By Sharon Clott Kanter
Updated Dec 01, 2014 @ 12:16 pm
Joe Manganiello
Credit: Derek Kettela

I had an interesting conversation with Joe Manganiello last year. It was during the Sundance Film Festival, and Team InStyle had set up a pop-up photo studio on Main Street in Park City, Utah, to photograph and interview all of the fest’s stars about their new projects. All of the sudden Mr. Manganiello walks in to our studio unannounced. Eyebrows raised. Hearts pulsed. To what did we owe the pleasure?

Two words: La Bare. “I brought the real life Magic Mike,” he said. He was talking about premiering his film, a documentary he financed and directed himself that takes an insider’s look at the history, the lives, and the culture of the popular male strip club, La Bare in Dallas. (Watch the trailer here.)

This weekend, Showtime debuted the film to viewers across the country. It was a victory for Manganiello, who wanted so urgently to tell the back story behind male strippers after playing one himself in Magic Mike. The truth you learn after watching it: Like Hollywood, it’s a tough business.

A glimpse of our conversation is below.

Why this strip club?Joe Manganiello: "It's one of the oldest of its kind and certainly one of the most notorious and popular clubs in the world. A friend of mine used to dance there in the ’90s, so when I was researching Magic Mike I uncovered it and he told me all of the stories.”

So this all because of Magic Mike?“Well, yes. I mean, I wasn’t hanging around male strip clubs before Magic Mike [laughs]. There are so many misconceptions about the industry that I wanted to shed light on: On one hand, it's sex drugs and rock-and-roll, and they’re the rock stars. But on the other, it's about these emotionally intelligent young entrepreneur/athletes. It's not at all what people expect. Magic Mike only got to scratch the surface. They needed to service a love story and didn't really have the time to concentrate on the ensemble of dancers."

Did Channing Tatum approve?“Yes. And [director] Steven Soderbergh and [producer] Greg Jacobs, and [writer] Reid Carolin, They’re all super excited about the movie and behind it.” (Fun fact: They cast the La Bare dancers as rival strippers in Magic Mike XXL.)

So one thing you learn while watching La Bare is that it’s not just about dancing.“In fact, some of the guys are admittedly not the best dancers. It's about seeing into a woman's heart and treating her better than the other men in her life are. They’re really charming and friendly, they’re just great guys.”

And it has a darker side. [One of the dancers was murdered and Manganiello filmed the dancers in mourning.]“Because of that, you get to see the guys in a light that is separate from the partying. You see these big strong guys really open up to you on film. We had the opportunity to show them in incredibly raw and vulnerable states and it was mesmerizing to watch them pour their hearts out on camera, which like I said before, most people would never expect.”

As a director, what’s it like being behind the camera?“Great! Especially when you're the financier, you get to call all of the shots and have the autonomy to make decisions based on your creative vision. Then because the medium is film, you get to test those choices out on a global audience. Freedom!”

Check out La Bare, available on Showtime.