Entertainment & Arts

LeBlanc's 'brave' move on to British TV

Episodes stars Stephen Mangan, Tamsin Greig and Matt LeBlanc
Image caption Episodes re-unites Green Wing stars Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig

Friends' star Matt LeBlanc's TV comeback is a "brave choice" according to his Episodes co-star Stephen Mangan.

The BBC Two show, from Friends creator David Crane, is being tipped as the most anticipated comedy of the year.

In LeBlanc's first role in five years he plays a darker version of himself.

But Mangan told BBC Radio Four's Front Row he thought it was a risk. "I think it's a brave choice... because you don't necessarily see a particularly attractive side of him.

"He can often be quite dark and rude and unpleasant, which over here we love. I think the Brits, [with] our sensibilities, find that very endearing and we like people to open up in that way, but I don't know how they'll take it in the States."

Is LeBlanc really like the character we get to see on the show? Mangan answers diplomatically: "He's a little bit like that and he's not like that.

"They had a lot of fun playing around with people's perceptions of him because he played one of the world's dumbest characters on TV (Joey Tribbiani in Friends) and people think he's stupid but he's not."

In Episodes, Mangan and Tamsin Greig play a British couple invited to the States to remake their hit UK show.

But things go wrong from the start when studio execs insist they replace their lead actor, a Royal Shakespeare Company veteran played by Richard Griffiths, with Matt LeBlanc.

Episodes is written by Friends creator David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik from Mad About You.

They based it on their personal experiences in Hollywood and Stephen Mangan said he can relate to the show too. He has spent time in Hollywood. One visit was when Green Wing almost got remade in LA.

"It was very similar - 'You've done a hit show in the UK, we love you, we want you, come and do your thing just the way you do it'.

"And you get over there and they want you to do it the way they do it."

He admitted his experience of the pilot season in Hollywood was surreal.

"They have vast ranks of executives standing there in suits who will come down onto set and all gather round you and say: 'Is that tie funny? Is that sweater funny? Is the way he said that line funny?'

"It's really designing an elephant by committee. It doesn't work most of the time, particularly for comedy."

Image caption In most scenes the UK doubled for LA

A lot of the comedy of the show is based on the insincerity of the studio execs, who say they love their show but have never actually watched it.

Mangan also experienced something of that in Hollywood when he met with a potential manager: "He said 'I've seen everything you've ever done. I'm your biggest fan. I think you're going to be huge over here. You're the most incredible actor Simon.... err Stephen'."

Although set in Hollywood, most of the filming of Episodes was done in the UK.

But Mangan and Greig did get to visit LA for some filming and Mangan admitted he enjoyed the Hollywood treatment this time round.

"It's a very exciting place to go, driving into those studios, people zipping around on golf carts and famous faces. You do feel thrilled to be there.

"But at the same time it's very bewildering. You don't know what everyone's agenda is. Everyone is telling you all how utterly amazing and brilliant you are, but you know they're telling everybody exactly the same thing.

"Someone said it's like death by encouragement and I totally understand that now."

Episodes starts on BBC Two on Monday 10 January 22:00 GMT. To listen to the full interview with Stephen Mangan on Front Row click here

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