Surrounded by thick, long black cables and hanging lights in a hotel room at the Mandarin Oriental sat Joe Manganiello. After hours of on-camera interviews in promotion for his latest film, Sabotage, this tall, muscular man could have been lost in the rubble had it not been for his crisp indigo suit and soft smile that could melt even stone.
Fans might recognize the Pittsburgh native from his role as werewolf and pack master Alcide Herveaux on HBO's True Blood, where he spends a lot of time with his shirt off (it's not porn, it's HBO). Or, perhaps you've seen a little movie called Magic Mike, and your favorite character wasn't The Kid but rather Big Dick Richie.
It's safe to say Manganiello spends a great deal of time partially clothed on screen - and though we're not complaining, we're just saying there's more to the man than his looks.
Sabotage was co-written and directed by David Ayer, who Manganiello says had been on his radar for over a decade.
"After 14 years, Training Day is the best script that I've ever read - or rather, the one that I had the most visceral response to."
He's seen all of Ayer's movies, so when the opportunity came to work with him, Manganiello didn't hesitate.
"I jumped at the chance to work with Ayer, because he really gives his actors an opportunity to be immersed in the role," he said. "He writes for the streets. He has access to cops -- federal guys -- and that was something that I really wanted to experience."
Before going to college for classical theater -- yes, Manganiello is a classically trained actor with a BFA from Carnegie Mellon -- he actually debated going into federal law enforcement.
"For me, this was exactly the type of role that I wanted to take on, because it allowed me to do what I love most about acting, which was learn."
Manganiello says he took the role primarily because of Ayer, and he loved the script and character, but he also admits that working with his childhood hero was like a dream come true. Growing up, he was a fan of comic books, sci-fi novels, fantasy movies, Stephen King, and, yes, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
His co-star in the film, Schwarzenegger can only speak wonders about Manganiello - he has even gone so far as to say that Manganiello is the next great action movie star of this generation.
"It's very flattering to hear that," says Manganiello with a smile as he adverts his eyes to the floor and rests his chin between his index, middle fingers, and thumb. "He was my hero growing up, so to have him say that, it's everything to me."
In the film, Manganiello plays Grinder, an outcast who was recruited to be a part of Schwarzenegger's team of undercover drug enforcement agents. Grinder is a big tough guy who rides a motorcycle, has tons of tattoos, wears his hair in cornrows (sometimes with a bandana), and has on a permanent scowl.
What initially drew Manganiello to the role was the subtle arc Grinder undergoes in the film, but most importantly, the fact that he was able to find depth and an "aggressive sensitivity" to the character.
"I also thought the idea that this outsider, this loner, could actually be willing to lay his life down for a team member [was interesting]. But as soon as that trust is broken, he'll kill them -- and he let's them know that, 'if I see your faces again, I'll kill you,'" he says, perfectly quoting a line from the movie.
Manganiello used his character-building skills to make the film more than just a typical action movie and to show this "really interesting character living in this interesting world."
"I don't like comic book movies that treat themselves like comic books. I don't like action movies that treat themselves like action movies. I like good stories, and this was a really great story and a great character."
Reflecting on his character of Alcide, Manganiello says he doesn't see much of a similarity between Grinder and the pack master, other than they are both incredibly strong men.
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"They're both very masculine characters in the Chinese Yang [sense of the word], but they also have this internal sense of truth, or sense of justice.
"Maybe that's the through line to some of the characters that I play: a strong sense of justice. I mean, other than Big Dick Richie, of course," he says with a laugh, "he's a whole other story."
Sabotage hits theaters today, March 28. Directed by David Ayer and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sam Worthington, Terrence Howard, and Joe Manganiello. Runtime 109 minutes.