Joe Manganiello – True Blood’s Alcide – Makes Me Want to Howl!
August 24, 2010 by KS Rose
There’s just something about Joe Manganiello that sells that alpha wolf image. It’s not just that he’s one tall, sexy, muscular hunk of man that leaves True Blood viewers panting for more Alcide Herveaux week after week. It’s the way he moves, the tilt of his head, the surety of his gaze that just screams out, “You’re safe with me, but not too safe!” He’s also got a bit of that tail thumping, fun loving, puppy charm which made this one great interview to do.
TBN: Hi Joe, thanks so much for joining us today!
Joe: Hi, good to be able to talk to you.
TBN: We don’t want to keep you too long so we’ll just jump right into the interview. You grew up in the Rust Belt?
Joe: Well I grew up in Pittsburgh.
TBN:Can you tell us a little of what it was like to grow up there?
Joe: It was beautiful and green. I think most people have an idea of Pittsburgh that’s very antiquated and smoke stacks spewing. You need to take an extra dress shirt to lunch because you’ll be covered in soot kind of city but it really wasn’t like that. I was born there when the Steelers and the Pirates were both winning repeated championships and so I grew up in this really fun town that was beautiful. It’s green, full of mountains, beautiful rivers; I went to a great school. It had a TV studio built into it in high school. When I went to high school it was unheard of, it was before the days of computer editing so I had a lot of my. I was exposed to a lot of things eclectically that shaped my future and I wound up staying there for college, Carnegie Melon and it’s a great city for the arts. Andy Warhol went to Carnegie Melon, he was born in Pittsburgh. The great amazing museums and art theatre, so, I grew up exposed to all of that and I think it really shaped me.
TBN: Did you always know that you wanted to be an actor?
Joe: No, I didn’t. Not at all. Very much the opposite. I was a jock and so I grew up playing 3 sports a year, I was the Captain of all of them, I trained all summer long and I looked at those theatre kids as those black turtle-neck wearing weirdo’s at the other lunch table. It wasn’t until really I started borrowing cameras and editing and making my own films on the weekends that I really fell in love with film making at first, but I realized I enjoyed acting too and started taking classes and I thought if I could bet better at this my movies will get better. Then I just caught the bug and rather go on to college and pursue sports, and I was going to pursue a career in the FBI. I wound up getting a scholarship to Carnegie Melon.
TBN: That touches on some of the other questions we have. In looking in your history it seems like a bit of a dichotomy where you’re a sports guy and a drama guy in high school, did you get razzed about that a lot?
Joe: I remember I got cast as Judd Fry in Oklahoma in my Senior year in High School and I was the Captain of the volley ball team that year and there were colleges that were interested in me and I didn’t show up to practice. So I decided to do the high school musical instead of show up and be the captain of the teams where colleges were looking at me. The coaches went crazy. Also because I had a knee injury that made me realize that I didn’t want to pursue college football. My old line backer coach would stop me in the hall and would give me shit about it. I wound up going off and doing this high school musical which to them seemed insane and looking back me just saying it out loud it seems insane too. But I remember looking out on the audience and there was this sea of Letterman jackets in the crowd. All my football buddies had come to see me in the musical with their girl friends. It was really fun to look out into the crowd and see this bunch of guys that never would have been there if they didn’t know me. But after I did it, everybody came up to me and had nothing but glowing things to say to me. That same line backer coach caught me in the hall and grabbed me by the arm and said, “I was wrong about you, you were great!”
TBN: Very cool and have you ever heard from them since you’ve become successful?
Joe: No, I haven’t but the biggest witness tested was my dad because my father always wanted me to be an athlete, very much. You have a 6 ft. 5 220 pound kid in high school, that can run throw, dunk, catch, you think this is gold! So he wanted me to do that, pursue athletics. When I went down the drama path I think it really raised his eyebrows a bit. But the cool thing about it now, especially with this part as Alcide as opposed to the other parts I’ve gotten to play, is that I’ve gotten to the point where I can blend all of those tools into one job. I love history so I know all my characters; they’re like little history projects. I get to do research. I get to build these little research packets. I loved animals growing up and on this job I get to work with animals. I love athletics and on this job I get to do some of my own stunts and work out with a trainer twice a day. It’s been a really cool chance to blend all this stiff together. I am working with a dialect on the show so I get to train with a coach and exercise that muscle as well. It’s a really fulfilling job and my dad’s OK with it now.
Joe Manganeillo Sings and Writes Too!
