On the surface, it certainly seems like Joe Manganiello has it all figured out.
His IMDB page boasts the kind of credits most actors would kill for: a hit HBO show in True Blood, a hit film franchise in Magic Mike. It’s a body of work that makes him a bonafide Hollywood star.
Then, of course, there’s his actual body, seemingly sculpted from marble and free of the flaws that besiege most men. And let’s not forget that he’s married to Sofia Vergara, the Colombian actress who is not only drop-dead gorgeous – but hilarious too.
But in a candid Zoom conversation, the 43-year-old proves that in many ways he is refreshingly just like the rest of us. He’s sad because COVID means he can’t watch his football team play. He’s torn between chasing creative fulfilment or just getting paid. And he spends too much time trying to convince his wife to watch The Sopranos.
On the day we speak, Joe is promoting his new film, Archenemy. Unlike his previous movies, this one doesn’t come with the backing of a major studio. There is no PR machine whizzing away in the background to guarantee box office success, no ensemble cast, no buzzy director. Instead, it falls to Joe, who doubles as the film’s producer, to spread the word.
At the agreed interview time a freshly shaven Joe Manganiello appears on my screen, and straight away he wants to talk football, NFL to be precise. His beloved Pittsburgh Steelers were due to play on the day we speak but the match has been postponed. No prizes for guessing why.
No game today then?
The team we were playing had a COVID outbreak, so half their roster was ineligible. So our game has been moved to tomorrow and before that our last match got pushed by six days. Driving me crazy. I miss my football! I miss being able to go and watch it. You guys have got people back in the stadiums yeah?
For the most part. We had the National Rugby League grand final in October with nearly 40,000 people there, which I think was our biggest.
That’s crazy. I love AFL, that’s one of my favourite sports to watch because it’s a combination of the two sports I grew up playing, football and basketball. You’re running continuously. You have to jump, hit, tackle.
Have you tried it when you’ve been out here?
No, I haven’t, but I’m 6’5 and have a solid frame. I could’ve been an AFL player for sure.
At least you kept acting as a backup.
Yeah, luckily that worked out.
Archenemy is your new film, which opens in Australia this weekend. You play Max Fist, who is, hmm. How would you describe him? The worst superhero ever?
Basically, [laughs]. Max Fist is like the flawed anti-hero we all need, the anti-Superman, and that appealed to me.
At its heart, Archenemy is a what-if story: What if Superman landed on the wrong planet? And instead of becoming stronger than everyone, it was the reverse. What if gravity meant he couldn’t fly? And instead, he was always sore, weak and in pain?
Superman ends up not so super?
Exactly! We’re so conditioned to expect our superheroes to have this inbuilt morality, but what happens if those powers landed in the hands of someone who wasn’t right for it?
Clark Kent was raised in Kansas by lovely parents who taught him about right and wrong. But what if he had been from a bad home, with a tough upbringing. That’s always interested me.
The superhero genre belongs to Hollywood’s heavy hitters: Marvel and DC. You’ve been on those sets. How different was it making this type of film on an independent budget?
It’s a very challenging experience, indie filmmaking is hard, man.
There’s an action sequence in this film [below] where I smash a door down, come running in and tackle one guy to the ground punch him in the face then get up, snap his neck and then take care of a whole bunch of other guys.
On a DC flick or Marvel movie, you would block and shoot that sequence over three days.
You had… one day?
Not even one day, we had one take! We set up a stationary camera to capture it all in one shot, so in the background, you see me smash through the door, come running up and then tackle the guy.
The whole time I’m thinking, ‘I have to get this right because we can’t afford to pay everyone overtime!’
I’m not sure if you’re aware, but the Magic Mike Live stage show is premiering in Sydney next week! Tickets are basically sold out.
I’m not even close to surprised.
Obviously, there’s a surface-level interest – famous attractive dudes dancing. But are you impressed with the enduring appeal of the Magic Mike films?
