The Episodes star on turning down Modern Family and that character he played on Friends for a bit
Despite its LA setting, Episodes is mostly shot in London. Is there anything Britain does badly compared to the US?
Steak. Steak is not as good here. I don’t know why that is, but the US is known for steak – we have big thick steaks, and I've been to nice steakhouses here where people say, “How’s that for a steak?” and I’m like, “Eh, it’s not what I’m used to.” But I have cattle – the bar’s a lot higher. The butcher will cut ’em, and I know that cow was born on the ranch, died on the ranch, will go in the freezer on the ranch, then on the barbecue on the ranch, and is gonna be consumed on the ranch. So it’s local.
You’ve done a convincing English accent on Episodes. Would you ever consider playing a British role?
I would love to do that. Write that in your interview, I’ll commission you – you can be my agent.
Done. Anything take your fancy? Doctor Who? Downton Abbey…?
I don’t look at it like that. It’s not, “I wanna be on that show”, it’s the character. If it’s the right character at the right time and it makes sense, sure. But I think a lot of people are gun-shy about hiring people that were in Friends. Their fear is that it takes the audience out of the moment, like, “What’s Joey doing in that action movie?”
How many times have you heard the dreaded phrase ‘Friends reunion’ lately?
Um, quite a few! In every interview thus far.
At what point does that get start to get annoying?
It doesn’t p*ss me off, it’s great that people want more. There’s only a finite number of episodes that we’ve done, and once you’ve seen the 466th or 467th – whatever we did [it was 236] – there’s no more.
Didn't you once tell Prince William and Harry to f*ck off when they asked about it?
That was a joke! I knew this was going to happen – I did the Conan O’Brien show and I told the story about meeting them at a polo match. I got in this big line of people that wanted to meet them, and all they wanted to know about was the Friends reunion. I told them it wasn’t happening, but on Conan I said: “I told them to f*ck off!” I then said I was kidding – I would never say that – but of course everyone picked it up, and I said to myself, “I bet when I go to do press for Season 4 of Episodes that’s gonna come up,” and it has.
Given the modern trend for reboots, do you think Friends could ever be remade with a new set of actors?
Gosh, I never thought of that. Maybe that’s the way to get us to do a reunion – threaten to recast it.
Who’d be a good Joey? Zac Efron, perhaps?
Um, yeah – maybe he’d be good. Am I that much older than him? Sh*t.
Looking back, do you think the criticism the Joey spin-off received was unfair?
I don’t think it was a bad show, I just think there was so much pressure on it to fill the shoes that Friends had left behind. Those were six [pairs of] shoes – I’ve only got two feet. We didn’t have David Crane writing it, so if people were looking for that similar thing, it wasn’t the same writer – which was always a letdown.
You took six years off between Joey and Episodes. Did you turn many notable roles down?
Modern Family came across my desk, but I wasn't right for the part [Phil Dunphy]. That was during the first year I took off, so no matter what that part was I would’ve said no, but I was like, “God, there’s someone that’s better for this than me.” The irony was, the character was written for Ty Burrell, and I think the network wanted producers to go to [established] names. They went around town and offered it to a bunch of people, one of which was me. I can only speak for myself, but my take was there is a guy out there that is perfect for this, and it’s not me. It came around full circle, Ty got the role and he’s f*cking brilliant. It was like fate.
You live on a 1,000-acre ranch that sounds like paradise. It has a motocross track, a bulldozer…
Well, yeah, you need a spare bulldozer…
Cows, horses, guns, wild pigs, deer, bobcats, mountain lions… I saw bear tracks one time. It’s great to just be out there with my daughter and friends. We’ve gone camping there, and it’s the best place to camp, because if disaster strikes you can just abandon the tent and go back to the house.
You’re a self-confessed petrolhead, and set the record time on Top Gear in 2012. It needs a new host. Interested?
Oh, again, I don’t know if that’s the right show for me. I’m more of an actor – what I say needs to be written for me.
Finally, Steve Coogan said he often wonders how Alan Partridge would react in certain situations. Do you ever inhabit Joey Tribbiani in the same way?
Well, Steve Coogan sounds like a f*cking lunatic [laughs]. So, in answer to your question: no, I don’t ever wonder what Joey would say. I know what I would say. But I’ll keep an eye on that, though. “What would Joey say?” Yes, he would eat that; yes, he would sleep with her. Joey was up for everything.
Where is he now, do you think?
Hopefully he’s happy. Making money as an actor somewhere in Hollywood – that’s where we left him. [Pauses] Yeah, that’s probably what he’s doing.
Episodes continues Mondays, 10pm on BBC Two. The Series 1-3 box set is released in summer
[Images: Eyevine, David Leven]