Joe Manganiello, director of ‘LaBare,’ strips down his movie

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Joe Manganiello, in Dallas with ‘LaBare’

Even in a suit and tie, Joe Manganiello has magnetism. The actor, best known for True Blood, has ventured into directing with LaBare, his debut feature as a documentarian. I got to sit down with Manganiello following a recent screening of the film (also reviewed this week), to talk about how he got the idea for making a film about Dallas’ all-male strip club, and whether these folks are exploited … or the exploiters.

Dallas Voice: I used to live near LaBare when it was on Greenville Avenue, but I had no idea it had this wider reputation.…  Joe Manganiello: LaBare is the mecca of male entertainment. I had never set foot in a male strip club until day one of filming LaBare, which led to me spending my birthday and New Year’s there — I never saw it coming!

The big reason why we chose Dallas over shooting instead in Vegas or L.A. was, I wanted real men, dudes, cowboys, or the idea of a cowboy. [Women] pay to be seduced by a cowboy. Guys are the yang — the aggressive. So many women in L.A. complain, “Where are the real men?”

How did this come about then? I had an old friend who, when I got the script for Magic Mike, was the one I called and talked to about it. He changed my perception of the industry completely going into Magic Mike. Now, coming out of it, you saw the popularity of it, and there were so many conversations about it — post-feminist sex relations and how much we have fought as a society to have men and women equal in the workplace. What I thought was so fun about this conversation [was] about female sexuality.

DSC9450So you weren’t working on both at the same time?  We finished Magic Mike a year before we started filming [LaBare].

In the movie, people talk openly about how much harder it is to be a male stripper than a female one.  These guys have to train like professional athletes, they have to work with choreographers on their routines, they have to spend money on their costumes and there are maybe 400 female strip clubs in the Dallas area; there is one male. Think of the competition! This is serious business for these men. If you’re gonna be drunk or on drugs or mistreat women, you’re not gonna be around very long. Randy, who’s been there since 1979, is the Cal Ripken Jr. of male stripping. He doesn’t do drugs and he doesn’t drink. It’s a very different profession — it’s not that for women. But men are easy — women are complicated.

Have you had any reaction from female strippers about those comments?  Sure. I was sitting next to a few from The Lodge [during the Dallas screening] and they were laughing hysterically and nodding their heads. They were laughing the hardest. When the guys say [that male stripper work harder in the movie], it may be blunt and raw, but it’s the truth, and it’s validated by the women in the film who compare their jobs to the men. One even says, “I don’t do anything.” One doesn’t even appear onstage — she just has dinner upstairs with her clients.

You didn’t mention any gay strip clubs in the movie, or that any of the strippers were gay …. That wasn’t my experience with the guys. And I wanted to do a movie about male-female relationships.

There’s a larger social discussion about exploitation, especially as it relates to female strippers, but in the movie, you don’t feel as a viewer that the men are being exploited — they feel empowered.  There’s a big conversation about objectifying men. [I am asked] do you feel objectified, Joe, about your roles on True Blood and Magic Mike, and the answer is no, I don’t. I think it’s nearly impossible for a man to feel objectified because why do I care why a woman likes me as long as she does? Someone said to me once, women are sex objects, men are success objects. Something like True Blood, Magic Mike — for the first time, it’s OK for women outside of reading a fantasy novel to talk about what turns them on without societal pressures and we can celebrate our differences. I just want us to get along and I think that’s what the guys at LaBare want to happen.

Some of the amateurs featured in the film are good looking men, but they just don’t compare to the pros.  There’s a grand canyon between the amateur and the professional dancer as seen in the amateur section [of the film]. What you’re talking about is a connection. One question I ask all the guys is, What do you know about women? Randy says, “I treat them like a queen, with respect.”

The funniest thing I’ve seen in a movie all year is the striper-gram scene where the girl falls on her ass.  We were lucky, man. That’s the magic of a documentary because you’re watching this once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. I couldn’t have written any of this with a team of writers!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

REVIEW: “True Blood” — flirting with the shark

True Blood has always flirted with jumping the shark. How couldn’t it? A campy Southern Gothic horror comedy about redneck Louisiana vampires? Why, the summary alone sounds ludicrous, even if you’re a fan.