TBN: Doing research on your background, we went on IMDB, it shows your first show was “Out of Courage Two” which you wrote, produced, acted and did stunts for and it had something to do with your chemistry class? Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Joe: The chemistry class film was in high school and that was a different project. That was the first movie that my friends and I made in high school. It’s hour and a half long but we were supposed to do this little 5 minute chemistry film. But we wound up turning it into this hour and a half long feature length mafia, martial arts Kung Fu action movie with gun shot effects. We built our own squibs with metal cookie tins lids off of cookie containers. We taped the tins on the peoples chests or their knees and we would fill condoms up with red Karo syrup with food coloring. We’d attach little fire crackers to their knees and their chest and you’d have to light the wick and get your hand out of the scene fast before it would blow up. And we had sound effects and sound tracks and opening credits and end credits. I mean it was this huge, big production that we did, instead of the five minute chemistry film. Out of Courage was done in college. They taught us classical theatre but they didn’t teach us anything else. They really didn’t want to teach us much contemporary work or film work at all and so I decided to take my education into my own hands and I wound up writing this little half hour script, we wound up getting a $72,000 grant to film it. There was a lot of turmoil going on in Chechnya at the time and I was a big Russian history buff in school so I decided to write a movie where Chechen terrorists take over Carnegie Melon, hold all these students hostage and blow up the school.
TBN: If you had not gone into the entertainment field, what do you think you would have done for a living?
Joe: Law Enforcement. Like I said the FBI was something that really interested me. I think high-level government security would have been interesting. My father had a very strong sense of justice. He was very passionate about it as I was growing up. Maybe it was the Sicilian blood but he hated any sort of wrong that was being committed. He was very passionate about things like that . I remember the Pastor of our church growing up saying something derogatory about my peewee league football team and my father went right after him. It didn’t matter who you were, you were not above morality and decency. I think a lot of that in my father rubbed off on me. So that that was really something that I wanted to pursue was bringing criminals to justice. What’s interesting enough is that Alcide has a lot of my father’s passion and justice in him. He’s a character that is brought on to protect and body guard Sookie and I think that he’s a good salt of the earth worker. You know my father worked in power plants for 40 years, he worked his ass off to provide for us and always did the right thing by his family. Much to his own sacrifice and Alcide is very similar to that, He owns a construction company with his father, but Alcide is not someone who abuses his influence. He was someone who was born, gifted, with immense amounts of power but he would never think to abuse it. That’s something that is really at the core of his relationship with Sookie. I think Sookie has had such a rough time since the Vampires showed up and so you have this very strong moral man with a very strong sense of justice that has been put in her life and I think it’s kind of, it adds a lot of safety to her life that maybe necessarily wasn’t there.
TBN: Interesting way to think about it. Sookie and Safety don’t seem to mix much. We heard you were a roadie for the rock band “Gold Finger”? How long were you a roadie for them?
Joe: One of my best friends in the entire world is the lead singer for Gold Finger, John Feldmann. He has been one of my best friends in the world and he travels on the road with his band and he asked me if I wanted to come along with him and I really hadn’t traveled much at that point. So we went on a tour: we did the US, we did Canada, we did New Zealand, Australia and Hawaii. He put me on payroll as security which basically meant that I had to throw drunk kids off the stage every night. And I got to go travel the world! I’m a huge music fan and I was a DJ and I have turn tables, I still have all of my vinyl. So for me to get to go do that was really neat. And aside from being fun, it was really cool for me as a performer, as a live performer, to watch a band perform every night. I got to watch how the performance changed, watch how they manipulated the crowd, watch how the set was changed. And I got to watch that night after night. It taught me so much about theater and doing theater I can’t even tell you. I have been a different theater performer since I went on tour with that rock band for sure.
TBN: You have also done background singing?
Joe: Yes, he’s also a music producer so whenever I’m over at his house and he’s working with a band, he’ll have me come in to the studio and do back up vocals.
Physical Acting: Stuntwork
TBN: So how did you get started doing stunts? You’re doing a lot of stunt work …
Joe: I’m not doing individual stunt work necessarily. Basically, I’m an athletic actor so they let me do a lot of my own stuff for continuity purposes and I also really enjoy it. It’s like getting ready to ride a roller coaster.
TBN: So kind of like Harrison Ford. He’s a very physical actor.
Joe: Exactly. I have a stunt man, his name’s Oliver Keller. He’s from Switzerland and he’s been my stunt double for the past nine years since we started working together on “Spider-Man.” We just stuck together and we actually became really good friends. We’re the best of friends and we work together and I just don’t think there’s anybody better at the job than he is. I think he’s awesome and he comes with me on whatever project I’m on and does all of the stuff that I could get killed doing. So basically if I could die doing it, they’ll throw Oliver in.
TBN: Do you learn a lot from him too, like how to take a punch and all that stuff?
