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Joe Manganiello on Magic Mike, Gold Thongs, and His Surreal Press Tour

Joe Manganiello. Photo: Jason Merritt/Getty Images

When Vulture caught up with Joe Manganiello yesterday, the actor was coming off of a busy weekend of work: After an entire Friday spent promoting his new male stripper movie Magic Mike, he’d gone to the set of True Blood to shoot season finale scenes until six in the morning, then continued to give interviews all day Saturday at Magic Mike’s press junket. It’s a nonstop schedule that would fell most mere mortals, but when you’re a six-foot-five hunk built like Manganiello is (and it’s a build that gets a whole lot of exposure in Steven Soderbergh’s stripper dramedy), you can probably take the hit. We talked to the energetic Manganiello about his wild Magic Mike costumes, his weird press tour appearances, and the teasing he’s endured on the set of True Blood.

It’s been a pretty surreal promotional tour for the movie. The other day, Kylie Minogue ate Doritos off your stomach.
Well, that was completely a surprise. I’ve been good friends with The Soup for a couple of years and I’ve done that show before, and they had this idea. They said, “We have a budget this time, and we want to make you this fat suit,” and I thought it was great. I had no idea that Kylie Minogue was gonna be there, and as soon as she was there, they came up with the idea of having her eat Doritos out of my belly button. At this point in my life, we’re beyond the bucket list. The bucket list is, like, “sky dive” or “ride a motorcycle” … you can’t cook up “penis pump in a Soderbergh movie,” “Kylie Minogue eating Doritos out of your belly button,” or “stroking a giant ax in front of millions of people at the MTV Movie Awards in a fireman’s suit.”

Do you ever get nervous before doing any of these insane things? Or have the last three years sort of trampled on any shrinking-violet tendencies you might have had left?
I think it’s been a process. The first time that I disrobed on True Blood, yeah, there was probably some trepidation in that, but then you go to the next level, which is Magic Mike, and then you go to the next level, which is the MTV Movie Awards. I think in the moment, I’m trying to make each one of them land. I mean, we came up with the MTV Movie Awards thing ten minutes before I went up there. So it was like, “Okay, wait, so I’m walking out? And then what am I gonna do?”

You’re right that it feels like a progression of surreal events. I’m surprised that you didn’t do a strip routine in front of the Queen for her Jubilee.
Hey listen, Magic Mike opens July 11 in the U.K. Don’t count it out.

The first time we meet your character backstage, he’s got these glasses perched halfway down his nose, he’s smoking a cigarette, and he’s sewing a thong. It’s not exactly glamorous.
You know, I have a lot of friends who are clothing designers and they’re always like, “Come to our studio downtown!” So I travel to some weird address in some recently gentrified building and when I get there, it’s just like this floor filled with, like, Asian people and dogs pissing on the floor. It’s like this gross sweatshop kinda thing, and I’m like, “Dude, why did you have me down here? It’s really weird.” And the [workers] always have a cigarette hanging out of their mouth and glasses hanging off of their nose and a bandana on, and so when it came time to do this scene where I’m at this sewing machine sewing this gold thong, I thought, Well, this is my homage to all of my designer friends and their Asian sweatshops.

How much input did you have into deciding what your character’s dances and costumes would be?
The fireman routine was in the script, the silhouette dance was in the script, but the one thing I said going into it was, “Guys, please, I’m up for these two classical sword-and-sandal pictures and I’m meeting with directors on them. Please don’t put me in a gladiator outfit, I don’t want to scare them off.” And sure enough, I get to my costume fitting and they’re like, “Oh my God, we’ve got this great gladiator suit!” And I’m like, “Guys, I am not doing the gladiator.” And so the compromise was that we had this great piece of classical music and I thought, Man, what if I was made out of stone and then I broke out of the stone and formed all the famous statues, like The Thinker, and you could paint me marble? It’d be awesome: The statue come to life. And then production came back to me and they were like, “No, you know what? We found these giant ten-foot-high gold statues, so let’s paint you gold.” And I’m like, “That makes no sense at all, but fine.” So the day of shooting, there was a team of five women and it took over an hour and they just covered me, every crevice, in gold. And the costumers gave me this gold lamé thong with a fig leaf on the front, and I just went for it.

Were you sneezing gold for a week?
The Black Keys were playing that night in Little Tokyo, and I was scrubbing and scrubbing and couldn’t get it all off. That whole night, people were like, “What’s on your face?”

Have you always been such a buff guy or did you ever have a nerdy, skinny phase?
Yeah! I mean, everyone walks into the gym on day one skinny or fat. Arnold Schwarzenegger walked into the gym skinny at 15 or 16, and I was that way, too. I didn’t fill out until I was 28, when I was working this crazy construction job, and if the role on True Blood didn’t require it, that’s not necessarily what I would look like. I’ve always been an athletic guy, but the extent to which I go for True Blood or for Magic Mike is because of the role that I’m playing.

Can we talk about Matthew McConaughey and his insanely committed performance? What was it like to be in the presence of that whirlwind?
Well, first of all, he needs to be nominated for everything this year. I mean, I’m serious. That guy, it’s amazing. To have one of the biggest stars of all time show up with that level of commitment, it sets the tone, it validated everything that I thought about the script. You show up on set and the biggest star in the movie is in a yellow, midriff-revealing halter top, bike shorts, ballet slippers … you look at him and go, “Okay, this shit? We’re playing for real here.” Any time I spent with McConaughey, I treasure. Just hearing him talk about the world is amazing.

What’s coming up on True Blood this season?
I’ve been really happy with this year. There’s a little werewolf show within the show that we have to explore more as the season goes on, but I had my little Scooby Doo adventure this season with Anna [Paquin], Stephen [Moyer], and Alex [Skarsgard], which is coming up in the middle of the season. Hanging out with them, we just have a really great time. It feels like a family. I mean, obviously Stephen and Anna are legal family, but it was really fun. They were teasing me a lot about Magic Mike and it got to the point where we were on set and we were just, like, humping furniture pieces and going over what body rolls are. It was really funny.

Joe Manganiello on Magic Mike’s Surreal Summer