Archenemy: Glenn Howerton On Menacing Joe Manganiello

It’s Always Sunny’s Glenn Howerton revels in embracing his worst impulses to play the big bad in Adam Egypt Mortimer’s superhero mystery Archenemy.

Archenemy Glenn Howerton
Photo: RLJ Entertainment

As eager comic movie fans wait for Marvel to roll out Phase Four, or for Wonder Woman 1984 to hit HBO Max; RJLE Films has a superhero sleeper of its own coming to screens on Dec. 11. Adam Egypt Mortimer’s Archenemy is the story of Max Fist (Joe Manganiello), a one-person crime fighting phenomenon, now powerless and sent to our dimension to live on the streets. Though Max’s homeless life might be bleak and muted, the film is full of colorful and outrageous characters. The larger-than-life menace that looms over Max is “The Manager”. A mustachioed, golden blonde Glenn Howerton (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, A.P. Bio) brings this 21st century crime boss to life. Think of him as Michael Corleone, by way of Urban Outfitters.

Stepping into the shoes of an overbearing, take no prisoners, big bad is a new venture for Howerton. It didn’t deter him one bit though, as we learned in our exclusive talk with the actor about the difference between living with a character for 15 years (Dennis of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) to having to create a lifetime for one you only inhabit for a short shoot. What follows is our discussion with Glenn Howerton about bringing The Manager to life, and what it takes to create quality entertainment. Oh, and be sure to read Howerton’s thoughts on the Four Seasons Total Landscaping fiasco over here

DEN OF GEEK: It’s always nice to see you do pretty much anything but it’s great to see you as this fun, out-of-the-box kind of villain. 

GLENN HOWERTON: Thank you, I appreciate it. It’s so fun to play bad guys. I know every actor says that but it really is true, it’s just a chance to follow your worst impulses as a human being. It’s like you’re getting to exercise a part of yourself that you can’t in your normal life because you want to be a good person, hopefully.

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Well I also feel like this is the kind of the character that you can also create a very large backstory for.

Yeah, for sure. I think it’s difficult when you get used to working in television because with a character, it would be easy to forget that the reason I know how to play Dennis so well (depending on how well you consider I play the character) is because I’ve gotten to live with this guy for 15 years. I also created the character, I wrote the character so I know that character inside and out. I know that if an improvisation were to break out I would know how to answer as Dennis. That’s how well I know the character, because I know how he would react in any situation. 

With a film, you don’t have that luxury. Knowing what makes him tick, knowing what his buttons are…you want to know all that stuff so when you show up to the set no matter what gets thrown at you, you can react in character. I didn’t want it to feel like something that I’d done before so I spent a lot of time talking to Adam Egypt Mortimer. We spent countless hours talking about the character and thinking about it myself and just going over it, and over it, and over it, and over it. Which is not something I normally do, but it’s also not something I normally need to do, because most of my work has been in television.

This is also the type of film where you need a certain confidence in the filmmaker, or it’s going to end up on an episode of Paul Scheer’s How Did This Get Made? What gave you that faith in Adam, for all this?

I had faith in Adam for multiple reasons. One, I’d seen the movie that he made right before this, Daniel Isn’t Real, and loved it. I just thought it was beautiful. It was really moving, and horrifying, and scary, and real, and worked on multiple levels. Then just sitting down with Adam and talking to him about this, I was like, “This guy has a vision for this.” The way he talked about the movie, the way he talked about shooting it, the way he saw the script, the way he saw the world, the way he described it – this guy has definitely got a vision for this. It might be really strange and it might be really odd, but I like really strange and odd things. I didn’t get the impression that there was any world in which it was going to be bad.

Adam’s still technically an up-and-coming filmmaker. So it must be nice to work with someone who is at the point where he could really take chances. 

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I don’t understand where his confidence comes from. Because as you say, he doesn’t have a ton of films under his belt and we didn’t have a lot of time to shoot this movie, or a big budget to shoot this movie. 

As a matter of fact, I’ll give you a perfect example. The very first day that I showed up to set, we were supposed to shoot a scene where we pull up, and we grab Hamster (Skylan Brooks), and throw him in the car. Skylan was super, super sick, and couldn’t show up that day. But we couldn’t afford to lose a day of shooting. So Adam, that morning or late the night before, wrote a whole new scene for me and Amy Seimetz to do. 

If you’ve seen the movie it’s the scene where we’re sitting in the car, and we’re talking for a while and then at the end of that scene I go and bash Hamster on the head, and that was just Skylan’s stunt double. We had to conceive of something, pretty much in the moment. Then when we got the script on the day, Adam was like, “I don’t think this totally works,” and me and Amy sat and rewrote it. We really had to be on our toes. But I wouldn’t have been able to do that had I not known the character as well as I felt like I did.

