Interview: Magic Mike Co-star Joe Manganiello

Folks across multiple movie-going demographics are going to be pleasantly surprised by Magic Mike, starring Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, and Matthew McConaughey, and directed by Steven Soderbergh.

Based on his own real-life experiences as a male dancer, the film follows Tatum’s Mike, a popular Tampa Bay stripper trying to figure out where to go with his life while juggling his responsibility for having drawn Pettyfer’s Adam into his world and pursuing romance with Adam’s no-nonsense sister Brooke (Cody Horn).

Straight ladies and gay men drawn by the film’s marketing campaign of gyrating pecs, abs, and glutes will get plenty of entertaining “It’s Raining Men” titillation on the screen, but will also find a solidly told R-rated film that has more in common with the gritty realism of Saturday Night Fever and Boogie Nights than the fairytale pop of Flashdance and Footloose.

Likewise, straight men who skip Magic Mike out of fear for their hetero manhood will miss out on a terrific guy movie about guys pursuing those timeless pinnacles of guy ambition: sex, money, and power. Meanwhile, those of us who’d watch a Steven Soderbergh film about competitive quilting will find this one of his better works—an enjoyable high-brow subversion and celebration of the “Show Biz Dreams” genre.

Last week I spoke with both Channing Tatum and his Magic Mike co-star Joe Manganiello about making the male stripper movie. Tatum’s interview will follow later this evening, but up first is Manganiello, best known as the hunky werewolf Alcide Herveaux on HBO’s sexy vampire series True Blood.

I sat down one-on-one with Manganiello in Chicago to talk about his character Big Dick Richie, the lure of the stripper stage, and how a classically trained actor such as himself feels about having his shirt off most of the time.

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Magic Mike opens everywhere tomorrow, June 29.

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Tell us about Big Dick Richie. Did you create a back story for him?

Joe Manganiello: Yeah, he’s a baseball player who never really fulfilled his potential due to some substance abuse issues, and he ended up out of the league in Tampa Bay, Florida. So stripping seemed to him like a good way to make money, and there he is. He’s not a guy with aspirations, he’s not looking to go back to law school—he’s a party guy, and that’s what he does.

He’s probably going to be 50 years old and still in that club, if he’s not dead or in rehab. He’s not thinking about the future, and there’s a fun to that, but you also know that there’s going to be problems for that guy down the line. Richie’s not a master at body chemistry, and it’s nothing but a good time until the drugs wear you down, and the night life wears you down, and then you’re kind of left with a mess.

Did you have any hesitations about the role when you got the script?

Manganiello: There were so many “pros” to it. The character was so much fun–they were handing me these scene-stealing moments, whether it was being covered in gold body paint or doing the classic fireman routine, or the penis pump. I just thought, man you can’t go wrong, these are home runs. Also working with Steven Soderburgh being attached and McConaughey and my old friend Matt Bomer.

The only “con” was it seems like there’s been a lot of attention to the fact that I run around naked in the woods growling at people on my TV show, so there was a question about all that type casting crap that people put in your head. “Am I ever going to wear a shirt again?” Who cares? I spent the first half of my career doing classical theater–Shakespeare, Ibsen, Chekhov, Shaw–and that’s not going anywhere, so let’s go have some fun. And that’s the point of the whole movie: fun.

What was the atmosphere like on the shoot with a bunch of male actors in such a macho-charged setting?

Manganiello: We happened to be a group of guys that worked really well together. Channing even said at one point, “If I got to work with you all, I never would have stopped doing this.” But that said, in doing my research and hanging out with guys that do this for real, they said in real male stripper revues there were fights all the time between the performers. Guys wearing thongs and patent leather boots literally beating the shit out of each other backstage and then going back to work. There’s an element of pro wrestling to it—these guys’ personalities are larger than life.

Did you find yourself going into a different zone when performing your routines on stage?

Manganiello: Yep, you come off the stage thinking, “What did I just do? Could I be arrested for that?” It’s definitely an out-of body-experience. I always say acting gets really fun when you’re doing something that could get you put in prison for the rest of your life.

What’s funny is that at first we all thought that we were just making this little indie movie with Soderbregh, but then it got bought by Warner Brothers, and we knew it was going to come out as a big summer movie. That’s when it finally dawned on me, I’m man-handling this group of women–because that’s what’s in the script–and now it’s going to be seen by this huge audience. You think, “Oh my god, what are my parents going to see, what are my kids going to dig up on the Internet some day?” But it really doesn’t matter–I had the time of my life.

Did you guys have any creative input into the dance routines?

Manganiello: Yeah, we did, and there were a whole bunch of routines that we came up with that we swore if we did another movie those would be in there for sure. I came up with a Thor theme where I’d have Thor’s hammer and a Viking helmet and then I’d have one of those things form a science fair that generates electricity. There was even a vampire theme somebody came up with.

This was your first film with Steven Soderbergh. What’s the difference on the set in terms of how he deals with actors and how he runs the shoot?

Manganiello: He has such a unique style–because he’s his own cameraman it allows him to be more open and bendable in the moment. If he sees something that is more interesting that what we were just going to shoot, he’ll shoot that. He doesn’t have to translate it to anybody. If during a set up he sees us goofing off telling some funny story, he’ll say, “Okay, tell that story on screen.” He’s an improvisational film maker, and it gives the movie a certain energy.

You mentioned your background in classical theater—do you ever want to get back to doing some of that?

Manganiello: I used to get to do a play every year until True Blood came along, and then I got busy with other stuff, movies mainly. But yeah, eventually I definitely want to get back to the stage, and I’m sure I will. But movies were always the goal for me. Alan Ball called True Blood popcorn for smart people–very digestible but very intelligent at the same time. I think you can have a lot of fun–you know, screaming, laughing jumping out of your seat fun–and have the work appeals to an art-house crowd as well. My first job was with Sam Raimi on Spider-Man [as Flash Thompson], then True Blood with Alan and Anna Paquin, and now I’m working with Soderbergh. So hell, working with brilliant, genius Oscar winners, that’s the goal! I just want it to keep on.

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And finally, a Special Bonus True Blood Question from my teenage niece Sydney, who’s a huge fan: She wants to know who’s your favorite actor to work with on the show?

Manganiello: My favorite’s Anna. I love stuff with Anna Paquin, and I think both we and our characters have such an interesting dynamic with each other. And it’s just visually a good combination: You have this big strong guy with a really sensitive side to him and this spunky little blonde girl who’s dragging him into trouble all the time.

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Stay tuned for my interview with Channing Tatum later tonight.

 

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“While all the other arts were born naked, [film], the youngest, has been born fully-clothed. It can say everything before it has anything to say. It is as if the savage tribe, instead of finding two bars of iron to play with, had found scattering the seashore fiddles, flutes, saxophones, trumpets, grand pianos by Erhard and Bechstein, and had begun with incredible energy, but without knowing a note of music, to hammer and thump upon them all at the same time.”

--Virginia Woolf
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