Joe Manganiello joined the all-star cast of True Blood in Season Three as the werewolf Alcide Herveaux.
The striking, six foot five actor was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and as a youngster was a talented athlete – playing American football, basketball and volleyball to a high level.
Despite several of his High School coaches urging him to go to college on a sports scholarship, Manganiello decided that his future lay with acting and he won a place studying drama at the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
Shortly after graduating, Manganiello won the part of Flash Thompson in Spider-Man (2002), a role he reprised in Spider-Man 3 (2007). His CV also includes roles in several high profile television series including CSI, Scrubs, American Heiress, ER and How I Met Your Mother.
Based on the best selling novels by Charlaine Harris, True Blood is set in the fictitious Louisiana town of Bon Temps where vampires, shape-shifters, werewolves and telepaths mix with the humans. It’s sexy, scary, funny and isn’t afraid to tackle themes like human rights and religion inside a fast paced, riveting episodic story.
Q: How did you get the role in True Blood?
Joe Manganiello: It’s based on a series of books and fans of the books were going on line and blogging, they were playing this fun game, like ‘let’s try to cast all of the roles before they do it on the show.’ And so fans were posting pictures of me and saying that I would be right for this werewolf that shows up in Book 3. And a friend of mine sent me that website and I took a look at it because I loved the show and was a fan of the show and I was like ‘oh my god, I’ve got to get these books…’ And so I ordered the books and read them and sure enough the character was described as looking very much like me, physically. And so I started bugging my agents and managers about it, and then I started posting that blog up on some of my websites, and a guy who was best friends with the casting director saw it, and brought it to their attention, and sure enough, they called me in.
Q: When was this?
JM: This was during Season One (laughs) so almost two years ago. And because of that, the casting directors called me in based on this guy, who randomly read my website, bringing it to their attention. So it really felt like it was some kind of divine force leading the role to me and me to the role. I wanted to be called in for the part of Coot, which is one of the first werewolves to show up, so I went in for Coot twice, and they called me back and said ‘you’re not going to get the part of Coot but there’s this other part Alcide that we want you to read with Anna (Paquin) for..’ And that was the part from the books that I had wanted, and so Alan (Ball) brought me in, I read for him and a couple of hours later they called me back to say I had the part of Alcide. It’s kind of wild.
Q: It must feel like it was meant to be…
JM: Yes it does – it really feels like it was meant to be.
Q: Give us a little breakdown on what we can expect from your character in season three…
JM: Well, he’s a werewolf and his father is a bit of a wild man who has run up a debt to Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgard), who is probably the last person you’d ever want to run a debt up to. So his father is stuck in this dangerous situation and in order to pay off his father’s debt, which means in order for his father not to be killed, Alcide is forced into becoming a bodyguard for Sookie, because Eric can’t go out there in the daylight. Bill (Stephen Moyer) has gone missing, and they’ve found clues that lead them to believe that werewolves have something to do with it. So Alcide is well placed to escort Sookie as her bodyguard as she goes into the underground society of werewolves and tries to find clues to what happened to Bill.
Q: Is there any chemistry between Sookie and your character?
JM: Well, when we meet up with Alcide he’s had his heart broken. His fiancée, Debbie Pelt (Brit Morgan) has just left him so he’s nursing a broken heart and as we find out during the course of the season, Sookie and Bill are on the rocks as well. So the two of them are dealing with some relationship dramas and sparks kind of fly.
Q: You’ve done a season now, how would you sum up the experience of working on True Blood?
JM: It’s wild and it’s never a dull moment (laughs). You know, it’s very bonding I think, for the cast, working on this show because you are asked to do such crazy, wild things, that you aren’t necessarily asked to do on other shows, and I think that brings us a lot closer together. I can safely say this is the best ensemble I’ve ever worked with; they’re the most talented and the most learned group. Everybody seems to be classically trained, which is great, and they’re all just brilliant and iconic in their own eccentric sort of ways. And then along with that, Alan (Ball) has the golden touch and anything the guy touches is amazing. And so it’s been the most fulfilling, artistic experience I’ve ever had. I’m working on the hottest show on TV with the greatest group of actors, and you feel like a little kid playing a werewolf (laughs). I get to run around and be a werewolf all the time – It’s a blast! I get to walk around the world and people stop me and they want to talk to me about werewolves, which is fun. It’s like a big, giant Halloween party everyday that we shoot.
Q: Where are you from?
JM: I’m from Pittsburgh originally.
Q: You’ve done a few different jobs, you’ve done a few things, and it sounds to me that you’ve had quite a life.
