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No one ever claimed Joe Manganiello was miscast. Not for the role that has made him famous, Alcide Herveaux, the loner werewolf with the heart of gold on the HBO series True Blood. And not for Big Dick Richie, one of seven Tampa-area strippers in Magic Mike, director Steven Soderbergh's story of experienced male dancer Mike's (Channing Tatum) recruitment of directionless college dropout The Kid (Alex Pettyfer) for life on the stage, opening Friday.
To say both parts require an actor with an exhibitionist streak would be an understatement. He's gotta love getting naked to play a guy who relies on his ability to transform into a supernatural beast, losing all his clothing in the process. And the name of his Magic Mike character alone is enough to reveal this part is not for a conservative thespian.
For Manganiello, though, it's just another day at the clothing-optional office.
"My day job consists of running around naked in broad daylight, growling at grown adults, so shyness went away long before True Blood," he says while promoting Magic Mike at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel. "There was always something in me that was trying to shock people or try to take the piss out of myself, and this was no exception."
Nudity isn't the only thing True Blood and Magic Mike have in common. Each expertly tiptoes the line between melodrama and satire, treating topics such as male stripping and vampires with seriousness one moment, and acknowledging their ridiculousness with a wink the next. True Blood, a supernatural soap opera, is known for embracing its inherent campiness. In Magic Mike, Soderbergh counterbalances the characters' emotional struggles with drugs and relationships via full-length, laughably gratuitous strip club routines, complete with cheesy hip-thrusting choreography and tear-away costumes. The result is both disorienting and embarrassingly delightful.
Manganiello is the first to admit that male stripping isn't exactly a high art.
"Male stripping is funny. It's not as serious or, let's say, pole-driven as female stripping. Male stripping, when you see the movie, is about —" Manganiello takes a deep breath and chuckles, as if he can't believe what he's about to say, "storytelling. It's about character."
So it's about the craft? Not exactly. "It's about the costumes; it's about the uniform. There's about 90 seconds of intro into the story — you're the fireman, you're the cop, you're the cowboy. Then it all breaks down into dry-humping a woman in a chair."
But the classically trained actor can't exactly deny its appeal either.
"Other than the really dark side of it," Manganiello says, referencing the drug addiction and related crimes depicted in the film, "at the end of the day it's like, you get to hang out with your buddies, you get to drink and do drugs and be a degenerate, and get all worked up and grind on these screaming women who are pawing at you, stuffing money into your pants. You go count out your money, and you take all the women home with you, or you take 'em to the parking lot or backstage or whatever you're doing. Then you go home, sleep for a couple hours, you get up, lift some weights, and do it all over again. Geez. It's good work if you can get it."
Maybe that's why Manganiello's castmates, forming a boy-band-like troupe of strippers on-screen, adapted so well to their alter egos. Hollywood heartthrobs such as Tatum and Matthew McConaughey (who plays Dallas) seem comfortable in their own skin, of course, but none has the premium-cable levels of on-camera nude experience that Manganiello has. Still, he remembers, "Everybody just went with it. They just went, well, I was going to say 'balls out,' but, well, yeah. I went there."
Perhaps none of them embraced the character quite as enthusiastically as Manganiello, though. He used the "whole Kama Sutra" of new moves he learned for Magic Mike while filming sexy scenes for the current season of True Blood, he says. Later, costar Tatum jokes, "Joe is still in character, I think. He's not letting it go."
But there is one downside to playing a character named Big Dick Richie.
"Somebody asked me today: 'Are you worried that there's going to be a lot of expectation once the movie comes out?'" Manganiello laughs. "I said, 'Well, I think I'm just going to revel in the curiosity.'"
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