No, Joe Manganiello won't growl, so don't ask. Nor will he yell, 'Stella!"
Not that I was going to ask the "True Blood" actor since this is an interview about the theater, art and soul-searching topics but sometimes he says his fans — and even his friends — can't resist asking him to let loose one of those primal responses.
Manganiello (rhymes with Tang — a-nello), who stars as the werewolf Alcide Herveaux in the popular HBO series, is taking on another beastly role, that of Stanley Kowalski in Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire,' which begins previews at New Haven's Yale Repertory Theatre Friday, Sept. 20. (The show opens Sept. 26 and runs through Oct. 12.)
It's not the first time Manganiello, 36 — most known for his roles as Peter Parker's nemesis Flash Thompson in the "Spider-Man" trilogy, Big Dick Richie in "Magic Mike" and as leader of the pack in "True Blood" — has taken on the lusty "Streetcar" role. The six-foot-five actor — now with just a touch of gray at the temples — was often chosen to play Stanley in scene classes when he was a student at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. In 2008, he took on the role professionally in a production in West Virginia.
Yale Rep director Mark Rucker learned that the actor was interested in the Rep production and went to Los Angeles to meet the actor in person. Though Rucker once saw him in a new play festival and knew Manganiello had a BFA in acting, Rucker had not seen his film and TV work but caught "True Blood" on Netflix before the meeting and found him "mesmerizing."
Manganiello impressed Rucker in person, too, especially when they began discussing the character of Stanley. "He's also got emotional depth and he has vulnerability which are all parts of Stanley, too."
Rucker says Manganiello's physical presence will make the relationship between Stanley and the character's wife Stella more sexual, powerful and primal. "He doesn't have to do a lot to establish who is man of the house. He just needs to walk into the room,'' he says.Manganiello got the part without auditioning.
"Mother Nature took care of a lot in that regard," says a now-smooth shaven Manganiellio of his formidable physique during a recent break in rehearsals in downtown New Haven — though he admits to supersizing things with an extensive workout regimen. (Manganiello was on the cover of August's Men's Health, talking about his life, career and "the easy way to big arms." And yes he has sleeve-busting biceps that pop out of his gray T-shirt.)
His physical regimen during "Streetcar" isn't a tough as for other projects. "I'm playing a human being finally," he says. "I get in there and lift every morning but it's not like 'True Blood' when I'm working out for size and for cutting because I'm playing a supernaturally strong character."
Manganiello says his focus "is on what the character means to me, what the story is that I'm telling, how I connect to it on a human level and what my instinct is telling me. You then have to pull something out of your gut that cannot be false in any way."
The challenge, he says, is to convince an audience to believe in the relationship of an alcoholic who beats his pregnant wife who then takes him back. "This play is such an exploration of the human side of an abusive relationship with an active alcoholic but a large portion of Stella staying with Stanley is the sex."
Artistic Side, Too
Manganiello says his early life as a working class kid growing up in a Pittsburgh suburb was a conflict between his physicality and his artistic instincts. A young man of his size is automatically channeled into sports.
"But on the inside I had this artistic side, too," he says. In high school Manganiello explored filmmaking, borrowing a movie camera from school and making homemade shorts. "I slept with a pad and a pen next to my bed and I would wake up in the middle of the night and start scribbling ideas and writing dialogue. I would set the alarm and get up at 6 a.m. and pick up my friends and start shooting. I never wanted to get up at 6 a.m. for anything."
Making movies was " a little less…," he pauses. "Let's say I was less judgmental of myself making movies than trying out for the theater club."
But in his final year of high school he did just that and got the role of Jud in the musical "Oklahoma!" "The sports coach made cracks at me in the hallway about the football team captain doing a musical. I remember seeing this row of letterman sports jackets in the audience, teammates who had come to see me with their girlfriends" — and not exactly to support him.
He says he knew his physique made him an odd sight in the drama club — also when he went to school at Carnegie Mellon, well-known for its acting program. "It was like Gulliver's Travels or something. But I knew there was something special about [acting] and I knew I had to do this. It just started pouring out of me in a way that I knew college football or basketball was just not going to happen."
And the reaction to his family?