Yes and no. Initially, I signed on because it was Steven Soderbergh, and the way he explained his vision, the way he wanted to shoot it, it was a no brainer.
But the script read as quite dark, it was in the same neighbourhood as [another Soderbergh film] The Girlfriend Experience.
That’s a great movie. Super dark, an exposé of the high-class escort world.
Exactly! And Magic Mike was the same thing, but looking at the world of male stripping. It also ended up having an inherent comedy because of these dance routines, and none of us realised how funny it would be until we got on set.
You mention dance routines. None are more memorable than your scene in the gas station?
Still, my most talked-about scene [laughs].
Using the Backstreet Boys ‘I Want It That Way’ proved an absolute masterstroke.
It was funny on the first day of rehearsals for Magic Mike XXL I had been to see a Backstreet Boys documentary. So I was driving to the studio afterwards, playing Backstreet Boys in the car, and the more I listened to it, the more I saw Richie as this closet Backstreet Boys fan. A guy who knew every step of choreography to every song.
So when I got to rehearsals, before the choreographers could even speak, I put on I Want It That Way and said it has to be this track.
Bet the Backstreet Boys were happy. Hey, your brother Nick was a producer on Archenemy. How do you go working together?
We’re totally in sync, there’s a shorthand there that works, plus it’s great to have someone who has your back in Hollywood. We like all the same movies, and we always give the same notes when we read scripts.
My wife is also a writer, so we have this thing where we talk about work. And sometimes that’s helpful, and sometimes it’s not. Do you have that with Sofia, or do you keep it separate?
She doesn’t read the script that I’m reading for interest or vice versa, but often things come up, and I say, ‘Hey read this, I like it, or hey read this, I hate it, here’s why’ and then that becomes fodder for dinner conversation.
You’ve worked together once before, right?
Yep, we shot Bottom of the 9th in 2019, a baseball film.
What was it like working with your wife?
I had read the script years before we started dating and I pitched it to her back then because I thought it would be a great script to show Sofia’s acting ability. That was my cover story anyway. Mostly I was desperate to get Sofia on the same set as me so I could work my magic.
Worked out pretty well.
But then it didn’t quite get off the ground and the, of course, we did start dating, and then we ended up getting married. One day she was complaining she hadn’t read a great script in a while, so we dusted off Bottom of the 9th and got it made.
Would you do it again?
There is alot that goes on when you work together as a couple, but we’d be up for it. I think the two of us could be great in an Addams Family remake.
You both have serious TV pedigree. Sofia with Modern Family and you with True Blood. Is that a medium you’re keen to return to?
I did five seasons of True Blood, and I loved it. I enjoyed being able to develop a character, figure out where I wanted to take the arc over a whole season.
True Blood came up in that second golden age of television.
We did. It premiered in 2008, and at that time HBO was coming off The Sopranos, which finished in 2007 but then Mad Men had just started as well. And also I remember everyone on set everyone suddenly talking about Breaking Bad, it was the hot new show. We all came up together – Mad Men, True Blood, and Breaking Bad.
Good company. Do you get a chance to watch much television these days?
I’m obsessed with Succession. I’m counting down the days until season three. The characters are so unlikeable, and it’s so good that I yell at the TV. Sofia had never seen The Sopranos, Mad Men or The Wire, so we’re doing a rewatch classics in our house.
Oh my god, that’s a serious education.
Totally. That was our pandemic TV viewing. She also hadn’t seen Eastbound & Down, so I rewatched that again.
Finally, you’re at the peak of your powers now, Archenemy coming out this week in Australia. What’s next on your list to tick off project-wise?
It’s tough to know what the future holds, but I know that I am so proud of Archenemy, and I hope it brings more exciting roles my way.
If not, there’s always AFL.
ARCHENEMY is in Cinemas from December 10th.
Available on Foxtel from 17/12 and Google, Fetch TV, Microsoft from 13/1