What makes the sexy actor/activist tick? We found out...
If you saw our Hot 100 list last week, you probably stopped at #40 to check out Mike C. Manning. The beautiful eyes, great smile, sexy physique…even his self-professed love for Superman is hot, right? But, as Manning has been effortlessly proving over the past few years, he’s much more than a former reality star or good looking package.
In fact, Manning has been building an impressive resume with roles in films like I Do (as the lover to David W. Ross’s character) and on TV in the upcoming Disney film Cloud 9 as well as guest roles on hit series like Hawaii Five-0.
But, wait, that’s not all.
Manning is also a tireless advocate for equality and civil rights. In fact his activism scored him an invite to attend the June 13th Reception for LGBT Pride Month with President Barack Obama at the White House.
I sat down with the engaging and charismatic Manning in Hollywood the day after the reception to get his reaction. We also talked about his busy acting career and the documentary he’s supporting about the unruly practices at a Christian youth camp where misguided parents are sending their kids to correct behavioral "issues." Issues like being gay.
TheBacklot: First, how did your invite to the Reception at the White House come about?
Mike C. Manning: Recently, I hosted an event in New York for a liberal Democratic club. I emceed the event and there were probably 30 politicians or political candidates there. It was kind of an intimate setting. It was about 120, 130 people total and it was in this banquet room. For the last few years, I've gone around speaking to colleges and universities about youth activism, about just general political awareness, so I'm used to speaking in front of audiences about a topic. I'm not used to speaking in front of politicians, and introducing politicians, and telling jokes, and making sure my jokes are PC. I was a little nervous about it.
Are you the kind of guy who writes down his speeches or do you just wing it?
I had a speech that I'd rehearsed over and over, but I didn't have that written down. But I had little note cards to introduce each political candidate. But they said that it was the best event they'd ever had and that they want me to do it next year. So because of that I spent the next three days literally meeting every single Democratic politician in New York, Queens, the Bronx, everywhere. It was a whirlwind trip. I must have met 200, 300 people. So somebody thought that I was worthy of attending this White House reception so they contacted me and said ‘you want to go?’ And I said ‘hell yeah.’
The next thing you know I'm sitting in this room watching Obama from two feet away speak about equal rights. Obama spoke about how far we've come and then he also spoke about employment nondiscrimination, which is something personally I think by now he should have signed an Executive Order to prevent LGBT workplace discrimination in the federal government or any entity that's funded by the federal government. I'm not sure why he hasn't yet, but he did mention it and that it was important. He didn't mention it by name, but he did refer to the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, which I was pleased with.
When did your activism start?
In elementary school we did this program where we organized bags to send to kids in Africa, and we had a pen pal in Africa, and I fell in love with that idea of reaching somebody else around the world. When the program ended, I was like ‘how do I keep sending messages to my pen pal, my buddy, and how is he doing, and how can I see him?’
And then in middle school, I was involved with like Red Cross and Honors Society and stuff. And then obviously in high school, I did student government. So I've always had the community service gene in me, but it wasn't until I actually moved to Washington DC, and actually worked with the Human Rights Campaign, and surrounded myself with people that made it their life's mission. They would literally get up, and eat, sleep, and breathe helping other people and just kind of being around that energy and that fire just kind of spread to me. So after that, I was like ‘you know what? Without a doubt, 100 percent, no matter what I do with my life, this will always be a part of it.’
How did you first become aware of the documentary, Kidnapped For Christ?
My friend, David, whom I met in college after this happened to him, he is one of the main characters in the documentary. So he was actually sent to the Dominican Republic, kidnapped in the middle of the night, sent there by his parents, and spent several months there being physically and emotionally abused. And he told me about it. He would never talk about it when I met him. And then he stayed with me, I think over a year ago he stayed with me to do a follow-up interview with the director of the documentary, and we were just sitting there, had a couple beers, and he kind of opened up to me about what happened. And I said ‘oh my god, I need to be a part of this.’
I'm just super passionate about getting the word out and helping this film reach as many eyes as possible because it's really, really amazing, the stories are really powerful, and it's something that still goes on today. These kids in other countries and even in our country, in the United States, they're being abused in the name of religion. And I'm a Christian, and I go to church, and I love the aspect of what that brings to my life. But at the same time, there are so many people around the world that use religion as a weapon for discrimination and as an excuse to torture these teenagers. And it's heartbreaking. So we have an Indiegogo campaign going on right now online. The nice thing about our documentary is that it's listed and registered as a nonprofit so any donation is tax deductible. So if any reader wants to throw some cash our way, it's all tax deductible.
