When meeting actor Joe Manganiello, any reaction less than, say, awe would probably be insufficient. Unlike most celebrities, who in person do not often resemble their 40-foot visages, the 6’5” rugged former athlete and Carnegie Mellon-schooled drama grad is the personification of a god, towering physique surely carved from the base of Mount Olympus. Okay, that’s a bit much, but the frequently shirtless True Blood werewolf, currently on the big screen in What to Expect When You’re Expecting and Magic Mike (where he stars as a character with a name I’m not sure is fit for print) is having a banner year. Did I mention that he’s also a terrific actor?
I sat down with Joe recently to discuss Magic Mike and his thoughts on acting—his first and only career choice. Fortunately for us, “there was no plan B,” and it looks like we’ll have to put up with Joe Manganiello indefinitely. Life is tough.
This must be a great time for you with this film opening.
Yeah, with this movie and True Blood coming back.
Have your True Blood cast mates seen Magic Mike yet?
No, they haven’t, but they are very, very curious and they let me know that every day at work! They point at me and do body rolls or hump pieces of furniture—stuff like that. We have a good time on the set! They are not going to let me get away with doing a male stripper movie and not say anything about it.
Tell me about working with Steven Soderbergh.
First of all, he is a really smart and very funny guy. I think the movie reflects that. I think it is hysterically funny for the first forty minutes and then it gets kind of dark and artistic, and I think that is really indicative of Steve’s personality. He is very present and open and because he is his own cameraman, it allows him this level of improvisation that trickled down to the rest of us. He pictures the movie in his head. So while he was setting up a shot, if he saw us doing something more interesting then he would just shoot that. So a lot of the movie, especially the locker room stuff, was us just screwing around and having fun while he was waiting to set up the shot. He would say, “Do that! Let’s shoot that.”
So you can’t have any insecurity or vanity performing in this movie at all, it would seem. You just have to get out there. Tell me about the first time you hit the stage.
We did a group routine first, which was It’s Raining Men. So we shot that group one first and then broke off into the individual routines. And my first individual routine was the silhouette, which is pretty intricate, even as to how many steps down the stage, behind the screen had to be measured; the briefcase down, the jacket off, the tear-away shirt and pants…
It was choreographed to that degree?
To that degree, yes, and everything had to land at the right time and the jacket had to come off and the pants. I would split the pants with my leg in them, too early. So there’s a bit of it where you are in your head trying to make sure that it all lands at the right time. Then you get done with that run-through and you want to get right back out there.
Any trepidation the first time?
No, other than just trying to do the choreographers and routines justice—that was it. But I run around naked in broad daylight growling in the woods in my day job, so True Blood was a good prep for this. Even in drama school, I was no stranger to some really “out there” parts and stuff.
You did some at Carnegie Mellon?
Oh, yeah. Not at Carnegie Mellon, but I did a play off-Broadway where there was full frontal when I was in college. And we had a drama project in our junior year where you have a half hour to represent your life. And I started it out with this crazy, heavy metal song blaring with the lights off. And then the lights come on and I am naked in The Terminator pose. And then I went into this whole Silence of the Lambs weird- I don’t want to say interpretive dance, but…
Do you have that on video?
No! Nobody was allowed to bring a camera. It was one time only and I was there, shaving my head and pulling my teeth out and doing stuff like that. So I really feel like I am finally back in the pocket as far as career goes.
How do you feel about your career right now?
I couldn’t have pictured (laughs)… I am thrilled. I am having the time of my life. I am having more fun than I ever could have imagined having. I also think it’s the perfect storm of Magic Mike and season five of True Blood both hitting at the same time, being on such a hot show and part of a hot movie at the same time.
You sound genuinely surprised. Did you have faith at Carnegie Mellon that this would happen?
I think as a young actor you certainly hope that the big career will happen, but in my wildest dreams I don’t think I could have pictured it happening this way. The part of Alcide on True Blood is such a dream come true on so many levels. It is almost serendipitous in ways that viewers don’t even know, about my life. I work with Alan Ball, who has an Oscar, every day. I work with Anna Paquin, who has an Oscar, every day. I worked with Steven Soderbergh. I am getting to work with them on some of the most fun material ever created. So getting able to be that- hell, that is exactly what I hoped to do as a young actor. I am just over the moon at the fact that I get to do it.
