Joe Manganiello: Master Of His Own Game
Joe Manganiello is quite literally the biggest nerd in the world. But his massive frame hides a sensitive and artistic personality, with far-ranging interests that span graphic novels, role-playing games, hockey, fitness, theatre and small cute dogs.
Never judge a book by its cover,” the saying goes. It could not be more relevant to the case of one Joe Manganiello. Born in Pittsburgh, 45 years ago, Manganiello casts a massive figure with his 6-5 frame. He was the captain of three sports teams in high school (football, basketball and volleyball), he’s had part-time jobs as a bouncer and a bodyguard and he’s been on the cover of numerous fitness magazines. He’s a hockey fan (don’t get him started on Mario Lemieux), works out diligently and has published a fitness book called Evolution, with the foreword by his idol, Arnold Schwarzenegger. But forget you just read this. Forget his fantastic performances as a werewolf in five seasons of the HBO series True Blood and as a male stripper in Magic Mike, the latter of which earned him legions of adoring fans. Forget all this, because Joe Manganiello is first and foremost a nerd — both a theatre nerd (he studied acting at the prestigious Carnegie Mellon University) and an actual, real nerd. He wasn’t playing a part when he guested on the hit TV show The Big Bang Theory as a Dungeons & Dragons aficionado. No, that’s the real him. He’s been running celebrity Dungeons & Dragon games for years now every Friday night (Vince Vaughn and Tom Morello are part of it) and he’s now the show-runner on an upcoming Dungeons & Dragons–related show. But he’s also writing a graphic novel, developing a new technology for a broad range of games, directing documentaries and writing another TV show. He’s still doing movies, though, with an important role in the upcoming film Metal Lords.
Beyond his love of role-playing games, Manganiello is a thoughtful person who doesn’t hesitate to poke fun at himself and the movie industry’s fascination with celebrity. He looks at things from a broad perspective and says he’ll try anything that pushes him beyond his limits. The son of a father of Italian descent and a mother with Croatian, German and Armenian roots, he exudes Midwestern charm, like Brad Pitt and Jon Hamm, but does Transcendental Meditation. Married to actress Sofia Vergara, he dreams about living in Italy and relaxing far away from the pressure of Hollywood. He’s a kind of stealth renaissance man, but completely aware of contemporary culture. We had to fly out to the posh neighbourhood of Bel Air, in Los Angeles, to discover more about this multi-dimensional talent and meet his cute chihuahua, Bubbles. Manganiello arrived right on time and was funny and easy to work with. But, don’t ever try to separate him from his puppy.
Q: We hear you’re a hockey superfan. And we, as Canadians, have a big connection to you because of your love for hockey and for your recent narration of the audio documentary Sidney Crosby: The Rookie Year. Tell me about that.
A: Over the past few years, I’ve had the great fortune of being involved with some really great hockey documentaries. I come from Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is a hockey town because of Mario Lemieux, a Canadian. He really changed the culture there, and because we won Stanley Cups, Pittsburgh became a hockey town. Lemieux retires, the team goes bankrupt and they start taking the team away from Pittsburgh. That year, the NHL had a lockout, which even further hurt the league and Pittsburgh because they couldn’t pull in attendance revenues. We wound up winning the draft that year, No. 1 pick, and it wasn’t any old draft, it was the Sidney Crosby sweepstake. So, all of a sudden, this generational talent à la Lemieux is going to be available through the draft, and we were going to have the No. 1 pick, and he wound up saving the franchise. He and Lemieux kept the team in Pittsburgh. It was such an incredible honour to be a part of that and tell the story of Sidney’s rookie season. He’s such a great guy. I’ve gotten to know him really well over the years, but I don’t think I would’ve gotten that job had I not been the narrator for the history of the Pittsburgh Penguins. There’s a 50-year documentary of the first 50 years of the team, and I narrated it, and our team actually won the Mid-Atlantic Emmy Awards for it. So, I actually have an Emmy on my shelf for narrating this Penguin documentary that was such a pleasure to do. It just goes to show you that every once in a while, you get one of those jobs you just love, that does really well, that people love and, in turn, I love talking about it.
Q: What was it like growing up in Pittsburgh?
A: I love Pittsburgh. I love it with all my heart. I miss it so much. It was so great; it was like the ideal best place to raise a kid. The town I grew up in, Mt. Lebanon, especially the high school, was incredible.
My mother would leave the keys in the car at night, leave the door unlocked; there just wasn’t crime. Kids would leave with their bike in the morning and wouldn’t come home until night. It was kind of like Stranger Things without all the monsters and craziness. It was a really idyllic childhood, where anything I wanted to do, I could do, Anything I could come up with. The high school had some sort of club. I made my own films when I was a kid, and that’s how I got into acting, through making my own movies. I wouldn’t have been able to do that somewhere else at that time, unless I had the equipment, and so I’m so lucky to have had that. I also was a captain of three sports teams, I was on the honour roll. I did well on the SATs, I was in the theatre club, I made my own movies. I was always busy.
