True grit: Joe Manganiello

By / People / December 20, 2013

In his new book, Joe Manganiello shares how he overcame addiction to become a Hollywood heartthrob.

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Joe Manganiello can’t walk into a room without turning heads. The 6-foot-5-inch actor is almost cartoonishly good-looking, with chiseled abs, bulging biceps, a salt-and-pepper beard and a searing grin. His substantial sex appeal is central to every single one of his projects: He’s spent the past three years starring as hunky werewolf Alcide Herveaux on HBO’s “True Blood;” famously donned a thong alongside Channing Tatum as a male stripper in last year’s hit film “Magic Mike;” and been named one of People’s “Sexiest Men Alive” and Men’s Health’s “100 Fittest Men of All Time.”

To look at him, one might imagine Manganiello has skated through life on his heartthrob status. But the truth is more complicated: For nearly 10 years, Manganiello struggled with addiction and depression. “If you knew the way that I was, [my recovery] is a miracle,” he says.

He details that road to recovery in his new book, Evolution: The Cutting Edge Guide to Breaking Down Mental Walls and Building the Body You’ve Always Wanted, out this month. The first-person account of Manganiello’s rise from addict to Hollywood actor is both a confessional tale and fitness guide, interweaving personal anecdotes with detailed workout instructions and diet tips. “The actual six weeks of workouts in the book are the ones I used to go to the next level for my first shirtless scene on ‘True Blood,’ ” Manganiello, 36, explained when he touched down in Chicago for several days to promote Evolution. “I want people to find their motivation, whatever that is. Everybody’s run up against blocks and will have setbacks and failures. What I’m asking everybody in the book is to revisit those, to concentrate on those. Don’t run away from them.”

Manganiello’s past failures have provided his own motivation. His battle with addiction began in Mount Lebanon, Pa., where the scrawny teen was bullied by his peers, breeding a deep insecurity that stayed with him for years. At age 16, Manganiello became a “club kid,” buying a fake ID and portraying Captain Morgan in bars to gain easy access to the alcohol and drugs in which he found solace.

When he wasn’t partying, Manganiello found refuge in acting, winning lead roles in school musicals and making movies with his friends on weekends. Despite his nascent drinking problem, he managed to captain several sports teams, graduate with honors and, after auditioning twice, cinch one of 17 spots in the acclaimed Carnegie Mellon School of Drama. “There was no Plan B,” he writes in Evolution of his Hollywood dreams.

In 2000, immediately after moving to LA and only three days after signing with an agent, Manganiello landed the part of Eugene “Flash” Thompson in Sam Raimi’s blockbuster “Spiderman” franchise. Though the actor seemed poised for stardom, even a high-profile introduction to Hollywood couldn’t drive away his demons — after he finished filming, Manganiello’s drinking and drug use spiraled, and his burgeoning career screeched to a halt. “My brain, my body weren’t at 100 percent,” he says. “It’s a very competitive field, and if you’re not at your best, with clear eyes, showing up ready to compete, you might as well not show up at all.”

After bouts of homelessness and depression that nearly claimed his life, Manganiello realized he needed to change. “You get to a point where you’re gonna start getting better or you’re gonna kill yourself,” he says. “I was in so much pain, but I wasn’t willing to end my life.” He recalls Aug. 26, 2002, as the day he finally decided to get clean. “I [knew] I’d hurt myself so badly, but realized I’d also hurt people around me. That’s what made me want to get better,” he says. “But anybody who has ever fought with addiction or knows somebody who’s been in the grips of it, it’s not that easy.”

Manganiello, then 25, spent the next four years fighting his addiction, working construction jobs to pay the bills and all but giving up on acting. “At the beginning, it was just about not using,” he says. “The alcohol was not my problem — the alcohol was my solution to the way that I’d felt my whole life. My problem was me. My problem was reality.”

He credits his eventual recovery to a combination of exercise, meditation and support from friends. “I met like-minded people who’d been down that road. They taught me what to do and how to live,” he says. “I had to clean up my mess, not just put my head in the sand and walk away from it. I tracked down everybody I’d done damage to and tried to make up for it. It didn’t happen quickly — if you walk five miles into the woods, you have to walk five miles back out.”

