Before his film career that features Step Up, The Vow, and 21 Jump Street, Channing Tatum torched desiring hearts with hot nude moves during an eight month stint as an 18-year-old male stripper. With the help of his screenwriter friend Reid Carolin and director Steven Soderbergh, Tatum brings cinematic life to his experience within this bizarre chapter of his life with this summer's Magic Mike. Starring Tatum as an experienced stripper who takes a young prodigy (Alex Pettyfer) under his shirtless wing, the film (Tatum's own mainstream version of Soderbergh's Girlfriend Experience) features Matthew McConaughey, Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer, Kevin Nash, Cody Horn and Olivia Munn.
I sat down with Tatum to discuss the very sexy subjects of working with director Steven Soderbergh, what he imagines for a Magic Mike prequel, and the power of Matthew McConaughey.
Magic Mike opens Friday June 29. Our discussion begins as a brief epilogue to my previous interview with Tatum and Jonah Hill for 21 Jump Street, in which Hill avoided a d*ck humor question by saying "I'm also an Academy Award nominee ..."
Do you remember me? I was the guy who asked Jonah Hill the awkward question in the roundtable.
We're used to awkward questions, man. He's a very interesting bird, that Jonah. Don't take offense. Especially when we get together, it's a crazy no-holds barred thing. Especially when we're in our cop outfits [laughs].
In that sense, thanks for not wearing just the tie outfit from this new film.
I thought about it, but I also thought, "Naw, I'm not really in shape." You'd just be looking at my gut the whole time thinking, "You're not training for a movie, are ya buddy?"
Getting into the film, how do you feel you fit into Soderbergh's common theme of playing with the images of his leads? Like in the "Oceans" movies, in which he has these big stars toy with our perceptions of who they really are. And as someone who works with him, how do you explain such a fascination?
Soderbergh is a very clever person, as you can probably imagine. He's a wickedly smart person. He finds humor in just about everything. I don't think people really get that, because his movies are very cerebral, and at times very dark. At times his movies are very funny, like the Ocean's movies, and sometimes they are very thoughtful. But I think he gets the joke. He is doing something that is sometimes only for him. It will come out in a different way than maybe people take it in compared to how he's actually doing it. He's doing it on purpose. With Gina Carano [in Haywire], he hired a girl he knew was the part. There's no line. She was green as far as acting goes, but that's what he loved about her. He loved that aspect. If you really watch Haywire, he's kind of making fun of all the spy movies. He's sort of like, "This is my ha ha at these movies." He's doing it in such a cool way that you don't really get that he's making a joke. He's having fun with it. With me as far as Magic Mike, he just thought this world was so bizarre. I remember when we did this department heads meeting. When everyone left, we brought in the choreographers and did a dance-by-dance bit. He was in tears he was laughing so hard. I don't think it dawned on him just yet what it was going to be, or what it was going to look like to shoot this stuff. He's like a big kid sometimes. People always want to ask him these big cerebral questions. But they should ask him some crude f**king sh*t because he really would enjoy it.
So you think he was trying to have fun with your past, and also the part of your on-screen persona that people want to see without its shirt on?
Yeah, he was like, "This is your one movie to say 'F you' and say, 'I'm gonna give you exactly what you want.' People can say, 'How many times did you have your shirt off in this movie?' And you can say, 'No, it's the whole movie.'
Are you at all concerned that people might miss the larger point of this movie?
I don't think Soderbergh or I are really worried about what people are getting from this movie. We're talking a very simple story. It's a very low brow subject with a high brow director, and we had a f**king blast. We financed it ourselves, wrote it, produced it, did it all in house, because we didn't want anyone coming in and telling us what movie to make. That's one thing I know that Soderbergh doesn't do all that well, and there aren't many things he doesn't do well, is that he isn't a director for hire. He makes his movies. And I think that's why we had so much fun with this one. When people were done with their part of the day, normally you go home. But people would hang out on set. There were very few days that I had off, but when I did, I would hang out on set. It was just a big hangout. Soderbergh's sets are like that. They are very cool, fun, and calm. Everybody is just hanging out, and every once in a while he hits record on the camera.
Do you ever call him Peter (his cinematographer alter-ego) or anything like that?
I didn't really notice that until this movie. I was always like, "Who the hell are these people?" when looking at the credits. And then Reid [Carolin], my buddy who wrote Magic Mike, he told me it was his mom and dad.
Where do you want Magic Mike to stand in your filmography? Is it a midpoint for you?
I think for me this is probably the beginning of a new thing. I don't know exactly what the new thing is yet. I think more producing. I have about four movies coming up soon, and then after that I think I'm going to take a large break, and I think Reid and I are going to write something that we are going to direct, and be more involved. The dawn of a new time.
Going along with that, Mike learns as he gets older about what he should really be doing with his skills. What are you learning about this business as you get older?
It's "What do you want?" The first thing I learned about in acting was intention. Intention with a line. What am I intending the audience to understand that I am doing or feeling? That every step along the way is essentially more of my larger intention. My intention is to tell the best stories that I can possibly tell, and to be more involved in every aspect of them. Even the marketing of the film, I am really starting to enjoy new ways to get the movie out, and to get the awareness out. We did a "Funny or Die" thing for this, where I teach conversational Spanish. And it has nothing to do with the movie. But it is funny, and it is fun. It's just new ways to reach out. If you make a great movie and no one knows about it, no one is going to see it. If you make a shitty movie and you market it well, everyone goes to it. I like the whole aspect of it. It's important to me. If you're going to spend the time to make the movie, you should spend the time to try to get it out there.
And finally, does Matthew McConaughey really say "Alright, alright, alright, alright" all the time? Is that something our impressions of him have blown way out of proportion?
We have put it on him probably a little more than he would have wanted, but he enjoys it. Those are the first three words that he ever said on screen. He has an amazing story of why, and I'll let him tell you that because it is so good. It is so indicative as to who he is. I imagine, he probably could wake up every morning and say that to himself. [In a McConaughey voice] "Alright, alright, alright, alright! What am I going to do today?"
What impression did McConaughey leave on you?
He's just him. It's so innately him. No one can be him. I've met a lot of people in this business, but no one can be as charismatic as him. It shocks me.
He is the best part of this movie to me. The movie doesn't start for me until he blows the fire. When you have to watch a movie over and over again, I find out from Soderbergh if anything was changed from the beginning. And if not, then I'd start from that spot. You introduce everybody, and then bam, you get to the club. Now it's really the beginning, and the characters are starting to go on their journey. I wish we had more of him in it. If I had one regret with this movie, it's that we didn't just live in that locker room. There was more written in there but we just had to pare down. Their characters were more fleshed out, and we just didn't have time to fit it all in. We didn't want to dilute the really simple story. But if I had my druthers I would do another one, it would be a prequel, but it would be at a convention. A big crazy comedy stripper convention with all of those guys.
I'd see that. Get Soderbergh to direct it.
Deal. [Though] I think he would be like, "No, I think I'll just sit back and produce this one. I've seen enough flopping around penises in my career."
Quick Questions with Channing Tatum
What did you have for breakfast this morning? An egg, bacon and bagel sandwich.
What is your favorite summer movie? That's a good one. I've got to think about that one. Age of first kiss? Fifth grade. A girl named Danica.