Joe: I used to box so I learned a lot of how to fight and how to sell punches and things like that from that type of training. But that’s Oliver other duty: when I have to get in there and do a stunt Oliver will go into a lot of detail. He’ll pull me aside and we’ll have a coaching session on what I need to know about the stunt. You know what’s interesting about the stunt men? They’re a lot more curt and to the point then most people. Usually they just give you one piece of advice that if you don’t do it, something horrible will happen to you and then they’ll let you go. I always say to people, I’m Oliver’s acting double.
TBN: Are shows ever concerned though that you’re doing your own stunts or are they pretty savvy on what’s okay and what’s not?
Joe: Oh yeah, they’re very concerned because obviously, if I got hurt, that would lead to a production delay and they don’t want to do that, so its always very safe and especially with Oliver there. Oliver and I, we look like twins. There have actually been projects that we’ve worked on where they’ve shot Oliver from about 20 feet away, face on and people can’t tell the difference.
TBN: That’s hysterical! “Spider-Man 3” was a very big production. What was it like to play in that movie?
Joe: It was neat because they brought my character back from part one and part one was the movie that got my career started. It was my first job right out of college. I love Sam Raimi so much I can’t even tell you. I love that guy. So to be back and to even spend some time with him was great. They brought me back for part three and by that time it was such a monstrous budget. It was just the biggest production I could ever imagine being a part of. But most of all, I think it was great for me to just get back. My friend Michael Moore, he’s one of the ADs, so it was great to get to hang out with him and catch up with some people and see Toby and see Kirsten. But most of all, was great to see Sam again.
TBN: Aside from “True Blood,” what was your favorite acting experience?
Joe: Aside from “True Blood” my favorite acting experience would have to be getting to play the one theater role that I always wanted to play since the time I became an actor. It was one of the reasons why I got into acting and why I perused classical training. I wanted to play Stanley Kowalski in “A Street Car Named Desire.” Two years ago, I got to do it in West Virginia, which is about an hour and 15 minutes away from Pittsburgh, so all my family and friends from back home could come see the show, and that was a definite dream come true.
TBN: Was that summer theater?
Joe: Yeah, I had some time during the summer and I got to do it. It was great. It was amazing.
Talking True Blood with Joe
TBN: With Alcide, how do you prepare for the role? Have you read any of the books to help you in creating the character?
Joe: Sure, yeah I didn’t want to read the first two books because I didn’t want to ruin the TV show for me. I knew Alcide shows up in book three and that he would potentially show up in season three so I read book three in preparation. I had to use the book as a loose guide. I had to wear it like a loose jacket because you don’t want to be too married to what they have in the book in case that’s not what they’re using on the show. So I had to get an idea for his energy and kind of where he would potentially be coming from and of course I have to play what Alan writes. But they stayed pretty close to the essence of Alcide from the book but just added so much nuance and detail and back story.
TBN: Congratulations on getting the role. Can you share with us how you got the role on “True Blood?” How was your audition?
Joe: Sure. About a year and a half ago my friend Rich sent me a web link to a blog where a lot of fans were going on and speculating who would be cast as Alcide if he showed up. They were posting pictures of me amongst other people. That was brought to my attention and I got thought, “There’s a werewolf that’s coming up on “True Blood?” That’s incredible! That show is great. So I went out and ordered the books and started reading them and brushed up on it. I started bugging my agents and managers and eventually I got an audition. I actually went in for another werewolf part, just because it came up first. Alcide wasn’t being cast yet but my agent and managers got me an audition to go in and play this other werewolf. I auditioned twice for the other werewolf and they said they wanted me to screen test with Anna for the part of Alcide. Then I wound up getting an offer for another show so while we were figuring out whether or not I was going to take that job or not, HBO said we’ll bypass the chemistry read and we’ll bring you in right away. So we bypassed the chemistry read for the time and they brought me in a couple of days later to read for Alcide. I read for him and they gave me the part that day.
TBN: Since the fans will be meeting Alcide for the first time this season, how would you describe him?
Joe: He’s big and he’s strong, but he’s really lonely and he’s very shy. Very reclusive. Where we find him in the beginning he’s also heart broken. His fiancé’s just left him. It’s really hard, it’s also been hard for him being a werewolf and having this type of power. It has been a real burden for him because he’s had to live amongst human society. He really just can’t give in to it 100 percent. I related it all to my father. My father grew up and he was left-handed in a time where children were not allowed to be left handed. All kids had to be right-handed. So here comes my father and they have proved that left-handed men communicate better than right-handed men. My father was born with this advanced ability, basically being left-handed, and he was forced to be right-handed and fit in with everybody else. And when I think about Alcide, I think about him in that way. I think about this person who was born with these unbelievable abilities and powers that other people couldn’t even fathom and he’s been taught to hide them and that he can’t use them. And it’s frustrating that he’s been forced into this existence. It fuels the hatred between werewolves and vampires as well because vampires have come out to the world and they’re all rich and powerful and sexy and cool, and werewolves still have to live in hiding.