JM: Yeah, a lot of life, a lot of work. I bounced around quite a bit. I come from drama school and I come from classical theatre training, and so that took up four years, age 19 to 23…
Q: Did the acting start when you were a kid?
JM: No, but I was always artistic. My father was an engineer, he worked for General Electric and he would take apart and put together power generators. So very blue collar, hard working, he comes from Boston, and a really tough upbringing, and my mother comes from Boston as well, she was a housewife and a mother and she raised us. I have a younger brother, a younger, taller brother – he’s huge (laughs). His name is Nick and he’s taller than me. I was artistic as a kid and that kind of made me the black sheep of the family I guess. But I was born with this big, athletic build, so when I didn’t want to play college sports, or didn’t want to pursue sports as a living, my father was not very happy.
Q: Could you have done that?
JM: It looked like I was going to. I played football, basketball and volleyball.
Q: What was your position at football?
JM: Football I was a Tight End and Outside Linebacker, and you have to put all of your chips into that basket. I’d always grown up artistic, but I never really, I had to put that away to play sports. And I had a career ending knee injury in football and it started making me think about what I really wanted to do.
Q: How old were you when that happened?
JM: I was 16.
Q: That must have been a big disappointment for you?
JM: I have to believe that its funny how like a hand has kind of guided me into what I needed to do. At the time it was very hard but shortly after that I was ready to put all my efforts into acting. There was something in me that told me that it was the right thing to do. Which is bizarre really, because only a small percentage of actors get to make a living but it was kind of like ‘I know I can do it..’ It was weird because all of the coaches were saying to me, ‘you’re making a huge mistake, what are you doing? You’re going to ruin your life. All these colleges are looking at you for athletics and you shouldn’t just blow them away..’ And I did. It’s crazy when I think about it, it’s absolutely insane, but (laughs) it was meant to be.
Q: So you went to college, and where was that?
JM: Carnegie-Mellon University, which is in Pittsburgh.
Q: Was it a good experience?
JM: It was a love/hate. It was the greatest education I could ever possibly imagine getting, but you are working in a pressure cooker. It was a very difficult programme but you are working with some of the best young actors and certainly some of my fellow classmates are out there and they’re working on great projects as well. But when you are there, it’s tough, you don’t sleep very much and they are really hard on you. But their thinking is that it will never be this difficult again.
Q: Did you head to LA straight after college?
JM: Yeah, the school sets up showcases in New York and LA, and you get three minutes on stage in front of the entire industry in each city. You have a one minute monologue and a two minute scene with a partner. And you are judged on that. And out of that I wound up getting a manager and these really great agents and I screen tested for Spider-Man that week and I wound up getting the part. It was kind of wild.
And then, to make a long story short, I didn’t work again for another four years. I didn’t know if I wanted to do this anymore, I’d kind of seen a side of this town and I’d got a little disillusioned a bit with it and so I wound up, at the end of four years, working construction, I was doing deliveries and demolitions for a masonry company here in LA, so I would wake up at six, get the truck at seven, and I would shovel sand and gravel from seven to four everyday – and jackhammer, and mix cement, which is kind of funny that I play a construction worker werewolf in True Blood (laughs).
Q: You say you were disillusioned with acting for a while there. What was that like?
JM: I wanted to find something else to do. I think the highs and the lows were really difficult to deal with. I was young and I think it was a lot to digest, and as you look at a lot of the young people in this town and you can see some of them getting chewed up and spat out. I was ready for the work but I don’t think I was ready on a maturity level to handle some of the things that came along with it. So I took a step back, I re-evaluated and then work came and found me. It became difficult to ignore.
Q: So you got offered a part and that brought you back to it?
JM: Yeah, it just kind of came back and found me, and then I wound up getting back into work again, but this time I guess I was a little more centred.
Q: Do you think that time working construction gave you a different perspective on the acting business?
JM: In a way, I’m glad that it happened. One of my favourite books, if not my favourite book, is The Fountainhead by Anne Rand and the hero of that book becomes disillusioned, and he goes to work in a rock quarry. So to me, in my mind, it was kind of like that. I didn’t know what I was going to do next, but I just wanted to be me and I thought I would go build houses, but acting kind of came back around.
Q: Construction is a physically demanding job. What was that like?
JM: Well, it’s a job that most people born in this country would never want to do. But it’s been in my family’s background. My family came to this country and worked hard. My grandfather shovelled coal on a barge and died of black lung as a result. My family is completely self made and built itself from the ground up. I guess there was something about me that needed to do that. I just wanted to break myself down and see what I was made of.