In thinking about stripping and women, we always hear about objectification. Is it the same thing with men or no?
I don’t think men care. Who cares? Objectify me! Great! I mean all of the questions about this movie, like “How do you think this will affect your dating life?” It’s fun! Bring it on! I spent the first half of my career- Matt Bomer and I were in classical theater school working on Ibsen and Shaw and Chekov and Shakespeare and ancient Greek. That is not going anywhere. I don’t have anything to prove. Matt was the first call I made when I got the part. When I got the offer I knew he also had one and I was like, “Are you going to do this male stripper movie?” He said, “Hell, yeah!” We laughed. I don’t think guys care. Women aren’t physically threatening to men, so there is a level of- if you look at it the other way and go to a female strip club, it’s serious. There is security everywhere. And then you get that archetypical serial killer guy sitting in the corner…
In the raincoat.
…in the raincoat with no pants on! You get that weirdo. But at a male strip club, the men are running the show.
It’s a party, in other words.
It’s a party. Who cares? Grab the guys! Grab them! Let’s to parking lot. Let’s go backstage. Let’s go under the table. It’s a free-for-all. The women are screaming and grabbing. And the costumes are ridiculous—police officers and firemen. It’s funny and to be laughed at. And I think the real difference and the thing about male sexuality is that when you are trying to be sexual you are not! So you just go the other way with it.
What’s your plan for your career? Do you think of it schematically, like “Soderbergh is a great step for me. Now, what next?”
I have had a plan since day one. With that said, you have to accept what you get. There was a period in my career where I thought the dream was over and that I was never going to work again. But I know exactly what I want to do. I have always known. It was just a matter of being in a position to get to the next step. Now that I am having the kind of moment and summer than an actor can only dream about having, it is now time to put those things into motion for the future. I’m definitely not some prisoner of the moment. There was a plan that if I could get to this point then I could do other stuff. And that is what I am trying to do right now.
If acting had not worked out, what was your plan B?
There was no plan B. There never was. No idea. Law enforcement maybe. FBI. I think I have a penchant for justice that was passed down from my father, so maybe bringing people to justice at a high level.
What do you love about acting?
I love how much of my personality gets satiated through it. The athlete is fulfilled, the philosopher is fulfilled, the psychologist, the historian. I love research, reading and learning. So all of that—the whole mental aspect. I also think the whole spiritual side of it, the energetic side in the Chinese sense. There is an energy exchange that goes on with an audience that is kind of like a metaphysical thing that happens. It’s a Jungian energy thing, and that is fascinating to me as well. But at its base level it’s a study of people. And I think experiencing life and using those experiences to take people on a ride. I could say all of this highbrow stuff, but at the end of the day acting is kind of like S&M. Somebody pays you, you put a collar around their neck, drag them around and then they thank you for it afterwards (laughs). There’s something fun about that.
Speaking of, a colleague has asked me to ask you if you would consider playing Christian Grey in the film adaptation of 50 Shades of Grey.
I mean, I don’t know when they are going to make it. But shit, if they—and I don’t know who they are at this point—but I certainly wouldn’t be shy about it.
What is the best part about your job?
The best part about my job? Probably the stories, to be honest with you. I mean, there are a lot of perks to successful career in entertainment. But being in a room with Matthew McConaughey, Kevin Nash, Channing Tatum, reconnecting with Matt Bomer and even Steven. And all of us have traveled the world and been in close contact with some of the most extraordinary people on the planet. You accumulate all of these stories and then you wind up in the same room over two months and you get bored and start telling stories, and you are hearing the craziest things from the guys, each of whom could write a novel. At the end of the day the other stuff goes away, but someday, Bomer and me are going to be eighty years old, sitting at a coffee talking about this. I think that is the stuff you take with you—that experiences.