PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Joe Manganiello; "True Blood" Star Talks Sobriety, Streetcar and Life After Alcide

By Tori Scott
13 Sep 2013

Manganiello in rehearsal
Photo by Joan Marcus

What have been some of the biggest differences you've found each time you play Stanley?
JM: The first time I did it, when I was young, I was still very much a heavy drinker. Stanley being an active alchoholic with a lot of rage issues. There's a certain amount of it that was... You know, one of my professors at CMU used to say, "It's theatre, not therapy." And I think there was probably some of it at that age. I was going home as the character and it was very close. I was in it! Then, of course, this time around I have a lot of perspective. I have 11 years of not drinking to look at it and understand what the mechanics and inner workings of a person like that is because of the discoveries I've made. Michael Chekhov used to say that if you want to work on your craft, you work on yourself. And so I think this time around I'm not as stuck in it. I think because of that, the first time I read the play to get ready for this, the thing that really struck me was how bad I felt for Blanche and how much empathy I had for her character. Which, I think the other times I played him, I didn't have. It was more like being this immovable object or this unstoppable force and I just saw him as that – just someone who is fighting for what he wants at all costs. Whereas the Stanley I am playing this time, there is much more love for his wife, and I think that's the real driving force in it. And, maybe that just comes with maturity. It's him protecting what he loves and he loves his wife, he just has these severe handicaps in dealing with other people.

Is there a certain quality in Stanley or maybe in how he's written that really draws you into the role each time?
JM: I think what's most interesting is with Tennessee Williams and what we know about him and who he was. He had this fascination with the idea of this "man's man," or whatever that meant. That macho, masculine man shows up in his plays all the time. I did a stage reading of Small Craft Warnings with [William H.] Macy last year at this company called the Hero Theatre Company in LA. It was one of Tennessee's last plays, and there was this washed-up drunken Stanley character. You see that kind of character over and over again in his writing. I think what's interesting is that he wrote this play in 1947, and now here we are 40 odd years into the post-feminist era, and I think playing a man of that archetype is very interesting now. Because there are parts of it where you can see how men without therapy, men without support groups, men without any sort of spirituality, got a very bad name for men. There is this interesting merging of this sort of animal attraction with him and Stella. With the perspective that I have from stuff that I've gone through, you read it and you cringe. You know what he's doing and it's so brilliantly written – and even with it being written years ago – you still know these people. I know Stella and I know Stanley.

Manganiello on "True Blood."

Tennessee Williams is incredibly specific with his stage directions. Do you find that to be restrictive or helpful as an actor to have all that information?
JM: Sometimes you think, "Holy crap, man. How am I supposed to play any of that?" But, I love it! A really good friend of mine, who was actually instrumental in saving my life from the drinking – this was a little old man in a tweed coat – he was approaching 80 and he helped me quit drinking and just deal with life after drinking. He became like my grandfather, and he knew Tennessee Williams. He would tell me stories about Tennessee and man, I wish I could have met him, because I think we would have gotten along really well. [Laughs.] I love those stage directions. They're funny and so great. They are like little clues that he left from the grave!

It's something so simple, like for example, a couple weeks ago I was watching the Discovery Channel and a lion documentary came on. And the male lions sleep 20 hours a day. Female lions go out and hunt and kill this zebra. And then the male lion wakes up and comes running in and just backs all the females out of the way and just starts eating! To which, my girlfriend says, "What the hell?" We can't believe it and I laugh, but we keep watching. All of a sudden this rogue male comes in and starts prowling their group. And what he's looking to do is to kill the cubs to put the female lions in heat, then kill the head male lion and take over. The male lion's job in the four hours that he's awake is to eat, get up and fight these other male lions to keep the cubs from getting killed.

And I thought, "Well, okay, that's an important job!" [Laughs.] And there is something like that in Stanley. Tennessee writes all these stage directions about the jungle and jungle noises and describes Stanley as being an ape. But I think of him more as the male lion. Mitch is that male that isn't allowed in, and Blanche has come from this white columned plantation house in Mississippi. She has come into the jungle and she is ill prepared. And he's not having it. But, at the same time, I think there are moments that I have found, especially this time around, where he has this little boy in him still that is incredibly lovable as well. There are moments with Stella where he just doesn't want her to leave. It's a fascinating play.


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