But forget that. When it debuted, it was trashy fun — sexy, uber-gay, funny and bone-chilling within seconds. Season 1 was a hoot. Season 2 took a turn, it’s true, but it got better, and Season 3 was mostly very good. But Season 4, which ended last year, was dreadfully bad, almost unwatchable, with witches and fairy blood and trailer-trash werewolf and werepanther packs. As a friend of mine noted, “I can’t watch it — I grew up in Louisiana, and I spent too much time with toothless hick already in my life.” (For me, that’s exemplified in the character of whiny waitress Arlene, who I’ve known way too many of in my life.)

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Denis the menace

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Gay actor Denis O’Hare, TV’s reigning villain, is far less creepy than his roles

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AMERICAN HORROR ACTOR | Denis O’Hare adds grotesque intensity to Ryan Murphy’s creepy series, which wrapped it’s first season this week.

Meeting Denis O’Hare should be scary as hell. After all, this is the man who plays two of TV’s reigning supervillains: The horny vamp leader on True Blood and a mysteriously deformed psychopath who just suffocated a potential homebuyer on American Horror Story. But today, in the back of homo-hot-spot Saint Felix in West Hollywood on his day off, O’Hare doesn’t project any of that eeriness.

So far during the debut season of the smash FX show, O’Hare, as the scarred weirdo Larry Harvey, has doused a house in gasoline, killed another man’s mistress and fought fervently for a home that’s become a tough sell — and not just because the economy sucks.

“I don’t think he’s evil,” O’Hare says. “He’s acting out of a particular desire for something. For me, all characters have a justification for their behavior; they always think that what they’re doing is necessary for a reason. Even the Phantom of the Opera has a real reason: He was in love with someone, he was scarred, he wants love and revenge.”

O’Hare orders a smorgasbord of nibbles in between talking of Ryan Murphy’s AHS, the upcoming season of True Blood and the foster child he’s caring for with husband Hugo Redwood, who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. Holding his phone up, O’Hare flips through photos of his family, looking for the one of the kid flashing his happy-as-can-be grin. Like O’Hare’s partner, the actor’s nearly year-old baby is black, and when he comes upon one pic — of the boy atop O’Hare’s lap and a friend’s child, who’s white, sitting on Redwood — he finally breaks into a maniacal smirk.

“We’re the right wing’s worst nightmare,” O’Hare says. “Wrong color baby on the wrong person’s lap — oh my god!”

And you thought Larry was scary.

Before getting the call from Murphy, who desperately wanted O’Hare to take on Larry, the actor was already creeping out audiences on True Blood as Russell Edgington, the ancient former vampire king of Mississippi.

Premiering next summer, Season 5 will see the return of the Master of Nutcases, when the 2,800-year-old bloodsucker makes a comeback after skipping out on the last go-’round. What’s to become of him after rising from the cement he was buried under?

“Nothing I can share,” O’Hare says, noting a recent lunch he had with out True Blood mastermind Alan Ball, also the creator of Six Feet Under. “We talked about what’s going to happen and I was definitely surprised. It’s good stuff. It’s always good stuff. With him, and with Ryan, they don’t go to obvious places. They go where you wouldn’t expect them to go.”

And so does O’Hare. The actor, who’s actually down-to-earth and chatty, is good at playing bad. He was relentless at getting Sandra Bullock kicked out of the country in rom-com The Proposal, and played way against type in Milk as Sen. John Briggs, who proposes a California ballot initiative to outlaw gay and lesbian teachers.

Recently, O’Hare had a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scene in the Hoover biopic J. Edgar, a chance to work again with Clint Eastwood (O’Hare starred alongside Angelina Jolie in Changeling as, what do you know, a psych-ward bad guy).

O’Hare, who turns 50 next month, got his start while growing up in Michigan, where he sang in the choir and, in 1974, landed a chorus part in a community theater production of Show Boat. He parlayed his humble beginnings into a Broadway career — in Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins in 2004, then scoring a Tony Award for his performance in Take Me Out. In January, O’Hare heads back to New York stage where he’ll act in An Iliad, off-Broadway run, before heading back to L.A. for more of True Blood.

The best part of being in NYC? Seeing his family. O’Hare married Redwood, an interior designer, over the summer, and the two have been caring for their foster child since April.

“I could’ve gone to my grave without having kids, but I came around to liking the idea,” O’Hare admits, noting he warmed up to the thought after seven years of talks with Redwood. “As a gay man, I find my biggest stumbling block was my own homophobia, my own sense of feeling that gay people shouldn’t have kids. I felt pressure from society that we’re not supposed to have kids” — not to mention, he adds, that once you do, it’s like wearing a gay yarmulke — “and I was also shy about being a spokesperson for gay adoption.”

