Channing Tatum Delivers Star Turn as Magic Mike, A Stripper with a Dream

Channing Tatum delivers a sensitive performance in Magic Mike, Steven Soderbergh’s smart new picture about a star male stripper in Tampa who has the money, the women and the glory – but really just wants to settle down with a nice girl and start a normal life as a high-end furniture designer.

In a movie being marketed as girls-nite-out raunch but in execution about the evolution of a young man dreaming of a better life, Tatum, who has exploded this year with performances in The Vow, 21 Jump Street, Haywire (also for Soderbergh) and now Magic Mike, drew on early experiences as a stripper to inform both his performance and the film, which he also co-produced.

An former model who parlayed 2006’s Step Up into a string of solid performances in A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, Dear John, G.I. Joe, The Eagle and this year’s slate noted above, Tatum might be Hollywood’s busiest actor.  And perhaps the nicest.  In each role, he projects a sincere, what-you-see-is-what-you-get persona that will likely serve his future career—one where he plans to write, produce and direct.  Comfortable in comedy, action, adventure and romance, he’s also a hell of a dancer, doing back flips and all manner of impressively athletic maneuvers in Magic Mike’s titular role. There’s probably not another young actor that could have given this performance (or maybe would have taken the role).

I caught up with Tatum recently to talk about Magic Mike’s young man with a plan, the past events which led to the film and his thoughts on his future in Hollywood.

Starting with the basics, we all know Magic Mike is based in some part on your experiences.  Can you fill in some blanks for me?

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.  I was just sort of day-to-day. But nothing is factual in the movie—we made it all up. I sat down with Reid (Carolin), my partner, and he wrote it, and I would tell him and Soderbergh stories.  We tried to cobble these stories together and they were all the best ones—weird, eccentric.  And then it sort of felt contrived. So we just threw it all out and the only thing that is factual is that I was eighteen or nineteen and dropped out of playing football in college and came home and was living on my sister’s couch and then I started stripping.  That was it, and we ran from it from there.  Magic Mike is a completely fictitious character. There was a Magic Mike in my group who was a fantastic dancer and performer. But this has nothing to do with his actual life.

And what was your name when you were onstage?

Chan Crawford, which is so lame. I didn’t choose it.  I was like, “Crawford? What am I, Cindy Crawford’s brother?”

I wonder if the industry has changed at all since you were a part of it.  There’s a very high camp factor to the routines. 

I don’t think it’s changed much in the last few decades.  It depends on where you are.  I took some of the guys to see Hollywood Men, and they are a little more updated but they are still doing the same stuff—An Officer and a Gentleman, fireman, cop.  It’s all the same staples that they have been doing since the beginning of this.  They are all complete hustlers and that is what it is.  It is a very lowbrow thing to do, and it’s funny that we have a highbrow director. We loved the idea of a Saturday Night Fever-type story in this world and it is one that we have never seen in the movies in this type of way.  We’ve seen female and we have seen The Full Monty, but not in this kind of venue.

It must be humbling to walk around that unclothed with your fellow actors all day, or at least pretty exposed.  It’s also been discussed how the film focuses specifically on heterosexual dancers and a sort of bachelorette party contingent in the crowd.  Were there thoughts to make it more diverse, and did you ever experience that?

It’s pretty hilarious. You just sort of accept it and it’s like, “Hey, buddy. What’s going on?”  You kind of forget that you are hanging out in these banana hammocks.   When we went to the Hollywood Men in L.A., anyone could come. It wasn’t just female. Anyone could come. The only reason the movie is female is that that was my experience. And we talked about it for a while trying to make it a bit more diverse and it always felt contrived; we never knew how to do it correctly.  I go-go danced at (a gay club) one once. Well, not go-go danced, but just danced fully clothed, like on a podium. But I never actually stripped for a gay club.

