Hunk. Beefcake. That actor who always gets groped when he does interviews. These are all common descriptions of Sabotage actor Joe Manganiello. Even though he's a serious performer who graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with a BFA in acting and even directed a documentary about Pittsburgh Steelers fans, he's rarely given the respect he deserves.
Now, in addition to all of the labels about his looks, there's a more substantive one you can add: Huge pro wrestling geek.
"It's theater. But it's theater, [and] it's the circus. I've always loved wrestling. I've been a massive wrestling fan...I consider myself somewhat of an encyclopedia of wrestling knowledge and I think it kind of freaks people out," Manganiello told Bleacher Report backstage at Monday Night Raw. "We were at dinner last night and I just went nuts going through all of the old wrestlers and [it] was like 'dude, you're out of your mind, this is crazy.' To be up there in the ring for the first time...I just hung out backstage and took a picture with [Sabotage co-star] Arnold [Schwarzenegger] and Hulk [Hogan] and put it on Twitter. I was like 'Come on, this is insane, this is surreal." I think it will probably hit me sometime tomorrow."
Being child of the '80s who grew up in Pittsburgh, he was a WWE loyalist through and through. "Growing up, it was Saturday Night's Main Event, it was WrestleMania, dressing up like Macho Man in college—I did a mean Macho Man to the point where one Halloween I put on the Macho costume." It took very little prodding to get him to do his Randy Savage impression for the reporters on-hand, which People Magazine posted to their Instagram account:
While this was Manganiello's first time appearing on WWE programming, he's no stranger to the WWE locker room. "I've done a couple movies with wrestlers, so this isn't the first time I've been backstage. I did Behind Enemy Lines: Columbia with Mr. Kennedy, [who is] Mr. Anderson now in TNA, and Kevin Nash, 'Big Sexy.' So I've hung around here a bit, I know the guys; one of the cameramen, Rico Restroff, is a guy from Pittsburgh, he used to get me tickets all the time, so I'd go hang out with him backstage."
Still, being backstage is a nothing compared to to actually being on Raw. "To go back and rehearse with Hulk and Arnold? Nothing can prepare you for that."
It's not exactly surprising that he idolized Arnold Schwarzenegger growing up. As an aspiring actor with an eye for bodybuilding, it was only natural; but before they met, he was cautious. "A lot of times I've been disappointed when I've met people whose posters I had on my wall as a kid." "But with Arnold, he far exceeded any expectation I could possibly have. He's one of the most incredible people I've ever met it my life. Just [as a] human being, one of the smartest people, if not the smartest [person] I've ever met. He's an icon."
His mind was racing a mile a minute when they first met. "A lot of it at the beginning was like in Terminator when the landlord comes in, and [Schwarzenegger's titular character] has all of those choices and he goes 'F--k you, a-----e!' To me, all of the choices in my brain were like 'Don't be an idiot, don't say something stupid, don't make a fool of yourself...'"
That went on for a while until Arnold made an overture that was very un-Hollywood. "One of the days I went in to eat lunch, and Arnold pushed the tray aside of who was sitting next to him at lunch, and kicked him him out of his chair and sat down next to me. It was like high school. Or prison. So then I got to sit at the cool kids' table and I started loosening up a little bit."
As time went on, they became much closer, obviously finding common ground in their love of fitness and bodybuilding, which led to a very special invitation for Manganiello. "As soon as we were done filming, Joe Weider [founder of the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness] passed away. So [Arnold, who won seven of Weider's Mr. Olympia contests] called me up and asked me to speak at Joe's memorial on behalf of my generation of bodybuilding, which is pretty amazing; to be responsible to carry that message, carry that torch forward. Arnold calls you and asks you to do something, you say yes. So we bonded over that."
To prepare his role in Sabotage, where Manganiello plays a member of a DEA task force, he took on something of a miniaturized mixed martial arts training camp. "It was [at] a martial arts studio, one of [acting coach] David Ayers' buddies growing up is a martial arts instructor, has his own dojo, so I went down there and trained with those guys." Having done boxing training for years, he was by far most comfortable with that part of the training.
On the other hand, on the ground, he was largely humbled like any other newbie. "I'm not an encyclopedia of ground fighting techniques, so really, it was trying not to get choked out for five minutes." He did have a favorite submission hold if he can grab it: The guillotine choke/front facelock. "I have leverage, because I'm tall, so if I can get somebody's throat, I can get them up off the ground."
While he's found major success as both a television and film actor, it's clear that Raw meant much more to him than just being a promotional appearance. "When I was a little kid, my mom asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I was a little kid, and I don't know what I was thinking or what was going through my mind, but I said 'I want to be either a pimp or a pro wrestler.' So I think with Magic Mike and tonight [on Raw], I'm pretty close to the mark."