While he looks more like someone who might have been the captain of the high school football team (and he was — along with the basketball and volleyball teams), Joe Manganiello was also something of a fantasy geek growing up in Pittsburgh.
But those long hours playing dungeon master in marathon Dungeons & Dragons sessions have served his career well, as his true breakout came in the very role-playery HBO series True Blood, as the werewolf hunk Alcide. Now Manganiello, 40, and his True Blood co-star Deborah Ann Woll are reuniting for Force Grey: Lost City of Omu, a Dungeons & Dragons quest played live on Twitch. (They’re joined by fellow celebrity RPGers Dylan Sprouse and Brian Posehn.)
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Manganiello to talk about his love of D&D. We also pressed him for an update on his status in Warner Bros.’ upcoming Batman movie. For the uninitiated: He was supposed to play the villain Deathstroke when Ben Affleck was directing — Affleck even tweeted out footage of him in costume from the Justice League set. But now that Affleck has stepped aside and Matt Reeves has stepped in to helm the film, his future in the franchise is in question.
When I was in high school, the people playing Dungeons & Dragons did not look like you. Did you play it growing up?
I did. I’ve played all the way through [to today]. I started when I was 10.
How were you introduced to that world?
When I was young, I had the Hobbit picture book and record — the one that had a chime to tell you to turn the page. That was what I would consider the gateway drug into fantasy for me. Then I discovered the Rankin-Bass cartoon version of Lord of the Rings. From there it was like a hunt for all things dragon, elf, dwarf, wizard and fantasy.
Then I landed on the Dungeons & Dragons basic set. There’s a solo adventure that you can play by yourself. I played that thing over and over again, because I just didn’t know any other kids who played it.
I feel so much better about my own childhood now.
I wound up spending every summer on an island in Maine and the kids on that island were avid role-playing gamers. It was like the Blind Melon video when the gates open up and it’s the land of the bees! You meet your own kind.
A lot of successful people in Hollywood credit the game with helping them in their careers.
Every summer was spent creatively cooking up adventures the way a modern-day showrunner or producer would. Which is what I do now. It was building characters and story arcs and auxiliary storylines. Little did I know I was flexing all the muscles that I ended up using in my chosen profession.
But I will say this: All the kids I played with growing up were athletes like me. Everyone who plays these games is an intellectual. But they came in all shapes and sizes, including my jock friends. I play regularly now with my trainer, who is the current world champion in CrossFit over 45 years old. He’s a monster. My friend Thomas Tull, CEO of Legendary Entertainment, he came over and played. He co-owns the Steelers. So they come in all shapes and sizes, I guess I’m trying to say.
Do you have a beloved character?
I was always the gamemaster. I was creating the storyline and running the show. For years, I was always coming up with these worlds for the players to inhabit. The last few years, though, I’ve gotten heavily back into Dungeons & Dragons with the release of the fifth edition.
The character I play now and in Force Grey is a dragon-born oath-breaker paladin who worships the five-headed dragon goddess Tiamat. His powers derive from the Queen of Darkness. Red skin, breathes fire, big nasty battle ax. He’s really fun to play.
I don’t for a second doubt your expertise with Dungeons & Dragons.
It’s my hobby.
I think a lot of people are wondering what the status of Deathstroke is in the next Batman movie now that Ben Affleck is off the project as director. Do you have any information about that?
I don’t. Well, I do but nothing that I can share. I know everything but I can’t say any of it.
Was that imparted in a happy way or a downtrodden way? I’m trying to interpret the fluctuations in your tone.
[Pause.] I’m shooting for a neutral tone.
Any idea when we’ll find out?
It’s not up to me. That’s a good question for Warner Bros. and D.C.
Force Grey: Lost City of Omu premieres on the official D&D Twitch channel (twitch.tv/dnd) Monday, July 31 at 5 p.m. PT.