The most important scene in Magic Mike, for me, is the one that takes place in the bank. You sort of go in looking to charm this woman and it doesn’t quite work out. It actually reminded me of the great scene in Boogie Nights where Don Cheadle experiences something similar.   

Yes. We stole it from Shampoo actually—the scene where he goes and he’s like, “But I’ve got the heads! I’ve got the heads!” And the guy is like, “That doesn’t mean anything. You have to have the paperwork.”

When Mike puts on his bank suit and glasses, it’s like a costume, which is not unlike when he is onstage.

Right. That’s what these guys know—these ridiculous little sort of characters that they are playing. And they think they are smarter than everyone. Everyone was sort of a hustler in this world, with good intentions, just no ability or idea of how to get any of their dreams actually accomplished. I don’t hang out with or talk to any of the guys, but I think some of them have gone on to be successful. But a lot of them are still trying to figure it out. It’s a weird world. And that is really why we wanted to do Mike’s character the way we did it. You can get lost. The time just goes by. And six years go by and there is nothing to show for it, and you don’t want to go another six years. So you have to start making decisions.

But the thing is, Mike has a long-term plan. He wants to get out of that business and has a dream for what he wants to do. I’m thinking of you and your career blowing up, especially this year and last.  What is your sort of dream for your career?  Are there steps you are taking? Do you think about that, or just work on stuff you like?

Yeah! I think steps are always- it’s good to have an idea, but there’s no formula. In this thing, there really isn’t.  I think Reid, my partner, and I- our only guideline is great stories and characters—that’s it. It doesn’t matter if we are generating them or finding them, or if I am signing up to do a movie. We just want to keep doing good work with really talented collaborators. After I have four movies in a row here, which is going to take through the end of next year, I will probably take a  break and then Reid and I will start writing the thing that we are going to direct first.  We are going to try to fail early at directing!

Are you going to do it?

Definitely!  We’ll be co-directors. I probably will be in it; I’m not sure.  We have a couple different stories that we are looking at. But to get it financed, I will probably have to be in it.

What does Mike really want to have in this film? You see the scene with Joanna later, where he runs into her fiancé and he’s really let down. It’s obvious he has feelings about her and perhaps she doesn’t take him that seriously. It’s the same thing with the Brooke character, whom he truly likes. What’s he want?

I think that’s a good question. Because I don’t know if he knows or is completely clear on what he wants for himself and his life. I think he is just keeping the party going and money was his only objective for a long time.

What does the film say? Money, girls and a good time?

Yes I think that was his point for the kid (Alex Pettyfer).  That was clear to Mike and he is stuck in that rut. Now he is starting to realize that he actually does want something and Olivia Munn’s character won’t even talk to him. He’s trying to have a conversation with her and she’s like, “Let’s not do that. Let’s just be f**k buddies or whatever it is, and let’s not try to have this real relationship thing.” I don’t know if Mike is in love with her or anything, but he knows he wants something more than what he is getting and what he has. Even with Mike’s last dance—that black spinney thing—we didn’t know what we wanted his last dance to be. And I didn’t want to do a sort of staple policeman or fireman or whatever. And I thought, he wants to be more, so he’s going to try to do something cooler and he ends up walking offstage without even really stripping. And it’s like, “Why am I even doing this?” He is starting to lose his interest in this whole world.

And the goals seem to be to work, play and have a good time.

Yeah he thinks he has it figured out. It’s like, “Next week, I am going to do this. I am going to work a couple more times, go to Miami and then be a part owner.” He is always looking ahead at something that never comes to fruition, and I think that is a lot with everybody that I know. They are always looking ahead for something to come down the pike.

Can you describe what it’s like to work with Soderbergh and his on-set process?

It’s different than any other. You won’t find another one like him. He wears four hats. He is the director, the director of photography, the camera operator and the editor. His producer wears three hats.  Everything is such a tight-knit and well-oiled machine that you can’t even imagine. Sometimes he will just walk around the set for forty-five minutes just chilling and trying to figure out what he wants to do, and then he shoots it. He does not do coverage. He paints it exactly how he wants to edit it. He shoots it as he edits, essentially, and he edits the stuff that he shot that day. So literally by the end of the (shoot), you almost have a complete cut of the film. And it is unlike anything I have ever done.