We’ve seen you do action and something like a shootout before, but I’ve never seen you do it in such a smooth and kind of serious aspect. Do all those previous experiences meld into this or is it a different type of training you need to delve into?

I think it’s a product of a few things. I didn’t start out in comedy. I always did comedy, but I really started out down a much more dramatic path. So my approach to comedy has always been a little bit more like the Alec Baldwin approach. It’s really no less real when it’s funny, than when it’s a drama. It’s a really just a slight click of the dial one way or the other where that makes it funny, or serious. That can be kind of a thin line between the two. I’ve always come from a dramatic point of view like making the needs of the character, very, very real. It’s just that when you’re writing it or when the conceits of the character are so ridiculous, that’s what makes it funny – instead of doing some sort of goofy-ass performance. 

Then to kind of click over into drama – I mean it’s definitely challenging and it was definitely scary. I think the scariest thing for me in doing something this dramatic was the fact that I’m not a menacing person in real life at all. I’m 155 pounds and Joe Manganiello is 200 pounds of pure muscle, six-foot-four, and audiences have to be able to watch the movie and go, “Joe Manganiello’s character has to be scared of that guy.” Or at least within the world of crime…I’m a crime boss I have to be intimidating to other criminals. That was a little scary for me because I haven’t been asked to do anything like that in a long time, but it was fun. 

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I gotta say, you definitely had the best running in a different direction while shooting behind you pose I’ve ever seen. It was very smooth.

That was one of those things where Adam asked me to do that and I was like, “Oh my god…” In my head it’s like I went back to being a kid and thought about watching you Die Hard or watching action movies and I was like, “Oh shit, I forgot I’ve always wanted to do that.” I’ve always wanted to do an action scene where I get to shoot a gun and run around doing action-y stuff. It was like playing and being a kid again. It was so, so fun.

During these pandemic times do you find yourself honing different skills like that on your own? Getting yourself ready for when things can return to normal.

I don’t know if other actors do this but I’m a little bit insane. When I read scripts, I often find myself acting them as multiple characters. Even if I’m watching a movie, and I’m by myself; I’ll pause and sort of take on the persona of the character. I’m getting very personal here, this is really nutty behavior for the average person. But as an actor, I really do kind of get off by climbing into the skin of somebody else and just getting to think a different way and behave a different way and I’ve always been obsessed with that ever since I was a kid. Just understanding the psychology behind how someone can behave the way they behave.

I talk about the pandemic as if the world seems to be shut down, but obviously you guys are still getting scripts and you’re still writing. For instance, has it led to any delays in the scripts for season 15 of Sunny?

No, it’s not, because Rob has been working on the second season of Mythic Quest. I’ve just been working on other things, developing other projects that I’m excited about, finishing a script that I’m writing with a writing partner. I’m mostly focusing on reading a lot and writing a lot and kind of studying the craft of screenwriting because I kind of fell into it. 

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I certainly didn’t have any training but when I’m writing I want to live up to … I take what I do very seriously. I don’t take it for granted that I’ve been offered the privilege of being able to write scripts, so I want to be good at it. I want to know what I’m doing. I don’t want other screenwriters who actually studied and worked hard to become screenwriters to look at what I do and go, “This guy’s just kind of sailing through it.” I want to be educated.

I mean that’s the way to do it right? Even when you consider something like, for lack of better term; slapstick. Doing it right means having the training behind it.

There’s of course nothing wrong with being naturally talented at something. There are a lot of naturally gifted actors who can just kind of do it. Or for whatever reason they’re just good at it. They didn’t have to go to Juilliard to get good at acting. 

That was Brando’s thing, right?

Yeah, and there’s nothing wrong with that. What I do have a problem with is if there’s a sort of an inability to acknowledge that it might be easy for you but it’s not just because the craft of acting is easy. I would also argue that you might be an extraordinarily gifted actor naturally without training, but you’re probably only good at one thing. You might be able to be really good at writing comedy but if you haven’t studied the art of screenwriting, you’re probably not going to be able to write a drama. Whatever you lack in terms of your knowledge of structure, you might be able to make up for a lot of that if you’re super super funny and you can write a comedy, but you won’t be able to do that if you’re writing something else. I like to do a wide variety of things. I like to write screenplays, I like to write TV, I like to work in drama and comedy. I like to work in a lot of different genres; so it keeps me on my toes.