I was always an artist; I knew that there was always something in me beyond sports, there was another side to me. If I went to college for sports, it was always going to be to get into a better school. I just wasn’t looking to pursue a career in professional sports or even collegiate [level]. I wanted to get in quickly to what I was going to do for the rest of my life, and when I really looked at what was realistic for me, I really just thought, I could do this. I made enough of my own movies, like I said, that my friends kind of nudged me in that direction, like, “You can do this.” And it was enough to satiate the artist in me, but not enough. So, that’s why I wound up 10 years ago, I turned back to producing. I turned back to writing; I turned back to all the stuff that really excited me when I was younger. I’ve kind of come full circle in a way.
Q: What does your acting process look like?
A: My process is very much like the process which you brought up like with True Blood for all roles, which is, you know, for acting, for me is, I’m capable of anything. So, what do I have inside of me that understands that person, that character, and then what do I need to go and experience? And what I need to experience is what becomes my research, is what becomes my work. So, if I’m playing a guy who transforms into a wolf, then I’m going to spend a lot of time with a wolf and wolf-handlers and wolf experts. You’re digesting all of this material and you’re throwing it in this big gumbo pot as you’re working toward actually performing. And then, of course, chopping up the scenes and character arcs in the way that it works with your text. It’s a multilayered process, and at different times, you kind of call on different things. Like for True Blood, I’m going to go hang out with wolves. But on another role, I may be learning to use a katana and cutting bamboo — it just depends what you do for a role.
Q: Arnold Schwarzenegger is one of your childhood idols, and eventually, you had the opportunity to work with him in David Ayer’s Sabotage, as well as have him write the foreword to your book, Evolution. If you had to write another book, what would it be about?
A: Not about working out, because I’ve already said everything that I need to say. I think every person in entertainment thinks about the day where they don’t need the business anymore and they could just say everything they want to about everybody. But when that time is, I have no idea. I don’t know that there will ever be an appropriate time to do that. But, oh boy, I know everybody thinks their life should be a reality show or on television. But let me tell you something: I’ve seen stuff that people would like to read about.
I am developing a TV show as a show-runner, based on my favourite series of books growing up. So, there’s that, and there’s so much of me in all of those characters that I’m writing. I’m also writing a graphic novel that’s in the greenlight process, and there’s stuff snuck in there. That’s what’s fun — you get to kind of stand up there completely naked, and people don’t even, don’t necessarily, know what’s you and what’s not.
Q: I saw that you practise Transcendental Meditation (TM). What are some of your wellness routines that are essential to your well-being?
A: I’ll try anything, really. I’ve been doing TM for probably 19 years or something like that, a long time. It’s changed me in a lot of great ways. As far as wellness, I also do acupuncture, Chinese acupuncture, and I do like training. I like working out. I’m not one of these actors who hates it or is forced to do it, or people have to tell you to do it. I just enjoy it. I like discipline, self-mastery. I like pushing myself and I think all of that is applicable to life.
“It’s a multilayered process [acting], and at different Times, you kind of call on Different things”
I actually want to do Wim Hof, which is breathing in super-cold temperatures. So, I’m looking into that, but I just take on something new every once in a while. I mean, getting a tattoo is hard core. There are some fun tests you can put yourself through, and I’m always excited. Skydiving, swimming with sharks — yeah, I’ll do whatever. I do it all.
Q: You are married to the beautiful Sofia Vergara. Your love story is unlike any other and quite romantic. Can you share what the secret is to your relationship?
A: Good communication. You got to be able to talk to each other, and I think just letting the other person just have their stuff. However they want to feel about something, they’re allowed to feel that way. I think if you can just let other people just be who they are, I think that’s a really good one. It’s sometimes hard to do. I think that good communication and being fully developed separate people who then just enjoy the time together — I think has been the real key.
“I’ve been doing TM for Probably 19 years or Something like that, a Long time. It’s changed me In a lot of great ways”
Q: What does it mean to be a Dungeon Master? Can you tell me what you love about Dungeons & Dragons, and how it relates to what you do today?
A: Yeah, I mean, Dungeons & Dragons, for kids like me, was long-form narrative storytelling. So obviously, we had the regular channels on TV, but cable as it’s seen now with The Sopranos, Rome, The Wire, Sex and the City. You name it: True Blood, Game of Thrones — those didn’t exist in that form. But for us kids, it did. We were learning to tell really exciting stories, and for me, I was writing stories, and my friends would play the characters. All that became applicable to my career, and there’s so many of my generation.
I bumped into Jon Favreau at a party, and we were talking about how he used to play as a kid and how The Mandalorian is just me Dungeon-mastering. Dan and Dave, from Game of Thrones, they’re in my group. They made a dragon show because when they were kids, they played a dragon game. For all of us, it was interchangeable. James Gunn, he’s another one, he would come and play at my house. And even Vince Vaughn, as an actor, it’s character development. So to kind of get back into the fold, especially as an adult, to be able to write for Dungeons & Dragons, and to be able to work with them, and, yes, like you said, to eventually develop a property as a show-runner, it’s what I did every Friday night as a kid. And then as an adult, so it was just picking it back up as an adult.
