LeBlanc’s time on Friends was not without drama — the cast famously made waves when they joined forces to negotiate a higher salary in the final season of the show, for example, and there were constantly rumors of cast hookups, substance abuse issues, and more. However, since the digital media age hadn’t quite taken hold during the show’s run, the cast’s personal lives and on-set issues didn’t get quite as much immediate attention as they might have in today’s 24-hour news cycle environment.
Nowadays, though, things are much different, and on-set difficulties have a tendency to make many more headlines than before, and it’s been quite an adjustment for LeBlanc. His reality series Top Gear, for example, became what he called a "media sh**storm" thanks to allegations of sexual misconduct which were levied against host Chris Evans at the time. LeBlanc reportedly threatened to walk unless Evans departed the show as a result of the negative attention. While Evans would later fiercely praise LeBlanc for his work on the series, LeBlanc showed little love for Evans in return after he left. According to the the BBC, LeBlanc himself would later depart the series in 2018 due to the "time commitment and extensive travel."
He got back into the sitcom game on his own terms
In 2016, Matt LeBlanc finally returned home to the world of scripted sitcoms after a decade spent away from the genre. In CBS’s Man with a Plan, he plays a stay-at-home dad in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but it certainly wasn’t the first offer that LeBlanc fielded. "I read a bunch of scripts that were out there that were about recently divorced dads, back on the dating scene. And I thought, ‘That’s a situation where the kids would be pawns in a dating environment. What about a guy who’s married and has kids?’" he told USA Today. "The concept I had in mind was Everybody Loves Raymond meets Mad About You. It’s not so much about the kids. It’s an adult show, it’s about parenting for parents."
The series has hardly enjoyed the same kind of fanfare or ratings solidarity as Friends, but it has held steady ratings for the network. After LeBlanc roundly condemned CBS for pressing pause on the show after the second season — "What about the audience we built? I want to be a team player, but I feel like the network doesn’t have my back," he said — the show was ultimately renewed for a third season, which means LeBlanc fans aren’t done seeing him on the small screen just yet.