Howlin’ Good Time: JOE MANGANIELLO (Alcide Herveaux) – TRUE BLOOD, SEASON 4 {HBO/Mild Spoilers}

Joe Manganiello plays werewolf Alcide Herveaux (bearded, extreme right) on HBO’s dark comedy True Blood. The sports jock turned classically trained actor has a CV that includes Spiderman, One Tree hill and What To Expect When You’re Expecting but has made made a huge impact in the southern gothic dramedy – because he is so massive. Fortunately it’s not just brains. As season four shows, the boy can act…

Joe Manganiello: Well, Sookie winds up alive at the start of the season, which is a big surprise. If Sookie hadn’t disappeared, Alcide would have built that house for her. So obviously there is something rumbling inside of him – but he is such a loyal guy that he wants to give Debbie the full chance to redeem herself. So over the season, obviously you’re going to see that pulling him in two different directions: his loyalty versus what’s really in his heart.
The other great thing is that you’re going to see the progression of the effect of the wolf side of him – how he has suppressed that over the years and how that begins to push its way out.

Q: You were the first person to use the phrase love square about you, Bill, Eric and Sookie – perhaps we weren’t necessarily clear about the love square back then but it’s very obvious now.

JM: Which is fun because I can’t think of another project where I have seen that: a woman pursued by three separate suitors and it all kind of working. It rotates a bit this year. In episode four there is a great scene between Eric – Alex’s character – and mine at a lake. Literally, it’s the two of us screaming at each other that we are going to kill each other, naked [laughter] with Sookie in the middle, which is pretty funny.

Q: You studied animals for the part and you bulked up at the gym…

JM: I’m contractually obliged to take my shirt off whenever possible (laughs).

Q: Hard work?

JM: I try to take it to the next level whether that’s physically or internally. I knew that in the book he was described as this giant, massive, powerful thing and I wanted to try to inhabit that as much as possible. It offsets his sense of sensitivity, his vulnerability and shyness. I think being that massive physically to the viewers’ eye and then watching him be that sensitive and introverted and closed off… It’s the fact that he won’t use any of that I think creates a lot of potential energy.

Q: But you’ve been a big guy all your life – do you identify with that?

JM: I remember being in high school. I was 6’5”, 220lb and I remember there was a kid from the inner city who was bussed into our school to see if he would change his ways. He didn’t. He was picking fights with me and I didn’t want to go there. Also, I didn’t want to get suspended from sports – but the day the basketball season was over, this kid mouthed off to me and I almost killed him. They took me to the principal’s office and sat me down; the principal wasn’t there yet but as soon as the door closed – and this was a really crazy reaction – I started crying. I think I was crying out of the shock and the fear of what was inside of me and what I could have done. That affected me greatly and I think there is a lot of that in Alcide. It’s almost like this monster is built to protect this bunny inside of him. He doesn’t want people to get close because he is afraid of what is going to happen if he gets hurt.

Q: Alan Ball talks about werewolves being the beast inside all of us.

JM: Yeah, that’s exactly what I thought about with this character. I am a man and I am descended from hundreds and thousands of years of hunters and now I am forced to go buy my groceries at the grocery store. There is something that gets repressed in that and there is something that is to be figured out about the roles – then you take that and times it by ten because the guy is a werewolf and he is infinitely stronger than any human being on the planet.

It made me think about him going through puberty and being as big as I was in high school but stronger – realising that he couldn’t play sports because he couldn’t let the other kids know what he was. He couldn’t ask that girl to the dance because he couldn’t tell her: he couldn’t open himself up. I envision him sitting there, looking through this picture window at all the other kids living this seemingly great, happy life whilst he is miserable and he is better than them all.

So when he meets Sookie and realises that there is someone else who is different who would understand him and accept him, and that he could open up to and that has a good heart and isn’t some shitty werewolf person; I think it’s like this life preserver is thrown to him.

Q: It’s a very alpha male part…

JM: Yeah. It’s really complex. Normally you just turn the TV and go, “Oh yeah, it’s the werewolf dude,” but here there is really a lot going on. I don’t see a lot of characters like that on TV and as a big guy or a strong, masculine male, I don’t watch TV and films and see those types of struggle.
Q: It’s interesting that you have to go into the world of the fantastical to actually experience that…

JM: Yeah, but that’s the beauty of the show and I think that’s the beauty or the appeal that a vampire or a werewolf shows. It goes back to Joseph Campbell and mythology and how you create these gods that are very human because you can then talk about things that you can’t normally talk about on another show.

Q: The training and the protein guzzling must be hard?

JM: No. I enjoy it. I do enjoy earning my sleep. This show wears me out. I have spent a lot of my life wanting more and wanting to be more fulfilled. I have found this job that really does fulfil me artistically and it fulfils me athletically. It takes everything I have ever learned, whether it was in drama school studying Tennessee Williams or Chekhov, or these brilliant layered dialogue writers or from an athletic standpoint too. It pushes me. I train like a professional athlete, which is incredibly fulfilling.

Q: They had two and half seasons under their belt by the time you appeared on screen. Were you nervous?

JM: I was a fan of the show and when I looked at the ensemble, I think subconsciously or even consciously, I started thinking, ‘What’s not on the show?’ or, ‘What character isn’t represented on the show?’ Then I took a look at the books and saw that Alcide was described as being at home in a construction yard or on a wharf, I think she said – like a longshoreman. And I thought, ‘Yeah, that’s it. Okay, that’s what I have got to be.’

Q: And has it been easy fitting in?

JM: My favourite actors were ones that were very down to earth off screen or off stage. I have always tried to keep the drama out of my life and on the camera, and the cast is very much that way. They are very down to earth, very sweet and very generous but on screen, they’re crazy in what is the craziest show ever made. I see other shows that are swinging from the chandeliers and wasted and causing trouble at all the award show after parties and we’re not that group. We’re the ones who are very, very normal and reserved which I think is the formula. Also, being a leading man type on a show that already had five or six leading men; you kind of internally have the karate hands up, just waiting for someone to try to alpha male you or test you. That has happened to me on a lot of different projects – but on this one, that really didn’t happen at all. Everybody was very welcoming and very happy, and they were very excited. “Oh, you’re Alcide! Great man! Oh my God, cool! This is so cool!

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