There’s something so appealing about the beach scenes in the movie; perhaps it’s the way they are shot, the laid-back acting or both.

The beach stuff was so crazy because Soderbergh- we got off the boat after we drove out to the sandbar. And he didn’t tell anybody- he was just like, “Go do what you would do.” And they brought a keg out there, and we just started to hang out. That is all we were doing. And he walked around the sandbar for a little while and it was the most awesome day of shooting that I have maybe ever had, literally in the middle of the ocean.  We were having so much fun, and then you realize that the camera is on, and he is like, “Let’s maybe run that scene.” And then it was, “Forget about the scene. Just talk.” It was my most enjoyable day.

Do you see Mike’s identity as being complex, where he puts on these different personas?  Or is he actually just himself in any or all of the different roles he plays, onstage and off?

I think Mike is pretty close to who he “is” in every situation. He kind of turns on the sugar side of him when he gets in the club, where he is a performer and has to do the dirty stuff if he has to. There used to be a line that got lost somehow, but I think it was Mike talking to the kid, where he says, “Every girl is different. Every person you dance for is different. Some of them want you to be rough. Some want you to be soft. So I think Mike is a hustler who is going to do whatever he is called upon to do. He just wants to keep the party going.

I’d like to hear a bit about your own persona in the movies. Even though I’ve seen you in action movies like Haywire and The Eagle, I don’t see a lot of hardcore, alpha male energy.  I think you are sort of in the middle somewhere.  You are tough when you need to be, but a little freer with your emotions where not a lot of young actors are. Where does that come from?

I don’t know. I guess where I grew up. I have a lot of gregarious friends. The toughest guys I know are good guys. They don’t act tough. They are laughing, even as they are about to beat somebody’s ass!  So I don’t think you need to act tough if you are. And you don’t need to cry to show that you are emotional; that may not be the case either. I love my life and I’m about as happy as I can ever be. So I think that is sort of how I am brining that to my characters.  I haven’t done anything dark in awhile, so I have to revisit that side of myself.  I think A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints is probably the darkest thing that I have done.  But I am about to go do a movie with Bennett Miller about Olympic wrestlers that will kind of take me down the rabbit hole, so we will see.

Was this the first time you have been dressed up as Marilyn Monroe?

I actually did that in real life to a buddy of mine. It was his birthday and he was at Denny’s and I totally bum-rushed his table and embarrassed the hell out of him in public!

There’s been talk about whether Magic Mike will attract a straight, male audience.

Yes, well I think straight guys—if they are smart—are going to show up to the theater if they want to try to hit on a girl. And if they are really smart, wear a fireman outfit.  But look, I’m not operating under any auspices that I think a bunch of straight dudes are going to be like, “Yo, man, after the game tonight bro, do you want to go check out this male stripper movie?”  I doubt that is going to happen, but I’ve shown it to every one of my straight friends and the guys are like, “After the first scene, I forgot it was a male stripping movie.” Because it is a guy movie about being lost—past, present and future.  The kid character is Mike’s past, Mike is the present and Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) is his future.  If guys go see it and give it a shot I don’t think they will hate it.

I just hope it’s fun for everybody—straight, gay, male, female, animal… I just want people to go and just get a picture into this world. I don’t’ think it’s ever been done onscreen. You have seen it a lot in female strip movies and stuff, but you have never really seen it done like this. We had a blast doing it. The guys and I had so much fun. Most of the time when you are done with your scene and your stuff is over, there is still work to do, and you go home. Of if you are not working that day, you essentially don’t show up for work. We didn’t do that here. I showed up for stuff that I wasn’t supposed to be in and vice versa for everyone else. We just had so much fun. So I want people to go have fun.

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