We’ve seen a lot of Channing Tatum in recent years—in action films like G.I. Joe and The Eagle, romances such as Dear John and The Vow, and doing surprisingly nimble (and very funny) comedic work in The Dilemma and 21 Jump Street. But in Magic Mike (and no, I can’t believe I’m going to write this, either) we get to see a lot more of the 32-year-old Alabama native.
A personal pet project based on his own experience as a male stripper more than a decade ago, Magic Mike is Tatum’s second project with director Steven Soderbergh (after this winter’s underrated Haywire). It co-stars Matthew McConaughey and Olivia Munn, follows Tatum’s Mike, a popular Tampa Bay stripper trying to figure out where to go with his life (he wants to make furniture) while juggling his responsibility for having drawn young Alex Pettyfer’s Adam into his world and pursuing romance with Adam’s no-nonsense sister Brooke (Cody Horn).
For all the tittering, giggling, and scoffing at the film’s skin-heavy “It’s Raining Men” promotion, Magic Mike is actually a very good film. It’s still a “Show Biz Dreams” genre flick, and its many dance scenes are sexy and entertaining fantasies. But between the dancing there’s the sort of low-key, hand-held naturalism we’ve come to expect from Soderbergh.
I and several other writers sat down with Tatum in Chicago last week to talk about not just his passion for this film, but his plans to create more projects with his writing partner Reid Carolin, including one they can co-direct. Of course we also talked about Tatum’s real-life stripper name, the going-nowhere nature of the stripping game, and what a Soderbergh set is like with a bunch of guys hanging out all day in thongs.
Magic Mike opens everywhere tomorrow, June 29.
Channing Tatum: I had a short stint for about six to eight months. That part of my life is pretty foggy–I wasn’t exactly counting the months or days, you know. It was just sort of day to day. But nothing is factual in the movie. We made it all up. At first I sat down with my partner Reid Carolin, who wrote it, and I started telling him and Soderbergh stories. We were trying to cobble all of my best, bizarre, weird stories together, but it just always felt contrived, so we threw it all out.
The only thing factual is that I was 18, 19 years old and I dropped out of playing football in college and came home and was living on my sister’s couch in Florida and started stripping. We ran with it from there. Magic Mike is a completely fictitious character.
And what was your stripping name?
It was “Channing Crawford.” It was so lame. The leader of the group chose it.
I really like the bank scene where Mike tries to get a loan for his furniture business. When he puts on his “bank suit” and his glasses, it’s the same as when he’s stripping.
Tatum: Completely. It’s a costume. That’s what these guys know–these ridiculous sort of characters they’re playing–and they think they’re smarter than everybody. And that’s how it was—everybody was just a south Florida hustler. Everybody had good intentions, but no idea or ability to accomplish any of their dreams.
It’s a really weird, strange world, and it’s a very low brow thing to do. That’s why I thought it was funny that we have a high-brow director on this thing. We just loved the idea of a Saturday Night Fever type of a story set in this world. That’s what we wanted to show with Mike’s character. In fact, we stole that bank scene from Shampoo. Mike’s got a long term plan and a dream for what he wants to do. But you can get lost and forget the time, and now six years have gone by and you don’t have anything to show for it. So you have to start making decisions.
Tatum: I think that’s a good question because I don’t know if he’s completely clear on what he wants for himself, on what he wants for his life. I think he is just keeping the party going, and money was his only objective for a long time. What else is there? Money, girls and a good time.
And Mike is just sort of stuck in that rut. He always thinks, “Next week I’m gonna do this. I’m going to work a couple more times, then I’m going to go to Miami, and I’m going to be a part owner.” He’s always looking ahead, but it never actually comes to fruition.
Obviously the females are going to come out in droves to see the film, and you have a considerable gay fan base. How do you sell it to straight audiences?
Tatum: I hope it’s fun for everybody, gay, straight, male, female, animal. I just want people to go and to just get a picture into this world. I think straight guys, if they’re smart, they’re going to show up to the theater and try to hit on a girl, and if they’re really smart, they’ll wear a fireman outfit!
I’m not operating under any sort of delusion that a bunch of straight dudes are going to be like, “Yo man, after the game tonight, you want to go check out this male stripper movie?” I doubt that that’s going to happen, but I’ve showed it to every one of my straight friends, and they generally forget it’s a male stripping movie after like the first scene because it’s a guy movie. If guys give it a shot, I don’t think they’ll hate it.
What is your long term plan, your dream for your career?
Tatum: I have an idea, but there is no formula in this thing. The only guideline for Reid and I is great stories and great characters, that’s it. It doesn’t matter is we are generating them or if we are finding them. We just want to keep doing good work with good stories and good people and really talented directors and other collaborators. And I haven’t done anything really, really dark in a while so I’ve got to kind of revisit that side of myself. I am about to go do a movie with Bennett Miller (Moneyball) about Olympic wrestlers that will take me back down the rabbit hole.
I have four movies in a row here, which is going to take me up probably until the end of next year, and then after that, I’ll probably take a break. Reid and I will start writing the thing that we are going to co-direct. There are a couple of different stories that we are looking at. Probably to get it financed, I’ll have to be in it.
Tatum: You won’t find another one like it. He wears four hats: director, director of photography, camera operator, and editor. Everything is such a tight-knit and well-oiled machine. Sometimes he’ll just walk around set for 45 minutes because he’s trying to figure out what he wants to do, and everybody is just sort of chilling waiting. He doesn’t do coverage–he paints it exactly how he wants to edit it. He edits it in his head as he shoots and then edits the stuff that he shot that day. So by the end of the movie he has a complete cut of the film. It’s just unlike anything I have ever been on set. I love the way he does it. It really works for him and I would hope to try to do something like it when we try to direct one day.
I imagine you guys had a lot of fun off camera.
Tatum: The guys and I had a blast doing it–we had so much fun. On most sets, when your day and scenes are over you go home, and if you are not working on a day, you don’t show up. We didn’t do that here because we just had so much fun. You forget you’re hanging out in these banana hammocks, and you’re just like, “Hey buddy, what’s going on?”
The beach-party scene stuff was so crazy because we went out to the sand bar and got off the boat, and Soderbergh said. “Just go do what you would do,” and he walked around the sand bar for a little while. They brought a keg out there and we just started to hang out. That’s all that we were doing, just hanging out.
It was maybe the most awesome day of shooting I’ve ever had. It was a beautiful day. Kevin Nash was telling pro-wrestling stories, and McConaughey was telling stories, and everyone was just having so much fun, pissing ourselves rolling with laughter. Then all of the sudden you realize that the camera is on.