'True Blood' star Joe Manganiello's documentary 'La Bare' showcases his 'first love'

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Joe Manganiello is known best for his work as Alcide Herveaux in HBO's "True Blood," so fans will get an opportunity to see a new side of the 37-year-old actor in the new documentary he directed, "La Bare." Though his IMDb profile might tell you otherwise, Manganiello is no stranger to directing. As he tells Zap2it, directing was his "first love" that actually got him into acting.

After Manganiello finished filming "Magic Mike," he started working on the documentary about male strippers who work at the famous La Bare male strip club in Dallas. "La Bare" is getting a limited release Friday (June 27), which marks the culmination of a major labor of love for Manganiello.

Zap2it: Did your interest in this world begin before you started working on "Magic Mike"?
Joe Manganiello: [ laughs] No, God no. It was completely "Magic Mike." I didn't step foot in a male strip club until I started shooting "La Bare." I had zero interest prior. No, this was all about "Magic Mike." When I was getting ready to shoot "Magic Mike," I realized very quickly I had a lot of misperceptions about what this job actually entailed and who the guys were who were working it. I realized the rest of the world had a complete misperception about the industry and what these guys do and who they were. I realized I had a really unique opportunity and access to shine a light on this desert island that was kind of hidden in plain sight.

Were you surprised how much influence the movie had on these men?
I wasn't surprised. I definitely expected that. There's a big 20-foot banner of "Magic Mike" inside the club when you walk in. There was a 19-year-old kid who went and saw "Magic Mike," he went to go see it with his sister and came out of the theater and said, "That's what I want to do." So his sister helped him get a job, and his stage name is "Channing." Nothing could have prepared me for that, even though it completely makes sense. To think that our movie then influenced an entire new generation of male entertainers, I think was pretty funny.

Why did you decide to keep yourself out of the movie until the final shot?
Well, it's not a vanity project and it's not about me. It's about them. I wanted to give people a very privileged, fly-on-the-wall look into this world, and if I'm splashing myself all over every scene and making it about me, then it's not about these guys. I just want it to be about these guys. That's what's really interesting. And so I kept myself out of it, and the girls who were being danced for were not aware that I was there, because if they were, then I would have been stealing focus or attention from my subject, which is these guys. It was really about keeping a purity in the filmmaking process and making sure that it remains about them.

Were there any specific influences from your career that you used to make your first major directing endeavor?
I've been directing since high school, college. That was actually how I got into acting, was making my own amateur films growing up. I used to sleep in high school with a pad and pen next to my bed, and I would wake up in the night and be writing ideas and dialogue for the next day's shoot. All my friends and the kids in high school wanted to be in the movies and TV productions I was making back then. This is something that I've been doing for a long time, and really and truly [filmmaking] was my first love even before I started formally acting.

But you haven't worked on a documentary before, right?
This is the first time I've worked on a documentary. There's a real electricity for shooting a documentary because you're shooting from the hip the entire time. I really enjoyed the constant evaluation of the characters, the storylines, who are the emerging characters, what did I think was interesting. I love the in-the-moment immediacy of sensing in my gut, "Let's shoot the shot this way." "Let's get this angle." Let's pull the head rests out. We're going to lay in the back, and we're going to get a shot that's an homage to "Pulp Fiction" here. Getting up on top of a cabinet and seeing if it would hold my [director of photography] up so we can get this shot down on Randy's speech to the amateurs. It was really exciting, and a lot of it is of course the murder [that becomes a focus of the film].

The murder unfolded before us, which we did not anticipate. We did not know that had happened when we got down there initially, so following all of those leads. Getting a paralegal to pull police records. Autopsy reports. Following down all of the witnesses who were in the parking lot the night of the murder. There was a certain amount of detective work and excitement to a documentary that you just don't get from a scripted feature.

The murder being a part of the story really highlights the humanity of these people who chose to be male strippers.
It makes you see them in three dimensions, and I think it would be very easy for people to just dismiss these guys as two-dimensional -- or even less. It was a real opportunity to show that these are friends, these are family, these are single dads, these are people that love their mothers. These are real human beings, and I think that's what sets the documentary apart is the fact that, as tragic as the murder was, it provided us the opportunity to show the depth of these guys.

What took you so long in your career to get to the point where you finally directed something you would release as a film?
I was busy. [ laughs] I was busy acting. I knew the whole time that the more successful I became as an actor, the more and the easier it was going to be to open all these doors to producing and directing once it became time to do that. I also couldn't have done this without my brother [Nick Manganiello], and it had to be the right time for my brother. My brother worked as a producer in film, TV, and he even worked in the music industry for a minute, for the better part of eight, nine years before we joined forces. He had to go off and do his thing, I had to go off and do my thing, and we're now finally meeting up in the middle.

Will making "La Bare" spur you into making features?
My acting career is really just at the beginning. I didn't star on "True Blood." I haven't starred in a movie yet. So all of this has happened without me being "the guy." Now that "True Blood" is over, it's a really exciting time for me because the offers are coming in. I've got a full dance card acting-wise through ... geez, through November right now. It's not something that I'm ever going to stop doing [ laughs]. Obviously that's something I'm going to keep doing, but we have a production company. We have a full slate of about eight different projects in development. We've got a script with actors attached that's out to financiers right now, I just optioned a book that I put a writer on, and I've got four second drafts that are coming in in the next few weeks for various scripts. One of them is a feature that I will direct. We're full-speed ahead.

What is the feature that you're planning on directing?
It's a love story. It takes place in Pittsburgh.

You weren't kidding about being busy.
No. Now I've got to find time to write another book also.

You must be so excited about the positive response to your first book, "Evolution."
It's been amazing, and it's been amazing to go to gyms and see people at the gym using my workouts and come up and talk to me about it. Seeing the before and after photos have been absolutely insane. I know it works, but it's always amazing to see, when someone puts their mind to it, how much someone can change and transform their body and their life. Getting all the feedback on that has been really incredible, and the book has sold so steadily that publishers have held off on the paperback because it just continues to sell, and they want a whole series now. I've been figuring out that and getting to work on that.
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