Matt LeBlanc





Actor

Born July 25, 1967, in Newton, MA; son of Paul LeBlanc (a mechanic) and Pat Grossman (an office manager); married Melissa McKnight (a model), May 3, 2003; children: Jacki (stepchild), Tyler (stepchild), Marina. Education: Attended Wentworth Institute of Technology.

Addresses: Office —NBC Studio Fan Mail, 1122 South Robertson Blvd., #15, Los Angeles, CA 90035. Publicist —PMK/HBH, 8500 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 700, Beverly Hills, CA 90211.

Career

Actor in television, including: TV 101, CBS, 1988-89; Anything to Survive (movie), ABC, 1990; Top of the Heap, FOX, 1990-91; Rebel Highway, Showtime, c. 1991; Vinnie and Bobby, FOX, 1992; Friends, NBC, 1994-2004; Joey, NBC, 2004—. Film appearances include: Ed, 1996; Lost in Space, 1998; Charlie's Angels, 2000; All the Queen's Men, 2002; Charlie's Angels 2: Full Throttle, 2003. Also appeared in numerous television commercials for products such as Coca-Cola, Levi's, Heinz Ketchup, and Doritos, and worked as a model.

Awards: The Actor Award (with others), outstanding ensemble performance in a comedy series, 1995, for Friends.

Sidelights

After appearing on several failed series, actor Matt LeBlanc had his breakout role when he was cast as Joey Tribbiani on Friends. This ensemble

Matt LeBlanc
situation comedy became a major hit for NBC, airing on Thursday nights for ten years. Unlike other stars of the show, LeBlanc was unable to capitalize on his success by starring in popular and/or profitable films. However, LeBlanc's character on Friends was given his own spin-off beginning in the fall of 2004. Joey could not match the audience of Friends, at least initially, but attracted a solid fanbase.

LeBlanc was born on July 25, 1967, in Newton, Massachusetts, the only child of Paul LeBlanc and his wife, Pat Grossman. His father worked as a marine diesel mechanic, while his mother was an office manager who worked in the business of manufacturing circuit breakers at one time. His parents divorced in 1974, and LeBlanc was raised primarily by his mother in a working-class household.

By the time LeBlanc was a student at Newton North High School, he seemed destined for a working-class life himself. He studied carpentry in high school, and after graduating in 1985, continued his studies at a trade school. LeBlanc spent one semester studying building construction technology at the Wentworth Institute of Technology. He planned on becoming a carpenter.

However, LeBlanc also had bigger ambitions. When he was 17 years old, he moved to New York City with the intention of becoming an actor. He also found work as a model while appearing in television commercials. LeBlanc appeared in spots for Doritos, Coca-Cola, Levi's, and Heinz Ketchup. His Heinz commercial was his first and aired for four years.

In the late 1980s, LeBlanc broke into television roles. His first regular role came on the short-lived CBS drama, TV 101. The show only lasted for 13 episodes and aired from 1988 to 1989. LeBlanc's next roles came primarily in situation comedies.

In 1990, LeBlanc had one of the leads in FOX's Top of the Heap. The show was a spin-off of FOX's hit comedy Married ... With Children, but did not have the same fate as that long-running show. Top of the Heap focused on a father-son relationship. LeBlanc played the son, named Vinnie Verducci, who lived with his father, a building superintendent played by Joseph Bologna. The father tried to get LeBlanc's character married to a rich woman, and both had a con-artist aspect to their personalities.

LeBlanc's character on Top of the Heap was similar to his Joey on Friends in that both used their good looks and rather dim, naïve personality to great comic effect. However, Top of the Heap was slammed by critics and lasted for only seven episodes.

Though Top of the Heap did not make it, LeBlanc's character had a second chance. LeBlanc's Vinnie was featured in a second show called Vinnie and Bobby. In this show, Vinnie's father was dropped and a roommate named Bobby (played by Robert Torti) was added. Bobby was even less intelligent than Vinnie, and both worked in construction. Vinnie and Bobby also failed to impress critics during its trial run. Only seven episodes aired in the summer of 1992.

After these shows tanked, LeBlanc struggled as an actor for a time. He could not find much work and had to move to a smaller apartment in Los Angeles. However, within two years LeBlanc was on a hit show. In 1994, he was cast as Joey Tribbiani on Friends. The show focused on six twentysomething friends who lived in New York City. Friends featured witty dialogue and a balanced ensemble. LeBlanc's character was a struggling actor who was not particularly bright but very loyal to his friends.

Though Friends initially received mixed reviews from critics, the show built an audience in its first season and soon became a massive hit that aired through 2004. The six stars of the show became regulars on magazine covers and often had their lives scrutinized. In 1995, LeBlanc told Traci Grant of the Boston Globe, "It blows my mind. It's like somebody strapped a jet pack on my back and lit the fuse and off I went. It's been a wild ride." One of the first things LeBlanc did with his newfound wealth was buy a home for his mother.

As LeBlanc's acting career in sitcoms took off, he showed his range by taking on dramatic roles from time to time. In 1990, he appeared in the ABC television movie Anything to Survive. The movie focused on a family surviving in nature. LeBlanc later appeared in two episodes of the Showtime series Rebel Highway, "Motorcycle Gang" and "Reform School Girl." Both were remakes of films that originally appeared in drive-in theaters.

During the run of Friends, all six stars worked in feature films with varying degrees of success. While LeBlanc was one of the first to make the move, his output was not memorable. He made his film debut in 1996's Ed, a comedy about a minor league baseball team. LeBlanc played pitcher Jack Cooper who had a great arm but could not handle pressure. His team hires a chimp, Ed, to be a mascot, but the animal proves to be a good fielder so the team plays him at third base as a way to attract crowds to the ballpark. The chimp also becomes LeBlanc's character's roommate.

