Major Asset

Joe Manganiello’s Turn as Big Dick Richie in ‘Magic Mike’ and His Road to Hollywood

The ‘True Blood’ star talks to Marlow Stern about playing Big Dick Richie in ‘Magic Mike’—and his long, dark road to Hollywood.

Glen Wilson / Warner Bros.

About 20 minutes into Magic Mike, filmmaker Steven Soderbergh’s raunchy saga about a troupe of groupie-sexing, Ecstasy-popping male strippers, the audience lets out an audible gasp.

Big Dick Richie, a 6-foot-5 stripper played by True Blood hunk Joe Manganiello, is undergoing his usual pre-show ritual. Judging by the tormented expression on his face, however, he appears to be in great pain. The camera slowly pulls back, revealing his Adonis-like physique, and suddenly stops on a massive, erect penis being pumped up inside a glass cylinder. Apparently, ‘Big Dick Richie’ is not just a clever name.

When asked whether he used a prosthetic penis, the hulking actor gives the impression that … maybe he didn’t.

“Uh … Was it?” he replies, his voice rising dramatically in pitch. “Uh … Was it?” he says again, and then laughs. “I don’t know!”

Based (partly) on actor Channing Tatum’s four-month stint as a male stripper at the age of 19, Magic Mike centers on Magic Mike Martingano (Tatum), a veteran stripper who takes a teenage novice (Alex Pettyfer) under his wing. The pair work at Xquisite, a male strip club owned by a stripper named Dallas, played by a hilarious Matthew McConaughey. Yearning to quit the stripping game and open a furniture business, Mike courts his protégé’s sister, Paige (Cody Horn). Rounding out the stripper squad is Big Dick Richie (Manganiello), Ken (Matt Bomer), Tito (Adam Rodriguez), and Tarzan (Kevin Nash).

The female extras, meanwhile, had the time of their lives while filming.

“They went fucking bananas!” says Manganiello in an interview with The Daily Beast. “They ripped McConaughey’s thong off and he had to cup his junk and finish the routine, and one of the girls got orally explorative with one of the guys during his routine. She got pretty frisky … with her mouth.”

It’s been a long road to Hollywood for Manganiello, 35.

Born in Pittsburgh and raised in nearby Mt. Lebanon, Manganiello at 16—a star athlete—would borrow the cameras from his school’s TV studio on weekends and direct amateur movies featuring him and his friends.

“They were all Mafia-martial-arts movies,” he says with a laugh. “There was one where I was an Italian mob boss who had killed Bruce Lee, and my buddy Paul Dang, this Vietnamese kid, was playing a student of Bruce Lee’s who was trying to hunt down the guy who killed his master.”

When he wasn’t filming his movies, Manganiello made some cash on the side promoting at bars dressed as Captain Morgan.

“I lied about my age and they gave me this pirate suit, and I had these hot college chicks as wenches,” he says. “I had a backpack with a tank filled with rum, and we got everybody wasted. They loved me so much so they got me a fake ID of someone that was 10 years older than me, and I was Captain Morgan from 16 to 21.”

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After starring as Jud Fry in his school’s senior production of Oklahoma!, and graduating with a BFA in acting from Carnegie Mellon, Manganiello—then about 30 pounds lighter—paid a visit to Los Angeles and in just a week, landed an audition with Sam Raimi for the role of Peter Parker in 2002’s Spider-Man. He didn’t get the part, but was instead cast as Eugene “Flash” Thompson, the school bully. In a memorable scene from the film, Parker (Tobey Maguire) realizes his powers during a hallway brawl with Flash.

But filming on Spider-Man wasn’t going to start for six months, so Manganiello worked several odd jobs, including as a bodyguard for the rapper-cum-actor Tyrese Gibson in San Francisco.

“When I was working those jobs, you do take notes of how the celebrities act and behave to other people, especially the guys who make $10 an hour,” says Manganiello. “I saw a lot of things that I didn’t like and a lot of people behave in ways that I didn’t approve of. I got an education on how not to behave.”

Despite his Spider-Man gig, it took a while for Manganiello to get noticed in Tinseltown. In 2002 he did his best Mr. T impersonation, voicing a hand puppet shaped like a black dildo for the short film The Ketchup King, by a fellow Carnegie Mellon alum. He wouldn’t book another acting gig until 2006.

“I made a lot of mistakes in my early 20s and did a lot of stuff I’m not proud of,” he says.

During this time, Manganiello was working several odd jobs around Los Angeles to pay the bills while desperately trying to make it as an actor. He worked as a bouncer at a Mexican rock bar at Universal Studios—where he says he saw “a lot of knives”—and a drug-infested after-hours club called The Palace that played progressive trance music. That’s when things went south for him.

“Everything’s really fun in the club world when you first start out, and then it’s fun with problems, and then it turns into just problems,” he says. “When you’re around alcohol, drugs, women, and all that shiny stuff, you can get caught up in it.” He pauses. “I had to quit drinking, big-time. I couldn’t work to the level that I work today the way that I used to drink. There’s no way.”

He’d later appear on a series of TV shows, including starring as Tori Spelling’s boyfriend—alongside his Carnegie Mellon pal, Zachary Quinto—in the short-lived VH1 show So Notorious, as well as brief arcs on the shows How I Met Your Mother, One Tree Hill, and the telenovela American Heiress.

“You’re kind of stuck between boy and man, and in my 20s, all the parts didn’t really fit together,” he says. “I wasn’t really a CW kid coming out of college, and I needed to grow into being a man.”

It wasn’t until landing the role of Alcide Herveaux, a chiseled, oft-shirtless werewolf in the hit HBO show True Blood, that Manganiello finally gained notice. After the actor originally auditioned for the role of Cooter, a werewolf during the show’s first season, creator Alan Ball chose him for Alcide, who was introduced during the show’s third season in 2010 (the show’s fifth season is currently airing). Alcide is one of Sookie Stackhouse’s (Anna Paquin) devoted protectors. However, unlike the other cast members, Manganiello’s character has yet to bed Sookie.

“Alcide needs to get some soon,” says a chuckling Manganiello. “There’s a lot of sexual tension going on, for sure. It’s going to come to a head.”

On June 29, Manganiello will star as scene-stealer Big Dick Richie in Magic Mike. One of the things that motivated him to appear in the film, in addition to working with Soderbergh and coming to terms with his own club past, is working alongside his college pal, Matt Bomer (star of the USA series White Collar). Bomer made headlines in February when he came out as gay, thanking his partner, publicist Simon Halls, and their children during an acceptance speech.

“It wasn’t news to me because I’ve been friends with Matt for years,” says Manganiello. “Matt’s one of the greatest guys you could ever possibly meet. I spoke this year as part of a human-rights campaign in favor of gay marriage, and a large motivation for me was because of Matt and Simon. They’re just the best couple and it’s stupid for people to make an issue out of it at all.”

Manganiello is currently filming the fifth-season finale to True Blood, and later this summer, is headed to Maine to shoot a black comedy called Tumbledown, alongside Rose Byrne and Jason Sudeikis. When asked about being a late-bloomer in Hollywood, the towering 35-year-old actor can’t help but get choked up.

“I think if the general public knew everything I had to go through to get to where I am today … I don’t want to say they’d cry, but I definitely tear up thinking about it,” he says. “It’s been a long, hard, crazy road, and I think that all the stuff that I went through really makes me appreciate it.”