"It was not OK," he says. "But my mother was willing to mortgage the house for me to go to college which was pretty amazing of her to offer but the head of the department said, 'Hold on, let's see if we can find some money for you.' My mother was OK with it. She was always supportive of my artistic side as a kid. Dad wanted me to go conquer the world and me being an artist was probably seen as, you know, that I'm trying to take the easy way or I'm lazy or something. But that was not really the case."
When he finished his undergrad work at Carnegie in 2000 he set his sights for Los Angeles. "That was the plan from the start."
He was quickly offered a TV deal but turned it down because his aim was movies "and film actors didn't do TV." He soon got a part in 2002's "Spider-Man" film, "And then I didn't work for four years."
The reason was because of his lifestyle and attitude, he says. He smoke, drank and partied.
"But it doesn't matter what the substance is. It's just the tip of the iceberg peeking out of the real problem which lies underneath. Every aspect of my life was as close to being ruined as possible. You get to a point where you've done so much damage to yourself and you're deathly afraid of what happens next. What makes you seek help is you're continually looking into the faces of people that you've hurt. I realized I needed to change — but it took a while."
For four years he worked as a delivery man, a roadie and in as a construction worker. He started to get back on a career path in Tori Spelling's boyfriend in TV's "So NoTORIous" in 2005 and then with regular guest shots on "One Tree Hill" and "How I Met your Mother." But it wasn't until he joined "True Blood" in its third season in 2010 that his career really took off.
"Acting for me originally was the perfect job because I could put on a mask and not have to be myself and not have to live in reality. When I got sober I was confronted with myself and realized I had to tell the truth. It's difficult when so much of your identity is wrapped up into something like drinking or nightlife. That's who I was so when you're stripped of all of that, there's a spiritual, mental, emotional state of nakedness. Your identity is gone and you don't know who you are."
So who is Joe?
"Well, not Stanley anymore. But not Mitch either," he says laughing, referring to Stanley's low-key friend in the play. "But I understand very much who Stanley is — and who Stella is, too. It's just not who I am anymore when I go home."
Besides "Streetcar," Manganiello has a slew of other projects, including an exercise and health book out Dec. 3 called "Joe Manganiello's Evolution: The Cutting-Edge Guide to Breaking Down Mental Walls and Building the Body You've Always Wanted." (Gallery Books).
"These are the workouts that got me in shape for 'True Blood' and 'Magic Mike.' The real deal. And, yes, there's a lot of shirtless pictures for people who want a book like that."
For those who like to read text, he says the book is also "an inspiration memoir about the obstacles I had to get over, the thing that most fitness magazines can't get into or don't: that most of training is mental."
The forward to the book is by Arnold Schwarzenegger, whom Manganiello co-starred with in the David Ayer's film "Sabotage," which will be released in Jan 24. As for a sequel to the 'Magic Mike" film, the actor says a script "is being worked on. I'm anxious to see what they wrote."
As for "True Blood," which begins shooting again in January, Manganiello says he's disappointed that his character-arc "became a throw-away. It's was more like, 'Oh, let's go find something for him to do and stick him over in this plot' that has nothing to do with the rest of the show. It became like a struggle. Like, I'm not going to growl in every single scene. Let me just get through one scene. I'll growl in the next one. It became this kind of bartering of taking the shirt off and growling. I'm not complaining. But now I'm working with amazing people and getting back to being an actor where I can act every day."
Manganiello has also become pro-active in shaping other projects for himself: He is making a documentary and nurturing film projects with a company he formed with his younger brother, Nicholas. The company commissioned three scripts: a remake of an indie film, one that is based on a treatment Manganiello wrote and a third script based on a book.
And he's also on the alert for stage projects, too, like "Streetcar," which coincided with his hiatus from "True Blood." Manganiello says he's a fan of playwrights David Mamet and Neil LaBute but he would also like to get back to Shakespeare. A Broadway producer friend of Manganiello has sought the actor for a New York stage production but his television commitment didn't allow a long run.
He might have more time at the end of next year. HBO just announced it will end the series in 2014 after seven seasons
A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE begins previews Sept. 20 and runs through Oct. 12 at Yale Repertory Theatre, 222 York St., New Haven. Tickets are $20 to $98 (with $20 for previews from Sept. 23 to 25). Information: 203-432-1234 and www.yalerep.org.
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