Not-so-average Joe: Actor and cover star Joe Manganiello talks fitness, marriage, and how he really feels about being shirtless on screen.
Lauded as one of the sexiest men on the planet, actor Joe Manganiello returns to the screen with a new role that highlights his best feature: pure talent.
“WHAT ARE YOU WEARING?” It’s the question that celebrities probably loathe more than any on the red carpet—the triviality of naming the brands they’re sporting as they enter a party or premiere. But no one loves that question more than Joe Manganiello, I would suspect. He’s just happy to be wearing anything. After almost two decades in Hollywood—and despite the fact that he is a classically trained actor from Carnegie Mellon with many years’ worth of theater experience under his belt, as well as an author, philanthropist, and avowed bookworm—what Manganiello is most recognized for are pecs and abs. Shirtless—that’s how Hollywood has always categorized him: sweaty and barechested in blockbusters like Magic Mike, aggressive and dangerous in five seasons on True Blood. Even his latest role, voicing Hefty in the animated film Smurfs: The Lost Village, comes shirtless (though in Manganiello’s defense, Smurfs typically don’t wear shirts). But that’s a thing of the past. In upcoming roles in the highly anticipated The Batman (as the villain Deathstroke, opposite Ben Affleck), his own independently produced Stano, and Rampage (in which he stars with Dwayne Johnson), Manganiello is fully clothed, showing his acting chops only. He’s also fully clothed on our cover, as he returns to South Florida, where he wed his wife, actress Sofia Vergara, at the Breakers Palm Beach.
You just turned 40. How does that feel?
It’s great! Forty is like the new 25. I feel better physically than I did in my 30s and definitely in my 20s. I’m not prone to make the same mistakes that I made in my 20s. I’m a little smarter and definitely have more money in the bank. Getting older has its benefits. How do you maintain your physique and health? Probably right around True Blood and Magic Mike—that
chapter of my career where I had a lot of these physical roles—was a great excuse for me to see how healthy I could get. And what a difference it made. Heading into my 40s, I really thought, I’m going to be 40 in a couple of years; I
should make sure that these years are healthy and I’m pushing as hard as I can. Because, for example, the trainer that I’ve had for the past seven or eight years [Ron Mathews] became the world’s fittest man over 45, and so I looked at him as a model for me. How ripped were you before Magic Mike and True Blood?
I’ve worked in film and television since I got out of school, starting with Spider-man , and built for that. What dictated my getting into the kind of shape I was in for True Blood and Magic Mike was recognizing that it’s work. If you’re going to play a character that’s described in the novel as being built [as in True Blood], then you’re kind of lazy if you don’t do that. And in Magic Mike, if you don’t look like you’re in the best shape of your life, what are you really doing? Do you want to be an actor? Do you want to be successful? Do you want to make money? Do you want to have a career?
The Spider-man role as Flash Thompson happened pretty fast. I screen-tested for Spider-man the week that I got out of Carnegie Mellon. It was very quick. I was a 40-year-old man trapped in a 23-year-old’s body at that time.
Did you worry about making it in Hollywood? Totally. Hollywood’s a really tough business. Even when it seems easy—like for example, Spider-man. I met Sam Raimi [the director] and immediately screen-tested. That was in June. They didn’t call me back until November to say that I got the part. Everyone [in Hollywood] knew I was shooting the movie: It was this unbelievable couple of weeks for me, and everyone was throwing parties and I was invited to everything. And then two weeks later, my roommate came home and said that her friend auditioned for my role. I called my agent, and as it turns out, the old head of Sony didn’t think I was right for the part. Because I wasn’t blond-haired like the character was in the comic books. And they started, unbeknownst to me, seeing other people. And that went on for a month and a half, and it almost broke me. Then on Christmas Eve, my agent called and said, “Congratulations! They didn’t find anyone else. You got the role back.” And I just gave an unenthusiastic “Great.” That was my first job, and with it came a really tough meal to digest, which was the fact that Hollywood gives you [a role] and they can just take it right back. Under the surface was this unbelievable disappointment that the rest of the public doesn’t see. They don’t understand that I went through the worst roller-coaster ride of my entire life.
Did you worry after Magic Mike about being typecast? I remember when I got the first script for Magic Mike, I was working with Chris Rock and I kind of put my head in my hands, and Chris said, “What’s up?” I told him, “I got this script to read, this offer, this movie. It’s about male strippers.” And he kind of made a face like “Mmm” and said, “Well, who’s directing it?” I told him it was Steven Soderbergh, and he said, “You’ve gotta do that movie.” My response was: “I know, but I have my shirt off a lot on True Blood, and now I’ll have my shirt off in this movie. I’m worried that people aren’t going to be able to see past that and actually look at the work.” And he said, “Look, man, Brad Pitt had his shirt off for 15 years; he’s doing just fine.” Look, True Blood was my big break, but when you do A Streetcar Named Desire at Yale [Repertory Theatre] and the first half of the review talks about your physique, it’s like, Jesus Christ, you know I can act, right?
