Matt LeBlanc shifts into a new ‘Gear’ on BBC America – USA TODAY

8 months ago Comments Off on Matt LeBlanc shifts into a new ‘Gear’ on BBC America – USA TODAY

Matt LeBlanc can shift into his new role as co-host of BBC America’s Top Gear  (Monday, 9 ET/PT) secure in the knowledge that no other Star in a Reasonably Priced Car will top his 2012 track record, which he still remembers, down to the tenth of a second. (“1:42.1,” he crows.)

But how can the longtime fan-turned-host be so sure?

“We’re changing the layout of the track to make it more exciting,” he tells USA TODAY from London, where he’s filming TG and the final season of Showtime’s Episodes.  But he stresses that they’re only adding to the race course the show uses for its celebrity lap times and power tests. Sacred corners like the one named for Harry Potter star Michael Gambon (who nearly rolled the economy-class hatchback piloted by all guests), will remain untouched.

TG, which uses humor and simple explanations to appeal to both serious auto enthusiasts and those who are utterly clueless about cars, has long been one of the BBC’s most popular and profitable franchises.  It’s returning after nearly a year away and a major cast shakeup following the departure of longtime hosts Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May. It now boasts all new faces aside from driving instructor/mascot the Stig, who always keeps his hidden under a helmet. LeBlanc and BBC radio personality Chris Evans pick up where the departed Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May left off.  “Chris is as funny as all three of them,” LeBlanc professes.

Unlike the old hosts, who appeared in every segment, LeBlanc and Evans won’t have to do all the heavy lifting. The new lineup also features a team of contributors including German race-car driver Sabine Schmitz, a frequent TG guest who’s put many a man to shame on her country’s famed Nürburgring circuit; veteran auto journalist and YouTube personality Chris Harris; Irish Formula One commentator Eddie Jordan; and the show’s first non-white on-air personality, Rory Reid, discovered during open auditions last year.

So how does LeBlanc, the first-ever American host, hope to make his mark? “I want to do my best to make it funnier. I like comedy; that’s what I do,” says the actor, who has seven Emmy nominations from Episodes and NBC’s Friends.  (He’s set to play a stay-at-home dad in CBS’ new sitcom Man With a Plan this fall.)

He also aims to make Top Gear more motorcycle-friendly. ”That’s one of my goals, to bring more two-wheeled action. There’s room within this car show for some bike stuff now and then.”

He and Evans have already filmed several of the show’s signature road trips, including jaunts to Ireland (featuring the Rolls Royce Dawn), South Africa (Porsche’s Macan SUV) and the beaches of England (the original Willy’s Jeep).  His favorite experience so far? “The one we did in Morocco with the (high-performance off-road buggy) Ariel Nomad was fantastic. I drove that thing for five days straight, all day, in the desert, down windy roads. I had a blast.”

LeBlanc also completed one Top Gear rite of passage: a public uproar.  In March, paparazzi photos made it look as though he and American rally driver Ken Block were doing burnouts close to London’s Cenotaph war memorial, upsetting veterans and disrupting a wedding. The wedding party was fake; “they were all extras paid by the show,” he explains. “We didn’t do anything that wasn’t agreed to. But it all spun out of control so fast … So I had to take one for the team.”

On a happier note, how has life in London changed the artist formerly known as Joey Tribbiani? “I eat a lot more fish and chips. I’ve learned to like running in the rain. And I wear my raincoat more than I ever have in my life.”

Matt LeBlanc shifts into a new ‘Gear’ on BBC America – USA TODAY

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