While Ed bombed at the box office, not all critics attacked LeBlanc's performance. Doug Hamilton of the Atlanta Journal and Constitution wrote, "LeBlanc, who retains the affable charm he displays on his show, shouldn't really be faulted for the movie's awfulness (beyond agreeing to appear in such drivel in the first place). Even the most established star would be capsized by a role that primarily consists of reacting to monkey flatulence."

Two years later, LeBlanc had a featured role in a very different kind of film, Lost in Space. The science-fiction drama was based on the campy 1960s show of the same name. LeBlanc played Major Don West, the driver/astronaut of the crew. The rest of the group included the Robinson family—scientist parents and their three kids—as well as a male scientist and a large robot. Set in 2058, they all leave Earth aboard the ship Jupiter II and are headed toward a colony in outer space. Though LeBlanc and the film received better reviews than Ed, Lost in Space was not really a hit. Around the time of the film's release, LeBlanc faced another challenge: rumors of his death, one of the many tabloid-hyped stories with which he had to deal.

LeBlanc did appear in two successful films, though only in cameo roles. In 2000, he appeared briefly in the huge hit film Charlie's Angels, which was based on the 1970s television show. LeBlanc played an actor in the film, one who shared many qualities of his character on Friends. The character was the boyfriend of the character played by Lucy Liu. LeBlanc reprised the role in the sequel to Charlie's Angels, 2003's Charlie's Angels 2: Full Throttle. Though the film did well at the box office, the sequel could not match the success of the first.

LeBlanc tried different kinds of film roles, but his starring roles often did not connect with audiences. In 2002, he challenged his acting persona by taking a starring role in the war comedy All the Queen's Men. LeBlanc played O'Rourke, an American soldier working with the British during World War II. LeBlanc's character dresses as a woman to infiltrate a factory—which only employed women—in order to get a coding device. All the Queen's Men was screened at festival's such as the Mill Valley Film Festival but was not well-received by audiences.

Though LeBlanc's film career did not take off, his role on Friends unexpectedly grew. Though Joey was initially a sweet but rather superficial character who usually provided comic relief to other story lines, especially the romantic ones, his character evolved in the early 2000s. Beginning in 2002, Joey had a surprising romance with Rachel, played by actress Jennifer Aniston, and his character became deeper. LeBlanc's Joey helped revitalize Friends, which had declining ratings as it aged.

LeBlanc's work as Joey late in the series' run led to numerous major award nominations. In 2002 and 2003, he was nominated for a Golden Globe as best actor in a musical or comedy. In 2002, LeBlanc was also nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award for outstanding performance by a male actor in a comedy series. An Emmy Award nomination for best actor in a comedy series came LeBlanc's way in 2004, the same year that Friends ended its run.

However, before the end of Friends, it was decided that LeBlanc's character would star in his own show on NBC the following season. Entitled Joey, the show featured Joey moving from New York City to Los Angeles to further his acting career. There, he was close to his sister, Gina, who lives there with her young adult son, Michael, who is very intelligent. The relationship between Joey and Gina added depth to LeBlanc's character's background, something which was not explored on Friends as much as other characters on the show. Joey also featured his agent, Bobbie, and had a love interest/neighbor for Joey, attorney Alex Garrett. The show was produced by several writers from Friends.

When Joey began airing in the fall of 2004, it took over the time slot previously occupied by Friends. However, Joey could not match the ratings of Friends, at least in the first season. The first episode of Joey attracted 18 million viewers, but lost six million of those viewers by December. The show did have high ratings relative to other new comedies on the broadcast networks.

Though some observers believed that Joey was failing to attract a huge audience because of its own problems, NBC believed that it was often compared to Friends. Kevin Reilly, the president of NBC Entertainment, told Scott Collins of the Los Angeles Times, "Were Joey not a Friends spinoff, it would be called an unequivocal hit. But being held to the standard of a Friends spinoff, it somehow seems as if its underperforming." Despite the numbers, LeBlanc was nominated for a Golden Globe award for best actor in a musical or comedy in 2004. Joey was renewed for the 2005-06 television season. However, changes were expected to be made to the show.

Near the end of the run of Friends, LeBlanc's personal life also changed. He married longtime girlfriend Melissa McKnight, a model, on May 3, 2003, in Hawaii. LeBlanc became the stepfather to her two children from a previous marriage, Jacki and Tyler, and together the couple had a daughter named Marina. LeBlanc appreciated his life and his success, telling Robert Bianco of USA Today, "I come from a very blue-collar background. I'm not carrying anything heavy. I'm not working in the rain. [Acting is] a cakewalk."

Sources

Books

Celebrity Biographies, Baseline II, Inc., 2005.

Periodicals

Atlanta Journal and Constitution, March 15, 199, p. 7P.

Boston Globe, April 28, 1995, p. 84; April 3, 1998, p. D7.

Buffalo News, July 12, 2004, p. C1.

Daily News (New York, NY), September 5, 2004, p. 2. InStyle, November 1998, p. 137.

Los Angeles Times, December 13, 2004, p. E1.

People, April 29, 1991, p. 12; June 15, 1992, p. 9; April 20, 1998, p. 140; May 19, 2003, p. 64; February 9, 2004, p. 86; September 13, 2004, p. 39.

Time, September 13, 2004, p. 82.

USA Today, January 17, 2002, p. 1D.

Variety, April 6, 1998, p. 46.

—A. Petruso



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