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Mt. Lebanon native lands role in 'Spider-Man'

Saturday, July 28, 2001

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

When your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man leaps from the comic pages to the big screen in May, he'll be keeping company with an actor from the friendly neighborhood of Mt. Lebanon.

Joe Manganiello, 24, a graduate of Mt. Lebanon High School and the Carnegie Mellon University school of drama, appears in the film as Eugene "Flash" Thompson, a high-school bully who torments Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), the young man who becomes a web-slinging super hero after he is bitten by a radioactive spider.

In the movie, Flash is also the boyfriend of Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), who later becomes Peter's main squeeze.

Manganiello got the role in a flash, as it turns out. He participated in the group auditions CMU holds for its seniors each year in New York and Los Angeles. Three days after signing with an agent, he was sent on an audition for "Spider-Man."

Originally, he read for the Peter Parker role, but he was ready for rejection. "The casting director said, 'You don't fit the part. But we'd like you to read for this other part.' I had worn another outfit under my Peter Parker outfit, just in case."

Flash turns out to be a pretty good part, he said. "I have fight choreography and special effects, and I get to play Kirsten Dunst's boyfriend." Manganiello also plays in scenes with Maguire and with James Franco, who portrays Harry Osborn. He's the son of the movie's villain, Green Goblin, played by Willem Dafoe.

"I got to see some of the premiere young actors -- not just pop stars but real actors. It was great watching them work. For me, it was kind of like graduate school."

He also appreciated working with director Sam Raimi, whose credits include "A Simple Plan," "For Love of the Game" and the "Evil Dead" movies.

"Sam's great. He's funny, witty, very good at what he does. He knows how to talk to actors. He gets inside your head and gives you something active to pursue."

During his college years, Manganiello performed mostly in CMU productions but also appeared in Quantum Theater's "The Merchant of Venice" and Starlight Productions' "The Last Night of Ballyhoo." He was one of a group of CMU students who produced and performed in a movie titled "Out of Courage 2."

As Manganiello tells it, he woke up one morning while he was in high school, looked at himself in the mirror and pondered what he could do with his life that he would enjoy and had the skills to do well.

"I said, 'OK, I'll be a rock star. No, a pro athlete. Yeah, I'll be a movie star.'"

The impetus may have been a class in TV production offered at Mt. Lebanon by teacher Judy Hulik.

"I loved it. My friends and I made these big home movies with lots of kung-fu action and special effects. I'd wake up at 5 a.m. and film all day. I was surprised to find there was something that got me excited and got me up in the morning. It sounded crazy enough that it might actually work. I figured I'd just work harder than the other guy."

After high school, he spent a year at the University of Pittsburgh and "auditioned for everything I could" to get enough work under his belt so he could apply to the CMU drama school.

"I tricked them into taking me," he said.

In the end, though, CMU may be proud to have had him in its web.

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