And now he’s the gushing father who’s looking for just the right pic to show off the kid’s smile. His foster child laughs a lot, but how could he not? “I speak to him in bad French,” O’Hare says, “and he dies.”

O’Hare’s encounters with gay couples and their kids helped him shake off his internalized homophobia, something he says is difficult to diagnose in ourselves, and he finally accepted the idea of having his own with Redwood. “It’s been normalized for me,” he says, deliberating. “But it’s like being married. It’s so hard to say the word ‘husband’ at first. I say ‘partner,’ and then suddenly realize if I say ‘husband,’ it might be aggressively political. But then it’s like, what the fuck? What else am I gonna say? He’s my husband. We are legally married.”

Part of  his hesitation is that common desire not to be defined by his sexual orientation.

“For me, an actor is an actor. Years ago someone said to me, ‘How do you feel about being a gay actor?’ I said, ‘I’m not a gay actor. I’m an actor. I’m Irish. I’m an atheist. And a bridge player. I ride my bike. And I’m gay.’”

He fits right in on the set of American Horror Story, one of the gay-friendliest projects he’s ever worked on. No surprise there: This is a Ryan Murphy production.

“I’ve met more lesbian gaffers on Ryan’s show than I’ve ever met anywhere else in my life!” O’Hare explains with delight.

When O’Hare was sent the script directly from Murphy back in March, just a few weeks before shooting was set to begin, he was immediately intrigued. The show takes cues from many of his favorite horror classics and the legendary names behind them: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Bela Lugosi.

“What I think is great about the show is that Ryan’s kind of consciously quoting from great works,” he says. “‘Don’t go in the basement’ is one of the biggest horror tropes, or ‘don’t open the door’ — they’re all horror tropes, and he’s using all of them in a really cool way. And I hear some people say, ‘Well, it’s unrealistic. Who’d stay in the house?’ That’s just a given. Let’s just let them stay in the house.”

Now he’s starting to sound a lot like Larry, who’s so insistent that the Harmons stick around, you wonder what the dude’s got up his sleeve. “I think Larry has a very clear overarching goal, which is redemption and release,” O’Hare says, “and that is all tied up in the house.”

For O’Hare, the role requires three-and-a-half hours of makeup, transforming the actor’s face into the questionable burn victim and leaving him with only half his hearing and sight. On the first day of shooting, Murphy walked him through Larry’s limp and shriveled arm. “He’s got the vision in his head, so he had to be very clear about what we should to do and I like that about him — he’s a very clear director.”

That helps, but with True Blood, O’Hare knew what he wanted for Russell Edgington.

“I felt no need to make Russell act gay, because he is gay,” he says, adding that because the vamp’s so ancient, homosexuality didn’t even really exist then. “I know as a gay man I don’t have to demonstrate that I’m gay. The fact that I’m sleeping with a man is the demonstration.”

And that’s gay?

O’Hare smiles big and non-creepy smile. “Not always, but for the most part.”

— Chris Azzopardi

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 23, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Hollywood notes: Groff returns to the stage, Knight returns to TV

When a gay white male playwright poses as an African-American female in order to pen a story about an alcoholic black mother, only to be discovered in that lie, the consequences aren’t going to be the stuff of fluffy musical theater. So when the non-musical drama The Submission opens Off Broadway this fall, audiences can expect to see a side of Jonathan Groff (Spring Awakening/Glee) they might not have experienced before. The Tony nominee will be joined by True Blood star Rutina Wesley (as a woman who becomes involved in Groff’s hoax) as well as by Eddie Kaye Thomas (American Pie) as Groff’s boyfriend, with directing duties handled by Tony winner Walter Bobbie. So if you’re planning a New York theater trip this fall, put it at the top of your to-see list; serious drama — especially serious drama about touchy issues like race — never sticks around as long as the ones with catchy songs and cat costumes.

It’s been about two years since Grey’s Anatomy star T.R. Knight quit that show amidst conflict with fellow actor Isaiah Washington. He’s kept busy in the theater world in the meantime, including taking a starring role in the 2010 Broadway show A Life In The Theatre, opposite Patrick Stewart. But Hollywood called again, so now he’s coming back to work in front of the cameras on an upcoming episode of Law & Order: SVU. The episode in question — currently in production — finds Knight playing a suspected serial rapist, so that’s an interesting out-of-the-box step for the actor, a role worlds away from the nice-guy character he portrayed on Grey’s.  Maybe he can parlay it into meaty villain roles and become the next Joan Collins. There’s no airdate for the SVU episode just yet, so keep a close watch on your DVR.

