Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Hardest-Working Hunk in Hollywood: Pittsburgh's Joe Manganiello

Five years ago before babies and husband, I never had crushes on celebrities. I was aloof to chiseled looks and smoldering smiles. The crushes I did have were hold overs from the 80s like Kiefer Sutherland in Lost Boys. So it is no surprise in my “desperate housewife” status I convert back to vampires in my pregnant and married hormonal overload.

It was a fellow mom that first turned me onto HBO’s True Blood series and Joe Manganiello, who plays Alcide the noble werewolf character. Normally, I am more of an Eric Northman-type, the wicked, blond European vampire character, but I made an exception for Joe since on top of looking like the sexiest lumberjack alive he is a Pittsburgh native with a heart of gold.

I got a chance to talk with Joe this past summer and, as I said celebrity doesn’t usually faze me, but in my hormonal pregnant state I was just a tad bit over excited. What I discovered was that Joe, a Carnegie Mellon grad, is a serious actor who uses his Pittsburgh work ethic as a secret weapon when amongst the Hollywood glitterati.

His recent reported split with his fiancé has put him back on the market, although he never really left my married mom fantasies.

Here are some excerpts from our chat.
Do you think that your move from Pitt to CMU was really pinnacle for your training as an actor and for your career?
JM: “CMU was my dream that was my goal. My goal was to go to CMU. Growing up in Pittsburgh, CMU is really legendary and I got into the acting game later on in life than most of my classmates at CMU or most of the kids that go to CMU. There are a lot of performance arts kids there from around the world. There’s also kids that have been acting from a very young age and that wasn’t my path.

I was an athlete pretty much right up until the time that I went to college. Because of that, I don’t think I had enough understanding, knowledge, and training. I don’t think I had enough practice behind me to get into Carnegie Mellon so obviously at the end of the day, in hindsight, I was capable of going there but I don’t think I had enough under my belt to get accepted to that school.

I actually didn’t apply to any other schools. When I didn’t get into CMU I put in my application at Pitt and went there for a year and loaded on theater classes across the board to the point that my guidance counselor was telling me ‘You’re making a mistake because you’re taking all of your theater classes your first year and you’re not going to be able to take anything more for the rest of your time here. You’re going to be taking math and science for the rest of your time here.’

But in my mind I didn’t expect to stay there, at Pitt, past a year. I was only at Pitt for a year to load up for everything I possibly could, get enough under my belt and work that year so that whether I got into CMU or not, I know that I tried my best and did the best that I could. So yeah, I did really put all of my eggs into one basket.”

Since you didn’t grow up in theater, what was it that turned you onto to an acting career?
JM: “Thinking back now, I mean obviously it worked out. It’s so crazy to put everything into that one basket. I don’t know what it was, I have always been artistic my whole life and that was probably the predominating factor in my personality being artistic, whether it was writing stories, or drawing pictures, going to art classes, creating characters. I was always good at the arts and there was something in me that just drove me towards it.

It’s got to be every parent’s worst nightmare to have a kid who’s working for sports scholarships, as big as I was, and have the possibility that I did athletically or even academically but there was just something in me that knew that this was it. There was something in me that just would not accept anything less.”

So let’s talk about True Blood. They incorporate real wolves into the series and I’m wondering how that works and if you’ve gotten a chance to bond with your wolf. What it’s like to work with them on the set?
JM: “Yeah I have. There’s a wolf in particular, who plays Alcide when he is in wolf form. I got friendly with the wolf handlers and they actually let me come up and visit the wolves any time I want, so I get to go up and hang out with my wolf and take him for a walk”

Does any of that relationship play into when you’re channeling your character?
JM: “I watched and studied wolves in their habit, watched a lot of videos, hung out with wolves in preparation for the role while I was shooting just to pick up what they were like. You just got to throw these things into a pot, stir it up and see how it turns out. I have learned a lot from hanging out with wolves. There’s nothing that displays my relationship between me and my wolf because we’re never on the screen together.”

What is it like working with Oscar-winning actress Anna Paquin?
JM: “She’s great. I love what she’s done with the role. I love how she’s brought the characters from the books to life. She’s so good, so likeable and there are days where she’ll have an emotional scene to do and she’ll basically be crying for 10 hours straight and just to watch her work is amazing. I love the fact that my character’s storyline intersects with her a lot. She is a fantastic actress and is just a great, very warm and friendly person. I can’t say enough good things about her”.

How do you stay humble in Hollywood? You went out there right after college, right?
JM: “I did, yes right after college. Most of the people that I admire the most are usually the people that have great character. Character is a word that I heard a lot, both growing up in Pittsburgh and from my dad. At the end of the day it’s really about character and if you don’t have character that will catch up to you at the end.

You come from Pittsburgh, although there are no steel mills anywhere anymore, but that work place attitude is still there. I didn’t want to be known in acting for my talent, I wanted to be known for my work ethic because if I worked as hard as a I could then it’s either going to happen or it’s not. As it turns out I worked as hard as I could.

How do I stay humble? I’m the one who’s in the gym twice a day working out for this show. There’s a lot of work and I don’t get a lot of time to myself.

It was easy for me to handle this because my parents are so grounded and I come from a city that is so grounded. Pittsburgh doesn’t tolerate that; they don’t tolerate people thinking they’re better. Look at the football team, you act out and you’re gone. That’s definitely something that’s in my core as well.”

So when you’re away from Pittsburgh do you still watch the Steelers, the Pens? Are you kind of the Pittsburgh boy on set?
JM: “I don’t miss a game. I actually had to make an appearance in Hollywood at a casino and I realized that my plane flight was going to intersect with the Steelers/Dolphins game this year so I actually changed my flight, changed the time so that I could make sure I could watch the whole game. I’m just that kind of man.

So when I was back in Pittsburgh for Christmas they let me come on the field right before kickoff at the Jets game and I extended my vacation back to Pittsburgh to see the Winter Classic. I am very active in Pittsburgh sports and also Pittsburgh as a city. I came back and did a charity event for the Salvation Army over Thanksgiving. I love my city and every chance I have I love to give back and I just love to be around my friends and fellow Steelers fans.

What’s your favorite script or play?
JM: “Oh well I played Stanley Kowalski in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’”

Is there someone else out there that you would want to work with in your career?
JM: “Growing up I was a huge fan of Gary Oldman. Gary Oldman was one of the real reasons why I became an actor”.

(My mommy-centric question)Do you want kids?
JM: “Yeah, I do want kids, absolutely!

Favorite places to visit in Pittsburgh?
JM: “Primanti Brothers in the Strip District and the Andy Warhol Museum”

What is your favorite drink?
JM: “Coke Zero…I don’t drink alcohol”

In my fantasy world Joe would agree to a photo shoot with my daughter as Little Red Riding Hood. The setting would be a simple tea party table with delicate china that Joe's 6'5" frame would have to fold to get down to my daughter's level.

I actually told him this and he said, maybe out of politeness, that he thought it would be cute too. Such a gent.

He is more than welcome to babysit me, I mean my kids, anytime.

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