Rising Star: ‘True Blood’s’ Joe Manganiello

For a man, it must be hard not to judge “True Blood’s” newest hunk, Joe Manganiello.

Towering 6’5” into the skies, he has the body of a Greek god, his torso a symmetrically perfect series of heavenly-blessed abs and pecs. He has the smooth, olive tan of a Portuguese soccer player and the square cut jaw line of an all-American hero. And then there are those eyes – a bewitching shade of brown that can flicker with hints of wonderment and magic or, in an instant, can turn steely, dark and brooding.

The “True Blood” newcomer — and AccessHollywood.com’s newest Rising Star — looks like the kind of guy who every gent in the bar wants to be, and every girl wants to be with — but that would be too easy, and simple is everything Joe is not.

He’s the latest major casting choice in Season 3 of HBO’s “True Blood,” making his debut in the franchise this Sunday as Alcide Herveaux, a beloved character from Charlaine Harris’ “Sookie Stackhouse” novels, but had he been a little more average and a little less inspired, Joe would today most likely be nearing the end of a career in professional athletics.

“My last high school football game, I ended up tearing [a ligament in my knee] against Joe Montana’s old high school,” he told Access from the “True Blood” set. “I could’ve continued on, but there were a couple of different factors.”

The “different factors” were actually two roads for the then sophomore: One, he could opt to join some of his fellow Pittsburgh teen pals in using steroids and carry on on the gridiron. Or Two, he could explore less charted territory that involved “messing around with cameras” and acting, something he had been experiencing a mild flirtation with.

While the camera stuff was something Joe could do on his own, actually acting – in front of a Pittsburgh high school crowd that would include his former teammates and coaches — took until the very end of his four years.

”‘Oklahoma,’” he said of the musical that took his high school stage virginity. “There was a sea of letterman jackets in the crowd, which was kind of unheard of. It was all of my old football buddies that had come to check me out and also, my old linebacker coach [who had] picked on me for years because I wasn’t playing football.”

For those not familiar with Pittsburgh, it’s also known as the City of Steel, made up of brawny men not as used to expressing their feelings as those in Joe’s current home of LA. So as a high school senior, the budding actor was terrified of his ex-coach’s response.

“Honestly, after he came and saw the show, he grabbed me in the hall and I thought he was gonna make fun of me,” Joe recounted. “He didn’t. He said, ‘I thought you were really great. I was wrong about you.’”

The converts came early, and after college – a bachelor’s degree in fine arts – so did Hollywood, who cast him as Toby Maguire’s high school nemesis, Flash Thompson, in “Spider-Man.” Other roles followed – in TV shows like “One Tree Hill” (he played Sophia Bush’s temporary love interest, Owen) and “How I Met Your Mother,” but it’s his turn as the werewolf Alcide – dark, with a mysterious past, and despite his brawn a tender vulnerability — in “True Blood,” that’s already turning heads.

“You know, it does feel different. It feels like a break,” Joe said of landing the role in the HBO show. “It feels like what ‘Spider-Man’ was times 10.

“I think a lot of it has to do with the books and with the fact that there’s all this built-in fan base for my character,” Joe added, not quite ready to accept the value of early critical praise of his work as Alcide. “He’s a favorite from the books, so [the fans] kind of jumped on board before I’ve even been on the show, which is amazing.”

One fan already on board is Joe’s former boss, John Feldman, frontman for the Southern California band Goldfinger – a group the actor used to roadie for during his on screen downtime – and one he parted ways with through murky circumstances.

“I think he got hired to do ‘One Tree Hill’ while we were finishing up the tour. So I mean that’s the true reason,” John told Access. “Two of the guys in the band were single and there is a possibility that maybe they were getting a little jealous that Joe was getting all of the cute girls. But… I don’t believe that’s Joe’s calling in life — to be a roadie.”

“My wife and I love the show, so we’re super excited,” John added of friend’s new big gig. “I’m sure it will be amazing.”

John will get a chance to check out Joe’s “True Blood” debut alongside the Pittsburgh boy’s parents – Susan and Charles (he flew them out!), this weekend in Southern California, where the actor is having a private premiere soiree for his loved ones.

“It’s gonna be like, a deal,” Joe explained. “Food will be served, I’ll be feeding everyone so until they start getting deep into the drinks, they won’t be making fun of me.”

The “fun of me” part has nothing to do with his acting and everything to do with his nudity. Move over Eric, Jason, Sam and Bill! This season, Alicde might become “True Blood’s” most clothes-free man.

“There’s been a lot of laughs directed my way at table reads because of the amount of skin that I have to show,” he explained.

While the “True Blood” sets may keep him cool, if Joe has his way, this Rising Star’s future will include reprising a rather famous clothed role, although the suit would still feature his figure.

“I’m from Pittsburgh so the Man of Steel — it’s the City of Steel, so that would go a long way back home,” Joe said of his dream of wearing Superman’s red cape. “I would imagine that maybe I could go to some Steeler games, or it would be easier for me to get tickets if I was the Man of Steel.”

With his breakout role in “True Blood,” he may not have to wait for that high-flying big screen role for those tickets.

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