Standing at a striking
6’5" tall, with broad shoulders and serious brawn, Joe Manganiello is a
mountain of man. He’s the kind of macho man that gets cast to play a passionate
werewolf on "True Blood" or a charismatic stripper known as Big Dick
Richie in "Magic Mike XXL." Or Pee-wee Herman’s new best friend.
In the brand-new Netflix
release "Pee-wee’s Big Holiday," Joe Manganiello channels his natural
enthusiasm and charming comedy chops into a playful version of himself, proving
to be Pee-wee’s perfect playmate.
Following the film’s
SXSW premiere, Indiewire spoke with Manganiello over the phone about his path
to Pee-wee, the surreal shooting experience, decoding the trick of playing
a very special new character in the Herman universe and the one bit of costuming he had to fight
for. Spoilers ahead.
was your first memory of Pee-wee Herman?
1985 in the theater, my
dad brought me to see ("Pee-wee’s Big Adventure."). And I was just enthralled. You know, like some
rift in the universe had been opened. It was like my brain expanded. That was
first introduction to Paul (Reubens) and Pee-wee. It was also my first
introduction to Tim Burton, who I was hugely
influenced by and loved. Those were very influential movies on me. "Big
Adventure," "Beetlejuice," his Batman movies, "Edward
Scissorhands," those were like my
movies. Like that’s the kind of kid that I was. That was my temperament. I was
this Smiths-loving weirdo. And I think that seeing that first Pee-wee movie, it
was so weird and so mainstream at the
same time. It made it okay to fly your freak flag.
Speaking of, Paul
Reubens described the first time you two met as you basically
racing across an Emmys party to introduce yourself. What was that experience like from
Those parties are really
tricky – those big Emmy parties – because you just want to hide. Because they’re
just full of people who want to take
selfies for like two hours. So you just get in there, you get a chair and you
sit back and hide. And my publicist bumped me and was like, "Oh my God,
it’s Pee-wee Herman." Paul was nominated for the Emmy for HBO (for
"The Pee-wee Herman Show On Broadway"), and I was working for HBO.
So, I’m like "Ohmigod, I got to go say hi." So I got up and braved the
crowd, just worked my way through
that crowd over to him with as much passion and genuineness as I could possibly
I’m his biggest fan and I love him. And we made plans then to check out
this Tim Burton LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) exhibit that was at
the art museum in L.A. And we just became friends.
That’s surreal. And then "Pee-wee’s Big Holiday" you play yourself
becoming friends with Pee-wee Herman.
Which is kind of how it
So when did they come to you with this idea? How
did that work?
Well, Paul had called
me. And he prefaced with saying like, "I shouldn’t be calling you. I shouldn’t be doing this. But I want to
give you a heads up. I’ve been planning Pee-wee’s comeback for years. And hopefully in the next year or
couple of years, I’m going to be able to get this thing off of the ground and I
when I do, I’m going to call you back and I want you to play this role."
And I said okay. And he said, "Now forget about it. I’m sorry I called you
because you have to forget about it now."
So you know nothing about the part?
You could be a cowboy or a pirate, because it’s Pee-wee!
We don’t know.
And it wasn’t written as me. The character wasn’t me, when I finally got the
script a year later. Paul called me back and was like, "Okay. We’re doing
this movie. It’s going to happen and Judd (Apatow) and Netflix are all down
with you doing it, you being in the movie." I was playing a famous actor
named Joe Mancuso.
Paul and John (Lee, the
director) and I were talking as we were beginning to shoot about like,
"What if you said you were you?
What if we did that?" So sure enough when we got to the set that day–we
were at the little miniature set–we did a take that wasn’t scripted where I
said, "I’m Joe Manganiello from "True Blood" and "Magic
Mike" and all that stuff."
So when you started
working on "Pee-wee’s Big Holiday," you weren’t playing you as you?
No. And they actually
had to go clear the name "Joe Mancuso," which belonged to this guy
whose name was Joe Mancuso. And in order to okay using his
name, he said, "Fine, you can use my name. But you have to give me a part in the movie." So he is actually in the movie. There’s a guy
named Joe Mancuso who plays like the pizza guy when Pee-wee’s in New York and
So his name isn’t said in the movie, but he still
gets to be in the movie. That’s
Correct, yeah. So they
actually went through all the trouble to clear the name and then we didn’t want
to use it.
I was going to ask what it was like playing
yourself in a movie, but now I know it’s like this hybrid–
Well, it’s not really me. It’s funny. It’s like a
10-year-old’s version of the tabloids’ idea of me sort of.
Sure, "Triple Cool" Joe Manganiello.
Well, one thing I really enjoyed about the
friendship that you and Pee-wee have within the movie is that it bucks the
traditional bromance. You are a very macho character, but there’s an earnest
childlike enthusiasm and then elements like "Glitter Mountain"–
Yeah, it’s full of
Exactly! Was that kind of subversion of that
trope part of the character’s appeal for you?
In looking at the
character I had to think about it a lot because I’m not just playing a guy who
meets Pee-wee. I’m playing a guy who winds up Pee-wee’s best friend. So, you
have to kind of have an understanding of why Pee-wee is funny, why Pee-wee is a
cultural phenomena. There’s the mechanics of Pee-wee that have to be
understood. I thought that with my character with the size differential – correct
me if I’m wrong – what was going to be funny was watching my character interact
as a boy.
When Pee-wee falls in a
well, it doesn’t say "Man in Well;" it says "Boy in Well"
(on the television newscast). He’s a boy, and I’m his friend. Which means I
have to be a boy too. Even though I’m wearing a tuxedo and riding a motorcycle
around and all this stuff, my tone, my temperament has to be that of a
10-year-old. And so I thought, "How would a kid react if his best friend
didn’t show up to his party?" And there you go. That’s the key to the
character. That scene has to work that way. To me, that’s the way I decoded that – I don’t want to call it a
problem – but decoded that proof.
Did you keep any mementos from the set?
Well, there’s a Pee-wee
What was it like putting that on for the first
I can’t get over it! I still can’t. It doesn’t make sense. It was
crazy. I could hardly get through those takes because it was insane! It was
insane. And they were actually going to cut it out. They wrote it out. They wrote out
the Pee-wee suit. And I heard about that and was like, "No! NO!" I lobbied so hard. Like I didn’t threaten to not
do the movie or anything, but I was like, "Come on, guys, please. We have to do this."
Now were you throwing your weight around on this
because you were like "This is what the character needs" or because
"I need to be in that
I need the goddamn Pee-wee suit. This is probably my only chance.
Like, please. We have to. We can’t not
do this. Please! And they came around.
That’s amazing. What was it like shooting the
slow motion sequences?
Well, it’s one thing
when you come home and your wife asks you how work was and your answer is,
"Well, I put on a Pee-wee Herman suit. I climbed on top of a life-sized
piñata and jousted with Pee-wee with
giant pinwheels of fire while speaking Spanish." Like drop mic.
day was, I won.
I mean, yeah! There’ s
no competition. I couldn’t believe I had somehow entered into this wormhole of
this alternate universe where I got do that. Like that’s a moment in my career!
It’s crazy. It doesn’t make sense.
"Pee-wee’s Big Holiday" is now
streaming on Netflix.
Check out a classic Pee-wee clip below.