Joe Manganiello Suffered for Your Pleasure in Magic Mike XXL: ‘Strippin’ Ain’t Easy’

Several of the supporting actors from the first Magic Mike movie have opted not to return for the sequel, but the ones who did have really made the most of it — none more than Joe Manganiello. His character Big Dick Richie was just an overmuscled sight-gag in Steven Soderbergh’s original flick, but in Magic Mike XXL (out today), Manganiello practically becomes the co-lead of the movie, flexing and strutting on a Florida road-trip with Mike (Channing Tatum) and his male-stripper pals. The True Blood alum also gets the movie’s best scene, a riotous mini-mart sequence where Richie improvises a sensual, self-parodying routine to one of the most famous boy-band songs ever. Magnaniello hopped on the phone with Vulture recently to discuss how that sequence came about, his thoughts on onscreen nudity, and the freak injury that almost cut his stripping time short.

One of the most shocking things about Magic Mike XXL is that yours is the only bare ass in the movie until the last five minutes or so. How did that happen?
I guess on the first one, you saw Channing’s ass right off the bat, right? So on this one, they must have gone down the call sheet: “Hey, No. 2, you’re up!”

The ass baton was passed?
Yes, the ass baton was passed, thank you. That was actually the first scene of the movie for me — scene one, day one — and, hey, I wouldn’t have it any other way. We’re making a movie about male strippers here. Make no mistake, I came to play.

Let’s talk about your big centerpiece sequence, where Richie is high on molly and strips to the Backstreet Boys anthem “I Want It That Way” in a mini-mart.
I got to pick the music for that! I have a production company and I’m working with a director who had just finished making a Backstreet Boys documentary, and I had just come from a screening of it when I went to choreography for the first day of this mini-mart routine. And it hit me in the parking lot on our walk down: I turned to our choreographer and said, “Look, it’s gotta be the Backstreet Boys. Richie has to be this closet Backstreet fan, and that song comes on and saves him and unlocks his inner dancer!” And then I talked to [screenwriter] Reid Carolin about it, and he put this whole section in earlier in the movie where you can hear Richie talking about the Backstreet Boys.

Were you stridently pro-Backstreet and anti–‘N Sync even before you saw that Backstreet Boys doc?
Completely! You know, ‘N Sync was formed by Lou Pearlman to take the gigs that Backstreet was turning down. So, yeah. [Laughs.]

On the day you shot the mini-mart scene, did you have to listen to “I Want It That Way” a million times on set?
Actually, other than getting the Cheetos bag to pop the right way, there were probably only two or three takes of that scene.

That’s a lot more efficient than I would have thought. Is that one of the perks to having someone like Steven Soderbergh serving as the cinematographer and editor?
It is the way that he shoots, but also I’m not an actor who needs or requires a million takes, especially with physical things. Our choreographers did an amazing job coming up with this routine, and I had a little time to play around with it and fill it up with my performance, but by the time we were ready to shoot, I was ready to go.

In that scene, Richie is challenged to make the mini-mart clerk smile, and she’s a hard woman to impress — even Richie’s barely clothed acrobatics don’t faze her. Where did they find the actress for that scene?
The girl in the mini-mart is brilliant, and she would not crack, no matter what I did! It really did start making me self-conscious, that she would just not crack a smile. But she’s an actress from Atlanta, I think, and they brought her up for the day. Our location talent had a great eye and did a great job of finding these girls who felt real and true.

What about the woman you give your final lap-dance to in the third act? Did you meet her the day you shot the scene, or were you working with her beforehand to get her comfortable?
We had to rehearse and rehearse and rehearse together. And even though we rehearsed that much, still, on take one, she did something outside the lines of the choreography we had worked out, and the result was that it tore my bicep to the point where I needed surgery the second I got back to L.A. I almost couldn’t finish the movie. So, yeah, even when you’ve got a routine that may look simple, it’s still very complex and acrobatic in nature, and you can still have accidents.

Jesus. Were you compensating for that injury for the rest of the film?
Yeah, I had to compensate. I mean, it happened on take one! You can’t tell, but it was excruciating … but what are you gonna do? Usually when your bicep rips, it snaps up into your shoulder, and this one didn’t. It stayed down, and because it stayed down, I filmed for another four hours doing an acrobatic routine on monkey bars and carrying her up the stairs. I’m lucky that it stayed in place. Hey, man, strippin’ ain’t easy.

We met Richie in the first film, but he took a backseat to the other characters, for the most part. Here, he really comes to the fore. How much input did you have when it came to shaping him up for the sequel?
The answer is a lot. I didn’t know we were going to make a Magic Mike sequel when I shot my documentary, La Bare, where I spent time with a bunch of male strippers at a very notorious club in Dallas, Texas. I was shooting that simply because there was nothing else like it in the Zeitgeist, but it was kind of the best prep work I could have done. Especially the tone and the locker-room sense of humor those guys had, it was something I knew I could use if we got a shot at a sequel.

Your final dance routine seems to be riffing on two female-fantasy properties, The Bachelor and Fifty Shades of Grey. Have you watched either of those?
I may have seen, like, ten minutes of The Bachelor at some point, but I’ve never watched a full episode. And I’ve never read nor seen Fifty Shades of Grey. But you know, I got to pick my music for that scene as well, and I’m a huge Nine Inch Nails fan. I thought, God, if we could get Closer,” and sure enough, Trent Reznor was cool enough to give it to me.

Did you have to craft a special pitch to get Nine Inch Nails and the Backstreet Boys to sign off on using their songs in these stripping scenes?
It helped that Soderbergh is friends with David Fincher, who is a longtime collaborator with Trent Reznor. As far as Backstreet goes, I’m pretty sure they just went along with it. I know A.J. McLean pretty well, and I was actually over at his house for dinner a few months ago showing him the choreography. I kind of reenacted the mini-mart scene in his kitchen before we ate dinner, and he said, “Hey, wait a minute! That’s our choreography from the video!” Which … exactly. Richie knows the choreography.

You’re co-starring in Netflix’s upcoming Pee-wee Herman movie. Childhood dream come true?
Yes. My role in it is not stunt casting — I’m not doing a cameo as myself in one scene. I’m playing Pee-wee’s best friend, so it’s a whole thing. I did scene after scene after scene with Pee-wee Herman! I’m playing a character who’s talking to Pee-wee, and Pee-wee’s talking to me! You talk about laughing hysterically … I mean, we were rolling on the ground laughing during that one. It was surreal, and I can’t wait to see it.

Joe Manganiello on His Magic Mike XXL Injury