In filmmaker David Ayer’s Sabotage, elite DEA task force agent John “Breacher” Wharton (Arnold Schwarzenegger) heads a team that takes on the world’s deadliest drug cartels. But after the team successfully executes a high-stakes raid on a cartel safe house, they mysteriously start to be murdered, one by one, making everyone a suspect, including the team members themselves. The film also stars Sam Worthington, Terrence Howard, Mireille Enos, Joe Manganiello, Josh Holloway, Max Martini, Olivia Williams, Harold Perrineau and Martin Donovan.
At the film’s press day, actor Joe Manganiello spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about why he wanted to be a part of this film, what he liked about his character, how nice it was to do a scene in a strip club where he wasn’t one of the performers on stage, and the pressure of making an action movie with an action icon like Arnold Schwarzenegger. He also talked about what it’s like to be shooting the final season of HBO’s True Blood, that his directorial debut, the real-life male stripper documentary Le Bare, will be in theaters in June, shooting the comedy Tumbledown with Jason Sudeikis and Rebecca Hall in April, getting permission to use the catalogue of The Smiths music for a film he’s producing called Shoplifters of the World, and that Magic Mike 2 will shoot this fall. Check out our Joe Manganiello interview after the jump.
JOE MANGANIELLO: Yeah. I screen tested for Training Day about 13 years ago, which was David Ayer’s script with Antoine Fuqua directing. So, David Ayer was put on my map, at that point, and I always kept note and clocked his career. When he started directing, I saw Harsh Times, I saw Street Kings and I saw End of Watch. I gave my agents a list of directors that I wanted to work with, and at the top of that list was David. I wanted to have that experience. I wanted to work with somebody who seemed like he came from the same place that I did, which is that total immersion and learning about the world around, from this very gritty, dark side, and had access to that. I’m an actor that cares, and David cares. So, I went in and met with David and we hit it off, right away. I was like, “If you’ll have me, I’m there. I’m going to go all the way.” And it worked out.
Did you know that you’d be playing Grinder?
MANGANIELLO: We talked about Monster and Grinder. Those were the parts that were up on the chopping block when I met him, and I really liked the character of Grinder. I liked the fact that he really had this arc, in an action movie where most people stay one note and don’t change. There was a real change to that character. There was a lot to play around with, especially for something that’s an “action movie.” There were some opportunities to act in there. When Olivia Williams was cast, I was really excited, being a fan of her work. And I knew that I was going to get to go in and mix it up with Arnold [Schwarzenegger] and Sam [Worthington] and Terrence [Howard]. I really just thought there was something interesting in the character, and there was an interesting story to tell.
Were you given background as to where his nickname came from?
MANGANIELLO: Our characters were named that in the script. We didn’t name our own characters. Grinder is a worker. I grind. As a person, the way that I work out in the gym and the way that I approach my career is from an athlete’s mentality. Grinding is a term that athletes use. I’m in the gym, grinding it out. And that’s my character. He’s this balls-out tough guy. He’s the last guy in the bar who you’d ever want to get in a fight with. That worked. It’s funny that I went from a character named Big Dick Richie to a character named Grinder. Maybe there’s something to that.
MANGANIELLO: Yeah. There was a moment in the strip club scene where I had one of the strippers on my lap for about an hour. She started talking about this really funny movie that she saw the night before. She said, “Oh, it’s hilarious, but you probably haven’t seen it ‘cause you’re a guy. But it’s called Magic Mike, and it’s so funny.” I said, “When did you see that movie.” She said, “Last night.” I went, “Did you like the guys in the movie?” And she went, “Oh, yeah, I loved those guys! They were so good!” And Terrence overheard it and said, “He was in that movie!” She looked at me and had no recognition that the guy whose lap she’d been sitting on for the last hour was actually the guy in the movie the night before. It was really cool.
Was it nice to do a strip club scene where you weren’t one of the ones on stage, taking off your clothes?
MANGANIELLO: There was a lot of talk on set about that. Yeah, I was a retired male stripper, at that point. It was nice to take the pressure off and let somebody else take their clothes off.
What was it like to go to the set to make an action movie with an action icon like Arnold Schwarzenegger? Were you nervous, at all?