In 2006, Manganiello finally felt confident enough to began auditioning again. For several years, he was only able to get “tiny little guest spots” on shows like “CSI” and “ER.” But in 2010, he booked what he calls the “life-changing” role on “True Blood.” “Divinity had a hand in it,” he says.

Upon hearing the news, Manganiello called his parents, then “laid down on the floor and breathed, let out the frustration of the past eight years — the years of not working because of my drinking, and the years of thinking my dreams weren’t going to come true,” he says. “At that point, I knew I had a shot again, that there’d be a second act.”

Faced with dozens of shirtless scenes on the famously risqué supernatural drama, Manganiello hired Hugh Jackman trainer Ron Mathews (who later helped design the workouts in Evolution) and “went to the next level” in the gym. “I’d always worked out for certain roles, but this was bigger than acting, bigger than ‘True Blood,’ ” he says. “This was my chance at the life I’d always dreamed I could have. I was going to show the universe and the business and anyone who knew me that I deserved it.”

Approaching the series’s final season (which debuts this summer), Manganiello says he “still hits everything with that level of intensity,” both in the gym and on screen. He laughs when describing some of the off-the-wall scenes he’s been asked to film, but says he appreciates the challenge. “I think in most good, classic theater, there’s always a scene that makes you think, ‘Oof, how am I going to do that? That’s scary.’ But most TV and film is really safe and boring. ‘True Blood’ keeps you on your toes.”

The actor has parlayed his success on the show into a film career, starring alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger as a DEA agent in the upcoming “Sabotage” and recently wrapping his first documentary, “LaBare.” The film takes a look at the history of Dallas’ male strip clubs and will premiere at this year’s Slamdance Film Festival, an independent festival that runs simultaneously with Sundance.

He playfully acknowledges the common thread in each: “I wanted to really say goodbye to the word ‘potential,’ and what’s come out of it is this string of shirtless, naked and seminaked projects,” he laughs. “Somebody told me once, ‘You ride the horse the direction it’s going.’ If it’s going that way, that’s great. Someday I’ll be 60 or 70 or 80 and I’m not gonna be able to rock a thong. I’m gonna get it in now while I can.”

He pauses, then takes a more serious tone. “At the end of the day, to be recognized for my work and to be able to create things that people are actually watching … I’ve been an actor for 20 years, and people have really been paying attention for about five,” he says. “I wouldn’t trade it.”

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EvolutionWOLF DOWN: In Evolution: The Cutting Edge Guide to Breaking Down Mental Walls and Building the Body You’ve Always Wanted, Manganiello explains how he transformed his body to become “True Blood’s” resident werewolf, detailing everything from his workout schedules to his grocery list. Here’s a peek at the diet rules he sticks to when he wants to look his bodybuilding best:

1. Always have three big meals per day.

2. Fill your hunger gaps with small snacks that include protein.

3. Protein, protein and more protein at all meals.

4. Kiss sugar goodbye.

5. Drop the alcohol.

6. Eat fiber from various sources (nuts, fruits, vegetables, berries, legumes).

7. Vegetables at every meal.

8. Don’t avoid foods that include saturated fat, such as fish, beef, pork and eggs.

9. Drink water throughout the day. If training, aim for three liters per day.

10. Limit carbs to natural sources, such as sweet potatoes.

11. Enjoy one cheat meal per week.

 

SHOOT STYLING

JoeMain-SLH-122213Wool sharkskin three-piece gray suit: $4,890

White shirt: $560

Pocket square: $180

Available: Tom Ford, 66 E. Oak

Ring: King Baby, Joe’s personal

 

 

AtTheShoot-SLH-122213.3CHoneycomb evening jacquard jacket: $4,240

Black velvet bow tie: $255

White shirt: $560

Available: Tom Ford, 66 E. Oak

 

 

Cover-SLH-122213AWool Sharkskin gray suit: $4,890

White shirt: $560

Black bowtie: $245

Available: Tom Ford, 66 E. Oak

 

 

 

SHOOT CREDITS

Photographer: Maria Ponce

Stylist: Favia, Ford Artists

Hair by: Kristen Warken for Anthony Cristiano Salon

Grooming by: Sarah Lukasiewicz for Amazing Cosmetics

Shoot Coordinator: Katerina Bizios

Video: Ramzi Dreessen


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