Perhaps best known for the supernatural-silly-sexy antics of HBO’s “True Blood,” actor Joe Manganiello is one of the many secret weapons in the cast of Steven Soderbergh’s “Magic Mike.” Manganiello plays a male dancer with the stage name “Big D**k Richie,” who provides the film with a healthy injection of comedy and carnality. We spoke in Los Angeles about commitment, club life and how classical theater training prepares you for the male club dancing.
MSN Movies: The metaphor that I kept hearing during interviewing the other cast and Mr. Soderbergh was “one hundred and ten percent commitment from the jump.” At the same time, there had to be that moment of walking up to the edge and going, “It looks kind of far down there … ” or “I’m not sure how deep the water is.” Did you have any hesitancy with this whatsoever?
Joe Manganiello: Well, I’ll say this, you get a script about male strippers and then you raise an eyebrow. Then you realize it’s Steven Soderbergh shooting it, and the eyebrow goes back down. I think the only trepidation I had was just that thought that came into my head about, you know, there’s such a big deal made about me having my shirt off on “True Blood.” I’m going to do a male stripper movie now. Could this somehow be piled up and used against me? And then you go, “It’s Steven Soderbergh, man. Come on.”
Used against you how, in a court of abs?
Well, I think there are people that think that because you are athletic or you are fit, therefore you are dumb or untrained or that’s how you get roles or whatever all that stuff is. I think you can be athletic and intellectual at the same time. A lot of people are like that. With that said, when you sign on to play a character named Big D**k Richie and you look: Okay, penis pump, fireman suit, shadow routine, gold statue … you go, “If there is a cliff edge, I ain’t looking down. You just run.” You jump off that thing.
If it’s not Steven Soderbergh, the nightmare is it becomes the male version of “Coyote Ugly.”
Sure, or “Showgirls” or whatever all these projects are, but it’s not. I don’t want to say “Boogie Nights,” but I certainly think Matthew McConaughey is going to get nominated for a bunch of awards. I think it’s a great film that Steven made, and further more I think it’s a great ensemble piece with the rest of the guys.
When I was watching, this I kept I thinking about “The Girlfriend Experience,” which is ostensibly a really hot sexy movie that winds up being about being a freelancer in a tanking economy. This has the fun and it has the dancing, but it has things about equity, making cash money in a business where you can age out of it really fast, and then, at the end of it, you’re oily with a bad back.
Yeah, but I think to me it’s also about club life as well. I started working at clubs when I was sixteen, which isyoung. I would not want my kid doing that, but I did, and that’s how it went. I got an education, a social education out of those years. You can get sucked in by the money. You can get sucked in by the lifestyle and the shininess of it, the immediacy of it without any thought for the long term. This movie is really about lost boys. Kevin Nash is “one of the guys” who has a wife and is in his fifties. He’s not even a club owner; he’s still one of the guys dancing. It’s like he’s a human chemistry set. He’s the Keith Richards of male strippers. He’s going to overdose every other day. He’s in it. Where else does that guy go?
There’s the whole interesting thing with Matthew McConaughey’s character, who has clearly gone from labor to management.
Yeah, he somehow moved up the ladder. So, in a way, that’s more excusable, but the fact is you’re still in that world and you’re still that guy. I think that the trick of club life is you can go in, wake up ten years later, and have nothing to show for it.
How much effort went into choreographing the sequences, and did the effort at any point stop and people say, “Okay, this can’t be too good?”
Well the choreography was fantastic. Alison Faulk and Teresa Espinosa, they killed it. The dance sequences are our Transformers. They’re our high concept scenes. With that said, male strippers are not ballet dancers, and it’s not supposed to look — the grimier the better, really. It’s not about us being perfectly in unison. I think even the takes even Steven shows — what it looks like from the finished copy (is that) he took the takes where maybe we were out of step a little bit. He took the takes on the end of the spectrum that were towards the sloppier.
You worked on “True Blood,” which I know, it’s not TV, it’s HBO, but it is a production level remarkably like TV, so I’m sure it’s swift and a lot of set ups.
No. It’s fifteen days for one episode. The finale we’re shooting is a twenty-day shoot, which is a one-month shoot for one hour, which is similar to film.
So, as much time as you had for “Magic Mike,” you’re getting ready for the finale? Was it very interesting seeing Mr. Soderbergh’s techniques as opposed to other film directors? Did it just feel swift?
Yeah. Once we started filming, yes, it did. His style is unique, because he is his own cameraman. You get there and you might hang out for an hour. You might hang out for two hours while he’s figuring out what he wants to shoot, but once he starts shooting, you’re done in two takes. It’s a different way. “True Blood,” you get there, you go, we’ve got to move, we’ve got to shoot this, we’ve got to get through that. There’s a million different characters that have a million different coverages. Steven doesn’t shoot all those coverages. On “True Blood,” they shoot every piece of coverage.
