IndieWire spoke to yummy Joe Manganiello about his very special relationship with Pee-Wee Herman in the fabulous new Netflix special Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday. Warning: Spoilers ahead!
What 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 your perspective?
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 muster.
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 happened!
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.
No idea. 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.”
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 pixies!
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.
Continue reading the interview here.
Watch Pee-Wee make Joe a milkshake, below.