CMU grad, Joe Manganiello's, 'True Blood' role may be a starmaker


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For many actors, their careers begin with journeyman work -- a guest spot here, a recurring role there -- and their breakout comes with a single role.

For Mt. Lebanon native Joe Manganiello, that role may have arrived in the form of the werewolf Alcide, a character who debuts Sunday on HBO's "True Blood" (9 p.m.).

Mr. Manganiello, a 1995 graduate of Mt. Lebanon High School and a 2000 graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, previously played Flash Thompson in the "Spider-Man" movies. He's had recurring roles on "How I Met Your Mother" and "One Tree Hill." But Alcide is his highest profile part to date.

And, let's face it, thanks to the "Twilight" movies and star Taylor Lautner, werewolves are a hot commodity.

" 'True Blood' as a whole delves a lot deeper than other supernatural shows or movies," Mr. Manganiello said by phone earlier this month from Los Angeles. "It's a lot richer, more character-driven. What's interesting about this character to me is it really gets into the backstory. It gets into what it must have been like to grow up with this. He was a kid who was born with this thing that manifests itself around puberty, and you get an idea that he had to live as a recluse and hide and not let people know what he really is.

"The way I associate it is my father is left-handed, and he was born at a time where they would not allow children to be left-handed. All the kids were wired to be right-handed, and I thought about that a lot while I was on set working. I even made Alcide do certain things left-handed just to remind me to think that it's a perfect parallel. This guy was born with this amazing ability but has to live in a society forcing him to not show that or be something else and try to fit in."

In Sunday's episode it appears Alcide will fit into the "True Blood" universe as part of what Mr. Manganiello calls "a love square."

Alcide arrives as a bodyguard for Sookie (Anna Paquin), who is searching for her vampire beau Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer). Alcide is hired by Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgard), who has also had flirtations with Sookie, and it looks like Alcide and Sookie might have chemistry, too.

"There are different packs of werewolves, and they're generally a very rough bunch," Mr. Manganiello said. "Alcide is one who lives within society whereas some of the other werewolves don't."

In the role, Mr. Manganiello, who grew up playing football, basketball and volleyball, sports a wolfish beard and worked out at a hard pace for five months to pack on muscle.

"I wanted him to be built like an animal would," he said. "I wanted the audience to look and see a physically strong creature."

As a shapeshifter, Mr. Manganiello's body will be on prominent display in some scenes when he's naked after transforming from a wolf back to his human state. That meant an introduction to a new term: "the brotherhood of the sock."

"You get into your trailer in the morning and there's a sock with a drawstring, and then there's a flesh-colored thing with a plastic thong back and the third choice is like this man-panty thing called 'the manty' that reduces you to a Ken doll. Depending on the angle of the shot, it determines which one you can use."

Acting in the nude isn't what Mr. Manganiello pictured as a career path when he was in high school. He was a self-described jock growing up who got into acting through work in Mt. Lebanon High School's TV studio, borrowing cameras on the weekend and filming movies with friends.

"I was kind of an amateur filmmaker, and I figured if I took some acting classes I'd learn what this was all about and it would make my home movies better," he said.

After a football injury he began thinking of other avenues to explore and opted not to return to the football field, instead following a path that sounds like a plot from "Glee."

"The linebacker coach would stop me in the hall and say really snide comments to me because I wasn't playing football anymore, and the volleyball coach told me I was making a huge mistake with my life," Mr. Manganiello recalled. He auditioned for and won a role in a Mt. Lebanon production of "Oklahoma." "After that the linebacker coach stopped me in the hall again and said, 'I was wrong. You were really good.' It was a victory."

He tried out for Carnegie Mellon's acting program his senior year of high school but didn't get accepted, so he attended the University of Pittsburgh for a year, re-applied to CMU and got in.

Now he's in on "True Blood" for the long haul unless producers of the premium TV hit change the trajectory of his character from how it exists in author Charlaine Harris' books.

"The 10th book just came out and my character is all throughout the book," he said optimistically.

The new attention has its perks: Mr. Manganiello said the Steelers have invited him to attend a game this season, and he may have a role in November's Celebrate the Season Parade. His parents, Susan and Charlie, still live in the area and plan to make sure friends and neighbors are aware of their son's latest career achievement.

"My dad said as soon as a few episodes [of 'True Blood'] start airing, he's going down to Primanti's in the Strip District and pitch me getting up on the wall there," Mr. Manganiello said. "That would be right on par with getting an Oscar, I think, getting my face painted on the wall at Primanti Bros."

This spring he filmed a pilot for a CBS sitcom set in Pittsburgh, "Livin' on a Prayer," but the network chose not to make it a series.

"I played a sports dad," he said. "He's got a 5-month-old infant he carries around like a football. I was never without a Pitt shirt or a Penguins jersey or a Steelers T-shirt."

He even auditioned with a Pittsburghese accent.

"The show creators loved it, and the network wanted me to tone it down. They were worried the audience wouldn't understand me," Mr. Manganiello said. "I talked to the show creators about this idea of speaking Pittsburghese and having subtitles at the bottom. I toned it down a little bit, but if there was a 'dahn there' in the script, I'd throw it in whenever I could."

PMI celebrates 25 years

Downtown-based PMI (formerly Production Masters Inc.) celebrates its first 25 years with a party tonight for clients at its new headquarters on Fifth Avenue in the rehabbed Buhl Building.

PMI president David Case offered a tour of the well-organized facility last week. PMI offers production services, including syndication distribution feeds and sound services. When celebs are in town they'll sometimes use a PMI sound booth for recording purposes, including looping and dialogue replacement. Dianna Agron of "Glee," in town shooting the movie "I Am Number Four," was a recent guest.

The company formats shows for syndication for assorted companies but does much of its work for NBC Universal programs, including "The Office" and "Law & Order." A tape library includes copies of Universal classics such as "Simon & Simon" and "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century." Mr. Case said when a 2008 fire on the Universal Studios backlot destroyed some tape vaults, PMI made duplicates of many programs to provide Universal with replacement copies for its rebuilt Los Angeles repository.

Channel surfing

HBO has renewed "True Blood" for a fourth season. ... ABC will burn off two unaired episodes of "Eastwick," 9-11 p.m. July 10. ... Showtime has picked up "Secret Diary of a Call Girl" for a fourth and final season of eight episodes. ... Matthew (aka Preston) Politylo, formerly of Emsworth, will cover the 37th annual Daytime Emmy Awards Sunday for the website SoapOperaNetwork.com beginning at 7 p.m. Sunday.


TV editor Rob Owen: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1112. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.


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