Joe Manganiello: ‘I want parents to be scared of D&D’ | Films | Entertainment

Joe Manganiello is a nerd. Yeah, I know he’s been pushing that narrative for a while, but he wants you to know he really is.

Last week, he attended Lucca Comics & Games 2023 as the festival’s esteemed guest to promote nerdom, play Dungeons & Dragons in a medieval Italian city, and make some friends along the way.

But it was the conversation he exclusively had with at the nerd culture festival that really proved how passionate he is about his favourite hobby. And he had only one topic on his mind: His upcoming Dungeons & Dragons 50th anniversary documentary.

As a lifelong D&D player, the Magic Mike, DC Universe, and How I Met Your Mother star was commissioned by the company behind the game, Wizards of the Coast, to tell the story of the pastime that has grasped headlines for half a century. Nowadays, Critical Role have turned Dungeons & Dragons players into internet celebrities and rockstars. But these people, Manganiello claimed, were not right for the job he now has.

“It had to be made by somebody who lived through the Satanic Panic,” Manganiello mused at Lucca Comics & Games. “And understands the stigma.”

In the 1980s (shortly after Dungeons & Dragons was created by Gary Gygax in 1974) the game was caught up in a media storm. It claimed the board game was enticing children into worshipping the devil, sacrificing cats, and generally becoming creatures of the night. Of course, this was all nonsense, but conservative America demanded the game be scrapped, thrown away, and even burned. From then on, the game’s creators removed any references to “demons” in exchange for goblins and other Tolkien-esque fantasy creatures. 

Manganiello remembers all of this – and more. He claimed he’s had a “front-row seat” for a lot of Dungeons & Dragons’ notable history: “I know where the bodies are buried,” he laughed. “And, if I don’t, I know the people that do.”

Crucially, though, Manganiello promised D&D fans that he would not be “pandering” to any type of corporate overlord that might want the as-of-yet unnamed documentary to contain any kind of bias.

“I am not trying to rewrite history,” he continued. “And I’m not trying to act like things weren’t the way that they were. And I think D&D has such an interesting history – because of the warts, if you will.” Locking me in his gaze, he added: “And I have never been interested in making a commercial.”

Part of Manganiello’s mantra for the documentary, he added, is that he wants to present the “DNA of the brand” – warts and all. “It is what it is, and – whether people want to scrub it from history or not – it has a very dark past. We, as kids, all had to endure an absolutely insane amount of slings and arrows from parents and church and friends.”

Still, going back to the Satanic Panic, Manganiello admitted that was his favourite time to play the game: “I liked it when it was dangerous and satanic – I still do! That’s the version I like. I don’t want Black Sabbath marketed to four-year-olds… gimme biting heads off of bats! I want parents to be scared. I think that was really exciting as a kid.”

All jokes aside, Manganiello felt that Dungeons & Dragons’ stained history provoked positive creativity in an entire generation of children.

“It really galvanised us all as creatives in a certain way,” Manganiello went on. “Because we realised that artists are supposed to be rebels. And we have to just band together.”

The Dungeons & Dragons documentary does not yet have a release date, but Manganiello has combed through “400 hours of video footage” to get it ready for the game’s 50th anniversary in 2024.

And so far? He’s pretty happy with it. “I think the documentary will be the greatest commercial for the brand that it’s ever had,” he grinned. “The intention is to show where it came from in the ether, how this group of Midwestern war gamers somehow stumbled upon what is commonly referred to as an American art form. Then generated several generations of creatives that now run entertainment. I think I’ve been successful in doing that.”

In a way, it felt like Manganiello wanted to stress that he really was a nerd: “I want them to know that they can trust me with the story. That this isn’t some sort of overly corporate commercial.”

Referring once again to the sordid history of the game, he added: “I think people are going to come in and be shocked at how candid we are. And I think that’s exactly what the brand needs right now.”

Joe Manganiello’s Dungeons & Dragons 50th Anniversary Documentary is slated to be released in 2024.

Lucca Comics & Games 2023 took place in Lucca, Italy, between November 1 – 5, 2023.

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