Joe Manganiello: Of wolf and man

By Michele Manelis

He's True Blood's leading wolfman and part of the Magic Mike show too but Joe Manganiello tells Michele Manelis his good looks actually got in the way of his acting career.

Joe Manganiello says the transition from werewolf to male stripper was an easy one. Photo / Supplied
Joe Manganiello says the transition from werewolf to male stripper was an easy one. Photo / Supplied

There's a running theme in the career of Joe Manganiello, True Blood's latest breakout star as alpha werewolf, Alcide Herveaux. The handsome actor can also be seen on the big screen in Magic Mike, bumping and grinding as an exotic dancer alongside Channing Tatum and Matthew McConaughey. Apparently, this theatre-trained thespian is finding it difficult to keep his clothes on for the cameras.

"My day job is being naked as a hairless werewolf so when I took on the role of Big Dick Richie in Magic Mike, it didn't present any grooming challenges. I have to keep fit for Alcide, so the transition to male stripper was an easy one for me."

It may appear as though he's sprung from nowhere, however, the 35-year-old beefcake, standing at 1.96 metres, has been working consistently for the last decade. He was most recently in seen in the mediocre-at-best ensemble What to Expect When You're Expecting.

Despite his obvious physical attributes, the Pennsylvania-born actor completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in acting at the Carnegie Mellon School of Drama.

He then landed a small role in 2002's Spider-Man. That was straight out of school," he says. "I cobbled together a career as a kind of journeyman, doing guests spots on shows like ER, How I Met Your Mother, and One Tree Hill. Then True Blood hit and everything changed."

Manganiello had planned on a football career but after a series of sports injuries he turned to acting.

"My acting career didn't really start until I was around 30. In my 20s I was this kind of man-boy. I was this big guy who looked really young," he says. "I couldn't compete with the leading men until a few years ago."

To support his income, Manganiello took the usual route of odd jobs. He was employed as a bodyguard for rapper-actor Tyrese, as well as taking on a job as a roadie for US rock band Goldfinger, with whom he travelled the world.

"Back then, I'd be on a lot of TV shows but I'd always be begging people, 'Hey, please watch my show!"' he recalls.

Nowadays, things couldn't be more different - he now needs his own bodyguard.

"Well, it's not like I can hide. I stick out in a crowd. I'm this giant guy with a beard and long hair. Even if I wear a hat, there's the beard. People point and go, 'It's that guy. It's the werewolf!' It's pretty wild and crazy. True Blood fans are all over the world and a lot of them are very... passionate," he laughs.

"People will come up to me and ask me to lick them. In fact, I get guys who want their wives to sit on my lap so they can take a picture. But for me, I just go, 'Come on, man. That's weird'."

In the current season there are stirrings of romance with Anna Paquin's Sookie, however, he's not able to divulge any storylines.

"When I think about Alcide from Season 3 to where he is now, there's a real thrill in seeing how he's developed," he says. "I definitely think cable TV is better than 99 per cent of the movies that are made. And they say, it's not TV, it's HBO, don't they?" he smiles.

In his personal life, he was engaged to model-actress Audra Marie from October 2010 for 12 months, but nowadays, he's single and seems to lead a relatively low-key existence.

Interestingly, he says that due to his size, he often felt like an outsider in his formative years.

"I was always bigger than the other kids and I think also very sensitive, almost to a fault, because I grew up so big. I could have been out there beating kids up and stealing their lunch money, but I wasn't. I didn't want to hurt anyone. I would actually get picked on by kids that were smaller than me and I'd come home upset," he recalls.

"My father, who is extremely tough, probably the toughest man I've ever met in my life, would see his giant sensitive kid come home crying from school, upset from being picked on. It made him crazy. He told me, 'You go into that school the next day and you knock that kid out.' He actually taught me to fight these kids, but it was against my nature."

As a result, Manganiello says he suffered from loneliness.

"I always understood characters like Frankenstein, the idea of fighting with nature and fighting against their strength. I think it's also what Alcide wrestles with a lot on the show, too."

It sounds a little like many Hollywood actresses who will tell you they were unattractive growing up, and most of whom appear a little disingenuous in their attempts at modesty. However, he insists.

"Seriously, girls never liked me at school. I was an ugly duckling. I had Coke bottle glasses; I had big ears that stuck out. In fact, my parents had to grow my hair out so that it covered these big ears that stuck out. I was a misfit growing up. Girls really didn't pay attention to me until later on," he says. "I guess I was a late bloomer."

With Magic Mike doing well at the box office and the True Blood ratings holding steady, he's definitely making up for lost time.

Putting his theatrically trained chops to use, next up he'll keep his clothes on for a change. "I'm going to do a play reading of Tennessee Williams' Small Craft Warnings with William H Macy. And then I'm shooting a movie called Tumble Down with Rose Byrne and Jason Sudeikis."

His good fortune is not lost on him.

"In this business it's important to get back up after you've been knocked down. It's not uncommon to see people that wind up being jaded and miserable from the time they get up until they go to sleep. And some of these people are hugely successful," he says.

"I always swore I was never going to be that guy. I wake up screaming, 'I love my life,' every morning. I really do just love it. I am so happy, so lucky, everything I get to be a part of I give 110 per cent.

"I show up and I hit it as hard as I can and take what I can get. I'm very grateful my life has gone this way."

Who: Joe Manganiello
What: Magic Mike and True Blood
When: Magic Mike is at cinemas now. True Blood returns to Prime, Thursdays, 9.30pm post-Olympics.

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