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Few guys seem to be winning like Joe Manganiello, the 42-year-old Men’s Health’s cover star and lead in Bottom of the Ninth (out July 19). You probably know Manganiello best as the shredded six-foot-five colossus who starred in True Blood and Magic Mike. Or as Mr. Sofia Vergara—he married the 46-year-old Colombian star of Modern Family in 2015.
But, Manganiello experienced his own slump.
“There was a point where I really thought I was broken beyond the point of being able to be fixed,” Manganiello said in an interview for the June cover of Men’s Health. It was 2002 and Manganiello was a 25-year-old tasting his first career success—he scored a role in Spiderman—while struggling with a serious alcohol abuse problem.
“Drinking was a way for me not to have to deal with me,” he says. “And I think that acting was a way for me to not have to be me either. So I could go onstage and not be me, come offstage and go to the bar and not be me. Rinse and repeat.”
The struggle was so serious that Manganiello did not act for four years. Instead, he dabbled in a series of side jobs as a DJ, as a roadie for the band Goldfinger, and as a demolitionist. He also spent two summers passing out cigarettes for Camel.
“Looking back on that phase, I don’t like to think of myself that way,” he says. “And if I had a son passing out cigarettes I’d be like. ‘Don’t do that.’ I’m only telling this just to prove a point, but I donated my car to the American Cancer Society instead of selling it off just to alleviate any sort of guilt I would feel down the road. And also I didn’t want to be a hypocrite, or if there is karma, whatever karma is, to try to break that. I’m not telling you this to make myself look like a good person. It wasn’t truly altruistic. I wanted to feel better about myself.”
He says the work he did with his hands helped him find his inner compass. “Hard physical labor is the best work you can do for your soul, even if it’s gardening,” says Manganiello.
Manganiello is now 17 years sober. When he quit drinking for good, he evaluated every aspect of his life and set a fresh course. During his self-discovery phase, he also began practicing transcendental meditation, something he still does today.
“I do it as soon as I wake up. Twenty minutes,” he says. “Yeah, [Sofia’s] asleep and I just sit up and do it. There’s a reason why meditation is 4,000 years old. The word mantra—mind-vehicle—I find that to be true. I’ve had some profound things happen to me while meditating.”
A more physical activity that helps Manganiello defuse stress is working out. “I usually train six days a week—a hybrid of bodybuilding and CrossFit,” he says. “The thing with me is I’m naturally skinny. I’ll lose weight if I don’t work out. I deflate. My wife jokes and says that I’m full of air because if I don’t work out for a while I’ll thin out and then a week back in the gym and I’ll blow back up. She’s like, ‘There must be a bike pump in the basement.’”
Manganiello adds that he likes roles like Magic Mike and the upcoming Deathstroke that demand that he pack on muscle. “It’s fun lifting that much, all your numbers go up when you start putting on weight. And I ate like an animal. I was training so much that I could eat whatever I wanted. One of everything on the breakfast menu. Porterhouses for two just for me. I just like being big, like really big.”
Manganiello flexes another kind of muscle, when he hosts his weekly Dungeons & Dragons session in the basement of his house. “I love it—playing Dungeons & Dragons is where I figured out how to develop a character and how to tell long-form narrative stories like a TV series,” he says. He’s even developing some new characters for Dungeons & Dragons. “I’m gonna’ make characters heavy metal and as bad-ass as anyone has ever seen them look. I’m talking to Iron Maiden right now. I’ve also reached out to friends in other bands. It’s a way for me to stay creative between projects. I’m trying to find things I’m passionate about because everybody’s at their best when they’re passionate about something.”