Q: Where did your family come from originally?
JM: Well my father’s family came from Naples and Messina, Sicily, and on my mother’s side, my great grandmother was Armenian and she escaped the Turks in 1915, and hid in the streets, in Constantinople before getting on a boat and coming to America. And then part of my mother’s family also came from Austria.
Q: What do you like to do when you are not working?
JM: Well, during that period when I wasn’t acting, I worked as a roadie for a rock band.
Q: Like I said, you’ve had a really interesting life…
JM: Yeah, it’s been pretty wild (laughs).
Q: What was that like?
JM: It was awesome. And what was interesting is that I got to watch a group of artists from a different discipline perform in front of a live audience. I learned a lot from watching them play the same set list night after night, the things that they said that made the crowd go wild, watching them manipulate the crowd. I think I became a much better theatre actor, and public speaker, after hanging out with this rock band night after night.
Q: What was the band?
JM: They’re called Goldfinger. It was a really amazing experience – plus I got to travel to some places that I wouldn’t have necessarily seen.
Q: In the U.S. or outside the U.S?
JM: U.S., Canada, we went to New Zealand, Australia, Hawaii – so I got to see a good piece of the world. It was awesome. It was a great time.
Q: Was that before you worked in construction or after?
JM: That was before, during and directly after the construction. But I couldn’t go back out on the road once acting happened. So I love live music, and I love going to check out live music whenever I can. I also used to box and in my time off when I wasn’t acting I was a sparring partner for an NHL Hockey player. We would go train in the boxing ring three times a week and just beat each other up (laughs). And once again, it was neat because those kinds of skills are applicable when it comes to acting. I wind up in fight scenes a lot and so it helps making the punches look believable. I also love to travel, I love going to the movies.
Q: Have you made your peace with LA now? Do you enjoy living here?
JM: Yeah. LA is a really interesting town and it can be anything you want it to be. I think what you get out of it depends on where you are at personally. A lot of people come here from different places and complain about it but I’m not one of those people. The weather is fantastic; you can hang out at the beach and who isn’t happy at the beach? (laughs). Who isn’t happy driving a convertible with the roof down? So yeah, I like it a lot.
Q: Are you single?
JM: No, I have a girlfriend.
Q: Do you see yourself with a family in the future?
JM: Yeah. I’ve got very traditional values in that way. And that’s one of the things about acting – it’s kind of forced me to figure out who I was and who I wanted to be. I think it’s easy to move here from somewhere else and get away from the man you want to be. You can get very involved with all of the nice, neat, shiny things in this town that a career like this can provide. And all of those things can isolate a person and I think that’s what happened to me, I think I just got very isolated. But, yes, family is definitely something that I want in the future and my relationship is like my anchor. I can go off and work on this show and be as crazy as I possibly can but I have a very stable home life and that’s very important to me.
Q: You’re talking about being crazy on screen I presume…
JM: (laughs). Yeah. What’s neat about my fellow cast mates is that they are all insanely talented but they are also very down to earth. All of them. You meet people from other shows and some of them drink and get crazy and wild and you see them out and they are all nuts. I won’t mention names or anything (laughs). But our guys are very proper, very grounded, very centred. All the drama is left for the show. We all have these stable home lives and go to set and get crazy (laughs).
Q: Is your girlfriend an actress?
JM: She was a model for many years and she does a bit of acting too.
Q: So she understands the world that you live in?
JM: She understands yeah and one of our first dates, we had a long conversation about Shakespeare, which was like, ‘wow, she gets it, this could work!’ Yeah, she definitely gets it. I mean, I like, any woman I would imagine, she has a little trouble with me running with my pants off or (laughs) prancing around on camera, but who wouldn’t? If she didn’t have a problem with that I would think she was weird (laughs).
Q: Have you been together long?
JM: Coming up on a year. Met about a year and a half ago, and coming up on a year, which in LA, is like dog years. Her name is Audra. She grew up in Peterborough, England.
Q: Have you been over to the UK yet?
JM: No, I haven’t and it’s embarrassing for me to say that I haven’t even been to Europe, but as soon as I get a free moment, I’m going and she wants to show me around.
Q: Appearing in a show like True Blood presumably opens up other opportunities for you as an actor?
JM: Yeah, definitely. The show is so popular and there are hopefully some really cool opportunities. And I’m very grateful for that.
TRUE BLOOD – THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON IS OUT NOW ON BLU-RAY AND DVD.
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