Does it frustrate you that the media seems to always focus on that?
It is what it is. I think the vast majority of writers ask me questions about the work, but they don’t care about the work. It’s the physique questions or the relationship questions that wind up becoming the clickbait that kind of covers up the project that I’m in.
Speaking of which, it must have been nice to get a call for a movie where they don’t care about your physique.
It’s the Smurfs! It’s a cute movie about little blue people who go on adventures. It’s going to be fun. But once again the press is like, “So your Smurf has his shirt off?” Every Smurf has his shirt off—they all do!
If they asked you to do another Magic Mike…
I’ll do it in, like, 20 years, when we’re all in an old-age home. I hope I’m in that kind of shape in 20 years! Fingers crossed.
“That chapter of my career where I had a lot of these physical roles was a great excuse for me to see how healthy I could get. And what a difference it made.”
I’ve spent about a year and a half saying no to all that stuff, and I literally said no to everything that came my way. It’s not interesting to me. If it’s funny, I’ll do it. But I can’t even tell you how many superhero or supervillain roles along the way were not right for me. You know, because I didn’t want to cash my chips in. I wanted to get the one that was the right one, that had the right legs, that was going to be directed or written by the right person. That was going to tell a great story. I finally wound up with something that I thought was interesting in [Deathstroke].
How do you let loose?
I’m an avid reader, so I’m always reading something. I love just hanging out with my wife. We just have a great time together—we’re great, we just laugh all day long. If I had my choice, it would be just jumping in the car with my wife and taking a weekend trip somewhere.
You got married here in West Palm Beach—why?
You know, the marriage is for both of you, but the wedding is for the wife. She wanted to get married here, at the Breakers, which is such an unbelievable hotel. It’s like a European castle on the beach in Florida—it is insane. She expressed that’s where she always wanted to get married, so we flew out and checked it out and it seemed amazing. And that was it. There are certain things you choose your battles for, and when it comes to the wedding, I recommend every guy out there just do what she wants. My wife was definitely right: It was amazing, the most incredible weekend of my life. It was unbelievable.
As a classically trained actor, you’re trained to be in front of the camera, but did you ever expect you’d be part of an A-list couple in the limelight?
No, I just married the girl that I love. That was it. I really do believe that we were put on the planet to be with each other. From the first date, it was just like wow! It was so easy in all the ways that you want it to be easy and challenging in all of the most fun ways possible. So I knew right away and that was it. I was never part of a celebrity couple before this, because I never wanted to go through the difficulty that can bring in terms of paparazzi and attention. Those people want to interfere with your serenity; they want to interfere with your relationship. They want to write things that hopefully will instigate trouble in your relationship so they can sell magazines or get clicks. And it’s a really insidious side of the business, as I’ve found out. The two of us knew that once it became public that we were together—and we had conversations about how that would change a lot of things, and she is the only woman on the planet that I was willing to go through all of that for. Because she’s the greatest. And all that pressure has just brought us closer together. It’s not something that we welcome into our lives. We try to stay private. At the end of the day, it’s really nobody else’s business but ours. It’s just that I love her and she loves me and here we are. And there is a price for that, when living in the public eye.
Moving forward, what is a role or a project that you really want?
I’d love to get back up on stage. Maybe something on Broadway. I haven’t done Shakespeare in a while. I’m certainly getting old enough to start doing Chekhov roles properly. I love the process of theater; I love table work. I love working for three weeks to a month before you put something up, then you invite an audience in.
What charity are you involved in?
I’m on the board of trustees for Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh (chp.edu), and I’m headed there soon to bring the Smurfs to the hospital for the kids, and Sony has been kind enough to let me screen the movie for the kids who can’t go to the theater. We’re going to have a big fundraiser. I love those kids in the hospital, man. Watching kids fight what they’re fighting through just makes your heart swell. You want to do absolutely everything you can to make their fight a little bit easier.
What do you love about Miami?
I usually visit at least once a year. I love Miami. If I had my way, or if I could live anywhere, it would be Miami, 100 percent. Or somewhere in Southern Florida. I like that humidity, the culture, the Cuban coffee, the cigars. So maybe one day I’ll wind up retiring here.
“Hollywood gives you [a role] and they can just take it right back. Under the surface was this unbelievable disappointment the rest of the public doesn’t see.”
T-shirt, COS ($19). Miami Design District, 3915 NE First Ave., 786-857-5923; cosstores.com. Pants, Bottega Veneta ($650). Bal Harbour Shops, 9700 Collins Ave., 305-8646247; bottegaveneta.com.
($95). Nike, 1035 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach, 305-674-0156; nike.com