Steaming Joe
Superhunk Joe Manganiello goes behind the scenes of 'Magic Mike'

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Actor Joe Manganiello actually IS that stunning in person. That long, perfectly sculpted torso and Greek-god chiseled face that have enraptured fans of “True Blood” are not computer generated. Up close and personal, the broad-shouldered, 6’5” hunk is every inch as hot as the meticulously scruffy werewolf Alcide, whom he portrays on the hit HBO series.

But Manganiello also is smart and has an appealing sense of humor. The increasingly busy actor was in Chicago to promote Steven Soderbergh’s just-released male stripper film “Magic Mike,” which is loosely based on the real-life, pre-stardom stripping career of actor Tatum Channing. Manganiello plays exotic dancer Big Dick Richie.

What made you want to play Big Dick Richie?

Besides the name (laughs)? And the legacy that would come along with the name? I read the script and it was like scene-stealing moment after scene-stealing moment – between the fireman suit, the gold body paint, the silhouette routine, the penis pump. Then, of course, Steven Soderbergh, Chan, (Matthew) McConaughey and my drama school classmate Matt Bomer. It was a slam-dunk.

The audience’s first glimpse of you is back- stage, seated at a sewing machine, working on your costume.

I’m sewing my gold thong.

Was that your first time with a sewing machine?

We had a home ec class in junior high, so I knew my way around a sewing machine.

Which of Richie’s costumes did you like best?

The gold body paint was epic. It took a good solid hour, with five people applying this makeup to every crevice. ... It was me as this gold statue come to life, just mauling a floor full of women, knocking tables over, jumping on things. It was a Dionysian orgy, and I rubbed up on everybody. I think it stayed on me pretty well, which is kind of freaky to think about, actually.

What was involved in researching your role?

A really good longtime friend of mine was a male stripper in Dallas during the ’90s at a club called La Bare. He was actually responsible for coming up with the fireman routine there. I took him out to lunch, we hung out. I had heard some of his stories before, but never with the amount of interest that I had now, obviously. I bought him lunch and took notes and laughed hysterically and got a really good feel for (what he did). Plus I’ve worked in clubs since I was 16 years old, so I know that life, I know those people.

Were you that tall at 16?

Yes.

So you were able to pass for older.

Yeah. Seagram’s hired me to be Captain Morgan for $25 an hour when I was 16. They didn’t really question it. We got me a fake ID from somebody who was 10 years older just to make sure I was covered. Interestingly enough, I was actually in Chicago when I was 21. I got a job that summer working for Finlandia Vodka. We wound up here (in Chicago) promoting Finlandia during the Pride festival. I was wearing a tuxedo and they sent me in with a tray of Finlandia vodka drinks into a bar – I don’t know if it’s still here – called the Manhole.

It’s now called hydrate.

I ended up veering right into a backroom with a metal spider-web (laughs), at 21, man! That was educational, I’ll just say that.

Did you learn anything about the male stripper world that you didn’t know before?

I think the differences and similarities between male and female strip clubs was fascinating. Men are threatening to women, where women aren’t threatening to men. So if women aren’t threatening to men, let them do whatever they want. You go to the male strip club, and women are screaming, grabbing, groping, backstage, under the table, in the parking lot. ... You don’t really need security, because every one of the guys is their own security. It’s go for it, do your thing. I think that’s why a lot of the guys are into it. For the women that it’s probably more about the money; for the guys it’s more about the good time.

The money doesn’t hurt.

Oh, sure, but these guys aren’t thinking about tomorrow. It’s enough to keep going, as long as there’s drink and drugs. It’s the Lost Boys. I think the costumes, presenting themselves as female fantasies, and the nature of the theatrics, it’s more fun.

Steven Soderbergh elevates “Magic Mike” above your typical movie about strippers.

He’s a very intuitive film- maker. He trusts his gut. It’s possible because he’s his own cameraman; he sees it in his head. What that allows him to do is observe what’s going on in front of him and make judgment calls based upon, “Is what I’m seeing more interesting than maybe what we were going to shoot? If so, then maybe we should shoot that.” Everything in the locker room (scene) came out of us messing around, waiting for Steven to set up the shot. He’d say, “Let’s shoot that. This is great, this is funny.” It just so happened that the casting was right, and there was this great group of guys who played off of each other really well. It added a whole other movie within the movie that wasn’t there.

Your old friend Matt Bomer, who plays Ken in the movie, recently came out as gay. Will that increase the movie’s appeal to gays, or do you think the sub-ject matter alone is enough?

I think Matt’s a brilliant actor. Matt’s one of the best-looking guys on the planet, and he’s one of the best actors on the planet. I think that’s the draw. I certainly think this movie appeals to that demographic (laughs), regardless.