What I also found very interesting was outside of the guys …. we see the impotent frat guys for the one dance sequence, we see Olivia Munn’s fiancé. We don’t see a lot of men outside of the core group of guys. Was that the intention to create a sealed community in this testosterone swamp, this bro-pocalypse of self-reinforced male behavior?
To me, it felt like “Animal House.” You’re inside Delta Delta Delta. There was a feeling of that. I think that is one purpose. I think that serves the story in that when he does leave, who does he know other than Cody’s character? There’s no world outside of this, and I think that’s really what club life is. You know those people, and who else do you know outside of that? “I don’t know anybody else who has a real job …”
You know those people in part because it’s pretty much guaranteed they’ll never ask you, “What the hell are you doing?”
Yeah. But if you were ever in trouble, where are those people going to be? I think that’s kind of where it gets to, too. If you’re buying the drinks everyone is your friend, and as soon as you’re not, they scatter like roaches when you turn the lights on. I mean, that’s clubs.
The first shot where we see you, you’re sitting at a sewing machine fixing up the trimming on a thong. You’ve got these reading glasses. How much of that stuff do you get to pick?
All of it.
All of it?
Actually, they had the sewing machine. They said, “Okay, you’re going to sew a thong.” I said, “Okay, good,” then I started thinking. I have friends that are clothing designers, and I go downtown, and there are these weird a** old recently gentrified buildings, these loft spaces that are literally sweatshops. There are little dogs pissing on the floor. It’s just really grimy and weird. Everybody always had a cigarette hanging out of the side of their mouth, and had these glasses on with a bandana, and I thought. “This is it. This is my ode to a Korean sweatshop, downtown.” I was like, this is the sweatshop scene. We’re going for it. I rarely wear my glasses, because my eyesight is so horrible, that I thought it was going to be fun to bring out the glasses, and that was it.
I had a chance to talk to Mr. Soderbergh, and the one thing I talked about was the name of the club, ‘Xquisite,’ with no ‘E,’ and the ugly decor and all of the bad dance music. Is that disposability part of the weird toxicity of the cultural accoutrements of the world of stripping? Is that fun to play with, like the outfits, the tear-away clothing?
Yeah. You’re wearing like a sleeveless hoodie sweatshirt, which is the most useful article of clothing. Who the hell wears those?
It would let out the heat from your arms, right?
It makes no sense. The worst fashion statement ever. I think there’s a lot of that. I think McConaughey searched high and low for his little leather hat and his yellow halter-top. These guys are Tampa male strippers. We’re not talking Milan runway (models) here.
That was another interesting thing; Miami is mentioned in the film the same way Moscow is in “The Three Sisters.” It’s that shining city on a hill you can never quite get to, “We have to get to Miami.”
Matt Bomer and I went to Carnegie Mellon for drama together. We talked about that. We were like, “‘Three Sisters’ has really prepared us for where we are.”
You did go to Carnegie Mellon with Mr. Bomer. Was the re-introduction at the table read, or more awkwardly, on-set, in thongs?
No, Matt and I stayed in touch all through the years. Matt came to my Mom’s house for Thanksgiving. When you go to a school as small as ours, I think there were twenty-one of us that graduated, and out of those twenty-one, there’s four of us that make a living as actors still … you see each other. You stay in touch. Matt was my first call when I got the offer, because I heard Matt was getting an offer that day too. I called Matt, and I was like “Dude, are you going to do the stripper movie?” and he was like, “I don’t know, are you?” I was like, “I don’t know; are you going to get waxed?” He was like “Yeah, I guess.” So we had that conversation. We were in it. We were thick as thieves right from the start. It was fun having him there, because its just fun to come so far with somebody, and of course to go from Chekov to Xquisite.
I believe, as Chekov said, “When you have a penis pump on the wall in the first act, it has to be used by the third.”
Yes, you have to use it. If you’re sewing a gold thong (in the first act, by the) third act that thong needs to come up.
I believe I read somewhere that there was some prosthetic work involved. When you’re dealing with that kind of effects in some very intimate circumstances, how much of a pause does it give you to “Let’s apply a large amount of latex to my body?”
There was not a prosthetic? You refuse to say?
I’m having too much fun with the curiosity.
I’m more curious about how you get a silhouette of a penis pump being used in a film without making it NC-17.
We did it …
What was the one thing you were most amazed to get away with? You, as an actor?
As an actor, probably when I was painted head to toe in gold. Steven left the music going, so we had only choreographed up to a certain point, and I got to that point and he didn’t yell ‘Cut,’ and the music kept going, so there was a group of two hundred women in that room, and I tried to maul every single one of them. I was throwing tables out of the way. It was like this kind of Dionysian bizarre orgiastic festival starring this crazy gold Greek statue. He left the music going for like five minutes, and there is just footage on the floor somewhere of me going berserk. It’s something else …
(‘Magic Mike’ is in theaters …)