Q: Can you tell me why it’s important for you to give back? More specifically, why UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh? You even found a way to merge your love for Dungeons &Dragons with the kids at the Pittsburgh hospital.
A: I love Pittsburgh, I love staying connected to Pittsburgh. I started working with Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh a long time ago. I’ve been there a long time. And, you know, to me, my heart goes out to kids who aren’t really allowed to be kids and go through that fun phase of life, and they have to deal with such serious issues. And then also, once you start hearing the stories of the parents and what they have to do to support a child who’s sick, I mean, it’s just anything I can do to help.
I had the idea that, because they have a library and games room and kind of art room, where kids can go and play instruments and paint, and stuff like that. I said, “Let me call upon D&D to donate a bunch of books and dice, and things like that.” And if I could add that to library at the hospital, so that when kids were there for a long period of time, their parents are away, they’re alone, all they have are the other kids. They’re getting infusions for, you know, sometimes hours at a time, so they can play a game with each other. If I teach the kids and have a seminar on how to play, that will also help them get out of themselves and not have to think about their affliction because for three hours or two hours, they don’t have to be sick; they can be this other character. I’ve watched it work. I tried it out and I saw it work. And they still play, the kids I taught. And all those books are still there at the hospital, so I hope that that spreads because especially once those kids get out, what are you going to do when you get home? How are you going to be social? You can’t go out and play with the kids. Well, now the kids can come in and have a reason to play with you, and so it gives those kids a group of friends, where it doesn’t matter if you just had surgery and you can’t run around and catch a football, you can do this thing inside.
“I think That Good Communication And Being Fully Developed Separate People Who Then Just Enjoy The Time Together — I Think Has Been The Real Key”
Q: Let’s talk about your dog, Bubbles. You brought her to the shoot today. I hear she’s a rescue?
A: I’ve never had a pet and so I never knew about “rescue” anything. And my wife wanted a dog, and I always travelled so much and, you know, I knew other people with dogs. Or I had ex-girlfriends with dogs that didn’t like me or whatever it was; it would make tons of noise. And so I was like, “The last thing on Earth we need is a yappy crazy dog at the house that I can’t take care of because I travel.”
Sofia had the shelter bring the dog over, and chihuahuas are notorious for picking one person, and that’s their person. And the dog didn’t pick Sofia; the dog picked me. I don’t know why, because maybe, “He’s a big primate. He’ll beat up everybody. I can bark at whomever I want now, and he’ll get me food. Look at him.” And so she ran over to me and didn’t want to go back to Sofia and didn’t want to go back to the shelter and just wanted to sit with me. She never wants to leave me, so I take her everywhere. I took her to Ireland for four months for work. I went to concerts, to the movies. I went to see Dune in the IMAX, and she just went to sleep. I took her to the gym in Ireland.
Q: What are some upcoming projects you’re excited about? Metal Lords is coming out soon, right?
A: Yeah, Metal Lords is such a funny movie about high-school kids who are obsessed with death metal and want to win the battle of the bands with their high school. It’s great. You know, Tom Morello does the music, who’s in my Dungeons & Dragons Friday night group, along with Dan Weiss, who co-created Game of Thrones. He co-created the movie and he was the one who asked me if I would play this part, and so it’s a really fun character.
Moonhaven, the show I shot in Ireland, is supposed to come out late summer, on AMC. Zac Snyder’s Army of the Dead anime series will come out at some point. I just launched an augmented reality that I’m on the board for. It’s really going to revolutionize the way that people do things because it’s this interactive technology for gaming, and we just launched on Kickstarter this week and met fulfillment in under eight hours, so people are liking it, and it’s doing well. It’s called ARcana.
Q: What does la dolce vita/the sweet life mean to you?
A: Fellini, that’s what it means to me. Being Italian, you know, I take great pride in being Italian. For me, what it’s going to mean very soon is, once I get my Italian passport and my citizenship, then I can go buy property in Italy and then I can go live the sweet life. You know, I can go get my fresh cheese and meats and have my friends over and live the Italian life — that’s la dolce vita. And Bubbles — she’s got la dolce vita all day long, every day. This is it for her, sitting on Daddy’s lap.
Interview by Estelle Zentil
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
PHOTOGRAPHER: JESSE MILNS
VIDEOGRAPHER: DANIEL A. COOPER
FASHION DIRECTION: ORETTA CORBELLI
FASHION STYLING: ASHLEY GALANG
GROOMING: DIANA SCHMIDTKE AT FORWARD ARTIST
PRODUCER: CEZAR GREIF AT COOL HUNT, INC.
PHOTOSHOOT LOCATION: BEL AIR, LOS ANGELES