Rocket Pictures, the movie producing arm of the empire run by Elton John (pictured), scored a solid hit with this spring’s Gnomeo & Juliet, an animated reworking of Romeo and Juliet featuring talking, singing garden gnomes. Filled to the brim with John’s classic hit singles, the film made almost $200 million worldwide. And because it’s a short leap from gnomes to trolls, that’s where Rocket’s going next. Will Gallows and the Snake-Bellied Troll, a mixed liveaction/CGI-animated feature based on the first in a series of kid-aimed books by author Derek Keilty, is already in production with Gnomeo’s writer/director Kelly Asbury. The story combines elements of Wild West cowboy adventure and, well, trolls from a fantasy universe. There’s no voice cast set up just yet, but it’s safe to expect that John will contribute in some way to the film’s score. No gay troll jokes please.

— Romeo San Vicente

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 2, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Best bets • 06.17.11

Friday 06.17

No catfights over these outfits
Being a bridesmaid is a thankless job, as the ladies know in Five Women Wearing the Same Dress. The Alan Ball (American Beauty, True Blood) play shows irreverence toward the custom as the ladies hide away from their duties and begin to bond over their experience in lamé.

DEETS: Contemporary Theatre of Dallas, 5601 Sears St. 8 p.m. Through July 10. $27–$32. ContemporaryTheatreOfDallas.com.

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Friday 06.17

Pop in to the pop-up for DIFFA
Designer Showhouse Sale literally pops up a store in the Design District for high-end bargains for the home. But Friday, a portion of the sales will benefit DIFFA Dallas. Now that’s a good deal.

DEETS: Design District, 1525 Dragon St. Through June 30. 9 a.m. DesignerShowhouseSale.com.

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Saturday 06.18

Handler? We hardly know her
Seems like it was just yesterday Chelsea Handler graced these parts back in April 2010. This time, she’s touting her new book, Lies Chelsea Handler Told Me, with a tour by the same name. But really, who can get enough of the lady?

DEETS: Verizon Theater, 1001 Performance Place, Grand Prairie. 8 p.m. $59–$69.
Ticketmaster.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 17, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Evan Rachel Wood says she’s bisexual

Evan Rachel Wood, who played the lesbian daughter of Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, says she dates both men and women. In an interview in the May edition of Esquire magazine, Wood says  ”I’m into anything. … Meet a nice guy, meet a nice girl…” She once dated bisexual rocker Marilyn Manson and starred alongside fellow averred bi gay Anna Paquin on True Blood but has never been linked to other women. But when asked if she dates women, she said simply, “Yes.”

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

News flash: Gays more humane than straights

The Humane Society of the United States presents the Genesis Awards, similar to the GLAAD Media Awards, to recognize outstanding presentations of the humane treatment of animals. And it’s no surprise — at least not to me and the gay vegans I know that gay-run businesses and gay-themed shows figure prominently in this year’s finalists.

Among them: How to Train Your Dragon is up for best feature film (it’s produced by DreamWorks, which is owned by gay mogul David Geffen); True Blood is up for best dramatic series (created by gay Oscar winner Alan Ball and with plenty o’ queer vamps, pictured); the Sid Caesar Comedy Award is between gay-friendly shows The Colbert Report, The Simpsons and The Daily Show; and TV newsmagazine faces off gay host Anderson Cooper of AC360 again lesbian host Jane Velez-Mitchell of Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell. And the schmancy Wyler Award goes to Kristin Davis of Sex and the City for her work bringing awareness to orphaned elephants. (It’s such a Charlotte thing to worry about orphaned elephants). Previous winners of the Wyler Award include Ellen DeGeneres and Portia Di Rossi.

The awards will be presented March 19 in Los Angeles.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Queer interest with the Grammy nominations

Gay pop icon Adam Lambert is a Grammy nominee for “Whataya Want from Me.”

Nominations for the Grammy Awards were announced last night, and among the predicted big-name contenders are some of special interest to the gay community:

• Lady Gaga received six nominations, including best female pop vocal for “Bad Romance” and best album for The Fame Monster.

• Margaret Cho’s Cho Dependent is up for best comedy album against Kathy Griffin Does the Bible Belt.

