Joe Manganiello is no stranger to comic book movies. Not only is the actor a star of several but he is also a genuine fan of many of the same comics, games, shows, and movies as we are. Now, he is getting a chance to create his own hero. Manganiello stars in the upcoming Archenemy, a super hero film which is a wholly original tale which introduces audiences to Max Fist. While this character's name alone sounds like a comic book hero, there is no source material for reference but also the character outright does not consider himself a hero in our world.
Manganiello is directed by Adam Mortimer, a filmmaker who takes an ambitious swing with Archenemy. Throughout much of the film, Max Fist is a troubled hero whose best days seem to be behind him but are truly residing in an alternate world. Mortimer showcases the differences between these world by having Manganiello's Max struggle in the world we know wile flashbacks show his heroics in animated form on another. "This is a character who doesn't know what's true and what's not, doesn't know what's a hallucination, what's a dream, what's a memory," Manganiello told ComicBook.com in an exclusive interview. "So, in order to create that disoriented feeling, the script described these animated sequences, and I just thought, if they can get that right, man, it's going to be so cool. And it's going to help us tell the story in a big way."
On the heels of titles like Logan. Deadpool, and The Boys showing off how added freedoms in terms of harsh language or violence can make super hero titles feel unique, Archenemy dives in with an R-rating. The film uses violence intentionally never focusing on exploiting the extra liberties simply because it can. "It's kind of like TV moving the cable," Manganiello says. "All of a sudden The Sopranos came out, and because they were operating off of an R rating, they were able to do things that the network shows weren't able to do. And all of a sudden, they were trying to catch up, because there was a freedom in storytelling to make things more real."
Archenemy is available in theaters, Digital, and Video on Demand on December 11. Read our full interview with Manganiello about m, its production, and the return of Deathstroke in Zack Snyder's Justice League below!
ComicBook.com: Before we dive into talking about Archenemy, I know you're a fan of a lot of the same games, movies, and shows that we are. What games have you been playing or titles have you been watching to pass time in 2020?
Joe Manganiello: Well, I moved my weekly live D&D game to Roll20 and Zoom. So, that's a change. So, I had to figure out that software, figure out how to use it, load maps up and things. And so, I've been able to, when I'm not working or I'm in town, I have been able to continue running my game remotely for all my players. So, that's been great.
I also designed, for the relaunch of HeroQuest, I designed a 10 Adventure Quest book that people will be able to get if they subscribe to the Hasbro... It's like their version of Kickstarter. It's called Hasbro Pulse. So, I got to design that, so that's something that kept me pretty busy. And from there, just watching TV with my wife. Marathoning stuff.
ComicBook.com: Now, it's our turn to watch you in Archenemy. This movie takes some big swings, especially in combining the live-action story of your Max Fist character with his animated, other-worldly story. What drew you into this big idea and story?
JM: Well, it was director Adam Mortimer's idea for the animation, and I'm a big fan of special effects when they help to tell the story. Otherwise, if it's just there for the sake of being there, give me Lawrence of Arabia all day, but this was an example of, this is a character who doesn't know what's true and what's not, doesn't know what's a hallucination, what's a dream, what's a memory. So, in order to create that disoriented feeling, the script described these animated sequences, and I just thought, if they can get that right, man, it's going to be so cool. And it's going to help us tell the story in a big way.
And I think that's exactly what it did. I was so stoked to see what the animation looked like, and it really was disorienting, excuse me, and jarring and gets into kind of the scientific feel of the idea that perception is different. Even vision is different depending on what dimension you're in.prevnext
Archenemy Comic Inspirations
CB: Archenemy seems to emulate comic books type of tones and stories, right down to the poster. Were there any specific comic books, characters or stories, that you tried to emulate in Max?
JM: Well, when I initially read the script, it reminded me of those old, What If? comic books. Or even like Supreme Power, which was a more gritty, down to earth, modernized retelling of the DC myths or characters. And along those lines, the Supreme Power lines or even like Red Son. It was kind of a, what if Superman landed on the wrong planet? And instead of being charged up by the yellow sun, he was weakened by it? And what if gravity was too high, to the point where he lost the ability to fly and his bones hurt? His body hurts? It just aches. He aged 15 years in one day. What if just by getting here? And then doesn't have identification, and can't go to a doctor, and they don't understand his physiology, all of these things.
So, to me, it's what if Superman landed on the wrong planet? But there are moments where it devolves into the Punisher in a way, because who could you be in this world if you don't have power, so what do you do? So, anyway, I just think that those were some of the things that I thought about. Irredeemables, also another one that gets into the psychological aspects. The world's greatest hero turned into the world's greatest villain, and what is the psychological process of falling in that way?
And then of course, I'm so influenced by Pat Mills and Marshal Law. Fear and Loathing, that was definitely a big influence on me growing up.prevnext
Archenemy's Intense Shoot
CB: You mentioned the body ache and everything... If you - Joe Manganiello, not Max Fist - weren't sore after making this movie, you're super powered, man! You were tossed into some big action sequences but also punched a wall on repeat and it looked painful. Were there any action beats or sequences that stood out as particularly difficult or unique?
