“No matter how much my outsides change, I will always look in the mirror and see the skinny, coke bottle glasses, big eared kid with the bad haircut, laying on my mom’s living room rug …”
by Frances Rossini
photography by Alison Dyer
As easy as it is to funnel a good looking, Hollywood hunk into the stereotypical pretentious meathead mold, Joe Manganiello touts a much deeper, artistic soul. On the surface he has an ideal muscular build that you normally see as a product of performance enhancers and gym-dwelling; but he is proud of achieving it through genuine dedication, persistence, mental clarity, and a hyper-awareness of confidence contingent on goal making. Starting out as Flash Thompson in the original Spider-Man films, Joe has had roles in several TV shows such as ER and How I Met Your Mother. He’s currently the esteemed werewolf packmaster, Alcide Herveaux, on the HBO series True Blood. Outside of leading werewolves, Joe spends his time writing and compiling workout inspirations, adages, and regiments for his book, “Evolution,” to help men attain the amount of self-confidence and muscle mass that he has.
Early on in “Evolution,” Joe tells the story of Roger Bannister—an English Olympic runner who became the first man to run a sub four-minute mile. Before the 1950s, running a mile in less than four minutes was considered humanly impossible. But after Bannister broke the record, a whole slew of people started running a mile in less than four minutes. It was as if he lifted the gate and erased the stain of ‘impossible.’ The number 3:59 (the sub four-minute), becomes a recurring theme throughout “Evolution.” “Impossible, for me, is just a term for something that I haven’t accomplished yet. The grandiosity of that word reminds me that it’s not going to come easy, and it’s going to require expert level planning and discipline.” It’s a number Joe reminds himself and his audience that the impossible is in fact perfectly attainable.
When asked what his personal 3:59 is, Joe says, “It’s constantly changing because I’m constantly moving that mental rabbit further ahead of me down the track. Impossible is a matter of perception, either someone else’s or one’s own self-imposed on belief.”
Through relaying his personal experience of self-transformation, he hopes to motivate people to get off of the couch and change their lives for the better. “I share my personal struggles with the obstacles that were in my way and eventual triumphs over them, in order to inspire people to let go of their excuses and see what they could become.”
His clever mix of philosophy through self-acceptance and practicality prompts the inevitable questions: does one take precedence in order to achieve the other? Does being attractive and healthy inevitably lead to accepting yourself on a certain level? There is no shame for striving to be physically attractive while becoming mentally and spiritually healthy. “There is no dress rehearsal in life, and you only get one shot at this thing. How good you do you want your life to be during your time here? Do you want to be lazy and make excuses? Or get up and improve your quality of life? I try to earn my sleep at night, going to bed a better person than I was when I woke up.”
With that said, his philosophy is not about blindly accepting circumstances, but doing everything in your power to improve yourself. And that acceptance doesn’t really come until you’re exhausted.
For Joe, your personal goals are not to be ‘keeping up with the Jones’s. “I see myself at 80 years old still exploring life and trying to learn my philosophy has nothing to do with comparing myself to others. Everyone gets dealt their cards in life and I want to be judged on how I played them out.” Joe says, “The stories and people that inspire me are those who stood up in the face of adversity and fought. It’s really easy to be in a good mood when everything is going your way, [it’s about] who you are when it’s not… The world is the way it is, you can choose to play the game or sit on the sidelines and watch. I want in.” It is also made very clear that his idea of perfection isn’t just having rock-hard abs, but about having structured plans for improving himself personally, externally, and, mentally—be it for a role in a show or just self esteem. “My overall sense of self has very little to do with superficial bullshit. The level of physical training I put into my roles that require it, are a demonstration of my work ethic and attention to detail. That same level of attention is given to everything that I do in life, whether it’s writing a book, directing and producing feature films, researching new roles, my personal relationships, etc. Sir Lawrence Oliver trained physically to make his back more muscular when he played Othello, Deniro trained like a madman for Cape Fear, and anyone who has ever seen American History X was impressed by the transformation that Edward Norton went through to add a level of intimidation to his character. I work hard. I’m glad people appreciate it. I encourage other people to work hard in all aspects of their lives, too.”
Although he is currently viewed as a hunk emerging on the scene–with his male stripper role in Magic Mike, often shirtless scenes on True Blood, it’s hard to believe he was once a more introverted, scrawny kid growing up in Pennsylvania (especially after checking out the pictures in his book). It wasn’t a snap transition from Normalcy, USA to embracing glee and rage in acting school; though he played a lot of sports, he was also involved in his high school’s drama program. Acting and the arts have always been an interest of his.
“I really wasn’t an all American boy… I was the captain of my sports teams growing up, but I looked like a complete dork. On the inside, I was more interested in reading, writing, drawing, and telling stories. I was always an artist in my heart, but approached my creativity through the Trojan horse of an athlete’s mentality and physicality.” In other words, he didn’t transform from one to the other, but was always both.
Joe believes his only mistake is listening to people who try to put him in a box. Which is something he still sees go on today, “probably with more frequency because of the recognition I’ve gotten due to my recent string of shirtless roles. I don’t see myself as a jock or an intellectual, a meathead or a nerd, a writer or an actor, a political this or that… Contrary to popular beliefs, I’m a pack animal.”
Nevermind the male envy he ignites, women’s interests he piques, and clichés people want to throw at him, Joe is humby self assured. “No matter how much my outsides change, I will always look in the mirror and see the skinny, coke bottle glasses, big eared kid with the bad haircut, laying on my mom’s living room rug with my pad and colored pencils. It’s who I am, and who I’ll always be.”