• Two Sondheim albums are competing for musical show album: The revival of A Little Night Music and Sondheim on Sondheim. They contend against the revival of Promises, Promises with Sean Hayes and Kristen Chenoweth.

• Best compilation soundtrack album pits Glee: The Music, Vol. 1 against True Blood: Vol. 2.

• Michael Jackson received a nomination for pop male vocal for This Is It. Creepy. He’s competing against Adam Lambert for Whataya Want from Me.

• Best pop group vocal includes the cast of Glee for Don’t Stop Believin’ against Train for a live version of Hey, Soul Sister … which Glee just did better than Train.

• Elton John and Leon Russell, who were just in town, go up again Gaga and Beyonce and Katy Perry and Snoop Dogg for best vocal collboration.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Best bets • 10.08.10

Friday 10.15

No need to ask where the beef is
Burgers and beer is a primo combination, but with wine, it’s a step up. Especially if they are made by 11 local celebrity chefs, then it could just be heaven. The second annual Burgers & Burgundy hosted by Chef John Tesar puts it all together for your pleasure while raising funds for DIFFA. Who said eating burgers could ever be bad for you?

DEETS: The House in Victory Park, 2200 Victory Ave. 6 p.m. $75. DiffaDallas.org.

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Saturday 10.16

Never cross a gay vampire at bingo
The last thing you want to do is piss off Miss True Blood by yelling “bingo” before her. The last thing you need is a big bite mark on your neck before it’s truly scarf season. Put on your fangs, widow’s peaks and capes for this month’s GayBingo Vampire. Just watch out for those real ones blending in. Garlic should keep you safe — alone, but safe.

DEETS: The Rose Room (inside Station 4), 3911 Cedar Springs Road. 5 p.m. $25. RCDallas.org.

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Sunday 10.17

Fahari introduces Miss Bull Jeans
Harold J. Steward directs Q-Roc Ragsdale in this one-woman multi-media show about Bull Jeans and her life in the rural South of the 1920s. Her story of survival, love and lesbianism is told in the bull-jean stories based on the book by Sharon Bridgforth.

DEETS: South Dallas Cultural Center, 3400 S. Fitzhugh Ave. 3 p.m. $15. Q-Roc.tv/Bull-Jean.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 15, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Son of ‘Seabiscuit:’ ‘Secretariat’ is old-fashioned, formulaic

Contrary to rumors, one of America’s great race horses did not get his name when an ungrammatical executive looked around the office and said, “Where’s my secretary at?” That is, however, how the title was chosen for the Disney movie about that horse. It was only coincidental that the horse, and hence the movie, were named Secretariat.

Secretariat takes place between 1969 and 1973. Had it been made at that time, it would still have seemed old-fashioned. But formulas are repeated because they work. Take a good story, apply the formula, and with the right skills in every department you can make a good movie. Director Randall Wallace brings most of those skills but is too obvious in his reliance on the formula. Secretariat is the son of Seabiscuit — not the horse, but the film: Well-bred, but not in the same league. Again it’s less about the horse than the people around him.

Diane Lane stars as Penny Chenery Tweedy, who inherits guardianship of the horse she calls Big Red, but will race as Secretariat. Penny games Ogden Phipps (James Cromwell), “the richest man in America,” into letting her keep Big Red: She’s done her homework and predicts his genealogy will lead to a winning mix of speed and stamina.

No one else has her confidence. Dealing with horse business in Virginia puts a strain on Penny’s family life in Denver. Her husband (Dylan Walsh), often left alone with their four children, makes her feel guilty; her brother (Dylan Baker) tries to strong-arm her into selling the farm.

Her supporters are a ragtag assortment: Eddie Sweat (Nelsan Ellis of True Blood, pictured) is the stable hand who nurtures Big Red. Trainer Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich), is colorful and funny, though we never actually see him training a horse; her father’s secretary (Margo Martindale) and jockey Ron Turcotte (Otto Thorwarth) do their parts.

The three races of the Triple Crown occupy the second half of the movie. High-definition video race footage, some from a jockey-cam perspective, provides the film’s only modern touch.

It helps build suspense that Secretariat’s style really was as portrayed: Slow out of the gate, then picking up speed while leaving the others in his dust. Perhaps it’s the effort to make him and Penny appear as underdogs — er, underhorses — that makes the screenplay feel strained. Or it could be the Disneyfication of the story that makes everyone seem so nice. Maybe they should have called it That Darn Horse, just to be edgy.

Steve Warren

Two stars

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 8, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas