How Joe Manganiello's 'Deathstroke' Ideas Seeped Into 'Zack Snyder's Justice League'

Joe Manganiello
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The actor reveals a small part of an origin movie he developed influenced his look in the new cut, due out on HBO Max March 18.

Five years ago, Joe Manganiello found himself on the London set of Justice League dressed in armor. Actors such as Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa and Ezra Miller crowded around a monitor to catch a glimpse of test footage of Manganiello in action as Deathstroke, the villain he would be playing in a planned The Batman movie from director and star Ben Affleck. Not long after, Manganiello jetted off to Monaco to film a Justice League post-credits scene on a yacht with Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), a moment that was supposed to set him up as the villain for Affleck's The Batman.

"Six months later I got notification that Batman wasn't going to happen," Manganiello told MTV's Josh Horowitz in a new episode of the Happy.Sad.Confused podcast.

In the years since Affleck left The Batman, Manganiello has experienced ups and downs in his journey with Deathstroke. He wrote his own treatment for an origin story movie, and after a two-hour Skype meeting, convinced The Raid filmmaker Gareth Evans to sign on, despite the director not being studio movie kind of guy.

It looked promising for a while, but then that Deathstroke movie got jettisoned after exec changes over at Warner Bros. in late 2017 and early 2018.

"When the dust settled, it was not seen as a priority to make a $40 million movie about a villain origin story in which you show the backstory," said Manganiello, currently on screens in Shoplifters of the World, a 1980s drama revolving around the breakup of the band The Smiths.

The irony, of course, is that a 2019 Joker origin movie went on to earn more than $1 billion and earned star Joaquin Phoenix an Oscar.

Manganiello had more flirtations with Deathstroke after that. Before James Gunn boarded to direct this August's The Suicide Squad, Manganiello was also in the mix for a sequel to David Ayers' 2016 Suicide Squad.

"There were four or five different versions of Suicide Squad 2 that I was put on hold for, for dates, waiting for one actor to free up and we were going to go," said Manganiello.

It never happened, though Manganiello did ultimately appear in Justice League, but a different version of the scene than that shot by Snyder, who exited the project in May 2017 after a family tragedy. Joss Whedon took over duties.

"Then they re-did the end credits sequence to tease a Justice League 2 Injustice League for the bad guys that didn't happen, clearly," recalled the actor of the scene, which suggested Luthor, Deathstroke and other villains would team up in the sequel.

Finally, Manganiello will appear as intended in Zack Snyder's Justice League, dropping March 18 on HBO Max and featuring a new scene Snyder shot that includes him alongside Affleck and other stars. Manganiello even sports a new cut that was inspired by his original treatment for his Deathstroke movie.

"In the end of the film I always envisioned him shaving his head into some kind of warlike, borderline suicide mission, 'This is it, I'm going to die like a warrior,'" said the actor, making an electric razor sound. "I explained that to Zack, and he said, 'Great, let's do it.'"

The DC villain has taken the actor on a rollercoaster of a journey, and Manganiello won't rule out Deathstroke being in his future. Said the actor: "I think there's going to be excitement over continuing what Zack was up to."

Listen to the full podcast episode here.