TBN: And they have all those fang bangers hanging on.
Joe: Well..the werewolves have the fur bangers.
TBN: Really? Great! So in how many episodes will we be seeing Alcide?
Joe: He shows up in episode three and he plays a prominent role in the rest of the season.
TBN: Is there anything that you can tell us about what the fans can expect without getting into trouble?
Joe: You’re going to see some romance. There’s a lot of action and you’re going to watch a very interesting story arc. You’re going to watch this lonely, reclusive heartbroken character, this shy character, come out of his shell and be thrust into the middle of this pack war that could destroy his entire race of people. So you’re going to watch this unlikely hero thrust into this difficult situation rise to the occasion and have to fight for his pack survival.
TBN: It’s really interesting to me that you mentioned how lonely he is. I think we have interviewed four or five new people this season and, of course, some from the older seasons, and everybody talks about how lonely their character is.
Joe: There’s a definite theme; loneliness, self loathing. I think it occurs on the show quite a bit but I think that’s what it is. I think it’s an exploration in the way that Joseph Campbell wrote about mythology. I think you have these supernatural characters, these god-like characters that make it easier for the writers and Alan Ball to talk about what it means to be human. I think Alcide is definitely an exploration. He’s using this werewolf to show the audience what it’s like to be human or at least what he perceives to be human.
TBN: Yeah, that’s interesting. So have you had a chance to act with any other people besides Anna for this season?
Joe: Sure, yes. Steve, Rutina, Nelsan, Ryan, Chris Bauer, Denis O’Hare, Grant Bowler, Brit Morgan. A lot of the people.
TBN: So it’s a lot of interaction. Good! And we heard that the cast have a really great time together.
Joe: How could you not? Being on set it’s like being at the coolest Halloween party ever.
TBN: Have there been any pranks pulled while you were around? Or any big bloopers that were really hysterical?
Joe: Yeah, we always play. Everybody plays with each other. There was this one moment where there was supposed to be a body. A body like what was thought to be a corpse but one of the crew guys actually during a break kind of hid himself where the corpse was supposed to be. So one of the cast members went to go interact with this corpse and the crew member jumped out and scared them shitless and it was in the middle of the take. None of us involved in the take had any idea. It’s all recorded on film; it’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. They’re constantly joking with each other; they’re constantly trying to get one over on each other all the time so you really do have to watch your back.
TBN: Being the new guy on the set, has that been a challenging experience or has that been a very welcoming group? How have you found that to be?
Joe: It’s intimidating because of my respect for the actors involved. This show is the most talented and scarily talented and eclectic bunch of actors I’ve ever worked with. I think this is the most talented ensemble on TV. Other people can disagree but I think it is. I’m also very partial to it but I felt that way before I was even on the show. So for me to be a part of that and be included in that is, I don’t even know yet if it has even sunk in for me that I’m actually a part of that group or that gang. So with that said, yeah there’s pressure plus I’m a fan of the show; I’m a fan of the books. I’m a fan of the fans and I just want to get in there and do the best job that I possibly could and know that I left nothing out there on set. I have worked myself to the bone, 150 percent to do the best possible job that I could. Hopefully that translates and everybody’s really happy with what I did.
TBN: That sounds like a really great experience then.
Joe: It’s been an experience of a lifetime. It’s been a dream. I hope I get to play Alcide for the rest of my life.
TBN: We do too because that means we get to watch you for the rest of out lives.
Joe: Charlaine keep writing those books and hopefully, I’ll keep getting written into the story.
TBN: I don’t think you need to worry about the books. I think the shows going to take on its own life eventually. You mentioned the fans and “True Blood” as you know, is a huge success and the fans are incredibly active. Have you met any of the fans since you got this job? Have they recognized you?
Joe: I met some paparazzi, that started happening here and there. I’m very excited and anxious to see what happens once the show starts airing. Because I’m also not necessarily someone who can hideout in a hat and sun glasses. I’m a six foot five guy with a beard and long hair.
TBN: Has “True Blood” reshaped how you think about good and evil?
Joe: Yes, after the show you really can’t think in terms of black and white; it’s all gray.
We want to thank Joe for not only being so kind as to do this interview but for really bringing Alcide to life. Joe’s real life attitudes about justice have infused Alcide with that little bit extra that makes TV come alive. We also want to thank HBO for assisting us in getting this great interview and, of course, for a wonderful season of True Blood!
(Photo credit: John P. Johnson/HBO inc.)