JM: I think it's the speed in which we have to shoot all those things. I think also, I wanted to create some physical character arc to the story, that whether somebody even consciously noticed, they unconsciously would register this evolution of the character physically? Because like I said, whether it's true or not, or he believes it or not, he believes it, the fact that his body has been broken. So, you're finding him that way. And you're finding the shell of a man. And as it goes on, you see that onion layers have stripped down off of him. And these layers are being stripped as he gets down to the nerve, to the core, and really changes.
And that's when you actually, I wanted to create a moment where you would get a glimpse of him as a hero, but by the time you get there, it's completely warped. And it's almost like you're at the point of no return when you hit that. And so, I wanted that to happen simultaneously. So, I tried to create kind of a physical story through his movement from the beginning to the end and how much that would change.
CB: I'm not going to spoil anything for anybody who reads this, but the ending was open-ended enough for me to wonder, is this a character you would like to see more of? Do you have ideas for more stories with Max Fist and his world?
JM: Well, yeah. I mean, the movie is talking about dimensional space and alternate realities existing at the same time that ours does. And so, when you get into that, you really take a look at it that way, there's so many different stories that can be told. So, yeah, I definitely think so.prevnext
Co-Stars and R-Rating
CB: You had a talented young cast with Skylan Brooks and Zolee Griggs at your side through most of the movie. A lot of your scenes are very intense. What did you all do to build the chemistry and be able to just flip that switch together?
JM: We had rehearsals, so we got to know each other that way and rehearse and hang out and get things on their feet before we shot them. So, I thought that was really useful for building rapport. And they're great. They're just great young actors, so it was just such a pleasure to work with both of them, because I just think they really brought some great things to the table. They really nailed their characters.
CB: The movie comes with added layers of language, violence, and liberties of the R-rating which has finally started to become a bit more common in the super hero genre. Why do you think audiences are drawn to these R-rated movies?
JM: Well, if you're talking about a rating, I mean, it's kind of like TV moving the cable. All of a sudden The Sopranos came out, and because they were operating off of an R rating, they were able to do things that the network shows weren't able to do. And all of a sudden, they were trying to catch up, because there was a freedom in storytelling to make things more real. And that's really what I think Archenemy, what we got to do was, my job was just to ground this thing. It's like, "Oh, he's a meth addict? Okay. Well, then it's going to be real." You know? "Oh, [Max Fist is] homeless? Okay, well, then let's make this real. He has psychological issues? Let's make this feel real and lived in."
And so, that's the beauty of what we got to do, because we weren't working off of an existing IP that belonged to one of the big companies. It was really being made by a studio. This was a story that you could only really make independently. No studio's going to allow us to make this movie or pay for the things that we did. And it meant that we had to operate off of a smaller budget, but if we all suck it up and tighten our bootstraps, we could pull it off. And everybody fought valiantly to bring this thing to the screen. It was a very difficult shoot. It almost felt like the movie was cursed in many ways, but we just kept fighting through and re evaluating, and came out with a better movie. So, I think a lot of the difficulties even made this thing even better, which was really amazing.prevnext
CB: Who do you think wins in a fight, Max Fist or your Deathstroke? A fully realized Max Fist? I think he's going to need some of his powers there.
JM: Yeah. Max would definitely need his powers, man, because Deathstroke is a nasty, nasty dude, and especially the new version. He's new and improved.
CB: Can I ask you about Deathstroke? Are you able to talk about that at all?
JM: You can. I'm not promising I can answer anything.
CB: You posted the photo. You got the haircut, you're in the suit... Was that suiting up for reshoots? Did you get to do anything and bring that character in any way in 2020?
JM: Well, yeah. I mean, that was the picture that I posted was of me with a mohawk in costume.
CB: I know everybody's been asking about this for years and it's been all uncertain. Now that it's definitely coming and you've got to shoot more Deathstroke, what is it like for you?
JM: I was happy to get that call from Zack. There've been so much disappointment over the past four years. There were probably seven different Deathstroke projects that were all canceled. So, when you keep getting that phone call over and over again, you have to let it go for your own sanity. So, getting that call from Zack to put the suit back on, it was fun. It was weird, because it's four years later. Four years later. But I had had a lot of thoughts after all those false starts about the character and what I wanted to do with the character. So, when Zack called me up, I got to really put my stink on him in a few different ways that were very satisfying.
CB: I can't wait to see it. My last thing for you, as these comic book movie grow into the future, some are pulling from their pasts. For example, Michael Keaton playing Batman, again. The Internet rumor mill claims the Spider-Man franchise you were a part of is going to see its Tobey Maguire brought back as Peter Parker for a movie. What do you think of such a move? Would you be interested in seeing what Tobey's Spider-Man has been up to and see these previous actors returning to iconic roles?
JM: I am fascinated to see how all of that is going to play. I think Marvel has done an amazing job up to this point. And I know that all of those characters are in very good hands. So, I'm very, very curious to see how that will all work out if that all is indeed true.prev