Did the filmmakers actually get into the camp?
Kate Logan, the director, was actually able to live inside the camp for seven weeks and actually get footage of all this happening, which, to my knowledge, nobody else has been able to do. Because she actually went there...she attended a Christian film school and she went there thinking that she was going to expose this camp for all the good things they were doing. And she soon realized that it wasn't what it seemed and kind of made it her secret mission to tell the truth about the camp.
So kind of the perfect storm came together, and it's a really wonderful opportunity for us to expose a lot of these camps. Because since the documentary, this camp, Escuela Caribe, has shut down and opened up under a new name with many of the same staff. There's obviously something wrong with it.
Basically it's a dumping ground, in a way.
It's a dumping ground. So the film follows three main characters, one of them is David. He was a straight A student, an All Star. He did sports. He did extracurriculars. He was essentially an All American, perfect kid and his parents freaked out when he came out and sent him there. But the majority of the kids that are there, it's not because they're gay. It's because they have one issue or another that their parents can't handle. But the sad thing is, is that the parents aren't the bad guys here. The parents actually go online and see this tropical summer camp. Little do they know that right when their kid is kidnapped and deposited in this camp, they take away their phone, they monitor their letters, their phone calls from the school. It's terrible.
Your own acting career is going well. I don’t know if you saw David Ross' interview for I Do recently but he had great things to say about working with you.
First of all, it was the first time that I'd done a film of that magnitude with actors like Alicia Witt, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Maurice Compte and also David W. Ross, who, in my opinion, is a great actor. And so I wanted to bring my A game. And it wasn't a huge character, but I think the character had a significance to the story and kind of showed this other life that Jack, David W. Ross' character, he had this kind of split life, the fun life and then the life where he really fell in love with someone. And so I really wanted to do it justice.
And you have the Disney film. Where are you with that?
I'm finished shooting that. It's called Cloud 9. It's a snowboarding movie where the lead character, played by Dove Cameron, faces some struggles, and then has to kind of find herself and realize that she's much more than just a pretty face, and ultimately comes to challenge the team that kicked her off in the first place. I play Nick Swift.
Nick Swift. I like that name.
Isn't it a cool name? Isn't it the coolest name? Like a movie star or a superhero. So yeah, I play Nick Swift, the not-so-nice guy.
You know what? It is the first time that I had played a bad guy, and it was fun. It was a lot of fun. I really got into it. Because in the beginning, my main note was ‘Mike, you need to be meaner,’ ‘Mike, you're not mean enough.’ I like to think that I pulled it off.
As an out actor, what kind of roles are you being put up for? Has that been an issue at all?
No, it's all about building chemistry and being believable. So I can go into a room and physically be attracted to a female and play that. This past year, I've played a handful of roles that have been straight, being the leading man, being attracted to a female. And I can also go into a room, obviously with David in I Do, and be attracted to a man. So maybe I can thank my mom and dad for that, but I guess I have the best of both worlds.
I think times are changing, especially with the younger generation. The younger generation is exposed to more ideas, and more cultures, and more people than past generations so their minds kind of function, I think, naturally just a little bit more open minded, maybe less linear, and I really like that. Because with younger people and with younger fans that write to me and they say you know what? We love that you date guys and girls and do whatever you want, and that's your thing. And I say thank you. Thank you for noticing.
Yeah, I do.
What do you say to that?
I just ignore it. I think the LGBT community knows what it feels like to be discriminated against because of who you love so I think that's a huge form of hypocrisy if they're going to judge me. And then the straight community, I decided a long time ago that I don’t care what the straight community thinks about my love life and so I'm just going to stick with that.
There are celebrities that are still in the closet and aren't going to come out for whatever reason. What are your thoughts about that?
I was really lucky to be accepted by my family and friends. I know that a lot of people hide things for different reasons. In specific, I know a handful of professional NFL athletes that are still in the closet that I would like to see come out because I feel like that would send a huge message. But I think maybe the locker room environment is a little different than the acting environment, so it might be a little bit harder for them.
Certainly, if anybody on my wrestling team knew about me, it might have made things a little bit more difficult. So I don’t know. Who am I to point at somebody and say that you have to do this? It's something that everybody has to do in their own time. I'll be there for my friends or people I know if they want to vent or if I can help in any way, but I'm not going to force anybody to do something like that.