MANGANIELLO: Sure. I grew up idolizing Arnold. I’ve seen every single one of his movies, and I had his poster up on my wall, as a kid. It’s extra added motivation to bring it. If you’re going to war with the greatest body builder of all time, you put those extra hours in the gym. You want to show up and really bring it. I had scenes where I had to get up in Arnold’s face, and it’s a bit daunting, on the page, to know that, but there’s an excitement about going for it and getting up in your childhood hero’s face to mix it up with it. It was really a dream come true.
MANGANIELLO: Yeah. Sometimes you have these stars that are primadonnas, but I’ve been really fortunate to work with number ones on the call sheet who put in the work. On Magic Mike with Matthew McConaughey, that guy works hard. I show up the same way for everything that I do, and I work my tail off. Anna Paquin is another one who works her tail off. So, to be aligned in a movie with Arnold, he’s just very accessible. No one was held at a distance, or anything like that. There are some other projects that I’ve done, and I won’t name who the people are, but there are some stars who are really isolated and try to keep everyone around them at bay and they try to flex this primadonna behavior. Arnold wasn’t like that. That’s a tribute to him, but it’s a tribute to David Ayer, as well. That was not the nature of this movie. It’s dirty and it’s rough, and we all had to get in there to make it look right.
Arnold Schwarzenegger told me that he’s a fan of yours and that he liked your work on True Blood.
MANGANIELLO: Man, Arnold would have been a great werewolf with a big beard. I work with another Terminator on True Blood, with Robert Patrick. It’s too bad the show is at its end. It would have been awesome to get him in there.
Is it sad to be in the end stretch for True Blood, or does it feel like you’re really getting closure, knowing it’s the last season, going in?
MANGANIELLO: You know, it’s mixed. True Blood provided so many opportunities and it gave me back my film career. I thought it was gone. I didn’t work as an actor for four years. I wound up on the back of a construction truck, at one point, thinking that the dream was over. And to have a job like True Blood that makes anything possible again was amazing. I’ll be forever grateful to it changing my life. But when you’re the only werewolf on a vampire show, it ain’t about you. There were a lot of projects that I had to say no to and that I could not pursue. I was not allowed to pursue them because of my contract with the show. So, there is a sense of freedom and exhilaration to know that the chains are off and I now have time to do all those projects and really find that iconic role for me, in the same way that I grew up watching Arnold play all those iconic roles. It’s a really exciting time for me.
MANGANIELLO: Yeah, I just directed and financed a film that I produced with my producing partner, my brother Nick. It’s going to be in theaters on June 27th, in North America. It’s called Le Bare, and it’s the real-life Magic Mike. So, I’ve got that coming out. And then, I wrote my book Evolution, which did amazingly well, and Arnold wrote the forward. Now, Simon & Schuster wants an entire series. And we have a whole slate of producing projects. I’m also going to go off and shoot a comedy next month, called Tumbledown, with Jason Sudeikis and Rebecca Hall. And I’ve got a couple other scripts that I’ve been offered, that are amazing roles that we’re trying to put together. It’s going to be a busy and exciting year.
For one of the movies you’re producing, Shoplifters of the World, you got permission to use the catalogue of music from The Smiths. How did that happen?
MANGANIELLO: It’s written by this writer/director named Stephen Kijak. He had a previous relationship with Morrissey, and Morrissey agreed to give us the catalogue for a nice, affordable fee. Well, it’s not cheap, by any stretch of the imagination, but we have Morrissey’s blessing to move forward with a The Smiths project. I’m a huge The Smiths fan. It’s just really great to be afforded the opportunity to go out and tell stories that I’m really excited and passionate about, like that one.
And you’re still hoping to do Magic Mike 2?
MANGANIELLO: Yeah, it’s gonna happen this fall. I think they’re going to announce it soon. It’s crazy. I didn’t think that would be my first franchise. I never thought that would ever be the direction of my career. But that said, it’s just proof that I don’t know best, all the time. It was the most fun I’ve ever had, and I can’t wait to get back in and mix it up with those guys.
Sabotage opens in theaters on March 28th.