Late last summer, I was fortunate enough to spend a day on the 21 JUMP STREET set, marking the first time I got to talk to Channing Tatum. While I spent most of the day, watching and chatting with Jonah Hill on one of his scenes, the afternoon was devoted to a sequence that didn't make the final cut of the of the film involving Hill and Tatum picking out clothes that would make them look like high school students.
While the sequence was being set up in a Spenser's store in a mall in suburban New Orleans, Tatum walked up to me and just starting talking about some of the bizarre items for sale in the store. "I'd hate to think was this was promoting," he said as he held up what appeared to be a razor blade on the end of the necklace. "Cutters of the world unite." I brought up the fact that I had been at Comic-Con just a few weeks earlier and seen the great footage of him from HAYWIRE, his first collaboration with director Steven Soderbergh. He responded by talking about a conversation he and Soderbergh had had about Tatum's years as a male stripper, and some of the darker, sleazier things he saw and experienced during the time in his life.
Tatum went on to describe a couple of the incidents in question, but then suddenly said that Soderbergh's response to these stories was "If you write that screenplay, I'll direct it." Such opportunities don't present themselves often, so what other choice to Tatum have but to enlist his friend Reid Carolin (associate producer on STOP-LOSS and executive producer on Tatum's upcoming film WHITE HOUSE DOWN, directed by Roland Emmerich) to write the screenplay that would become MAGIC MIKE, a fascinating, fun, and wonderfully straight-guy-friendly work that evokes more SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER than SHOWGIRLS or Tatum's breakthrough movie STEP UP.
I saw Tatum again a few months ago in Chicago, when he and Hill were on tour for 21 JUMP STREET, and we continued the post-shooting MAGIC MIKE discussion, which just made me want to see it all the more with Tatum's talk of a film about this group of real men partying, sexing up the ladies, and making more money than they know what to do with (never a good thing). The stripping is almost secondary to the bad behavior, and the movie is eye-opening and perfectly acted by Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Matthew McConaughey, Joe Manganiello, and Cody Horn.
Please enjoy my all-too-brief discussion with Channing Tatum, in which we get a little information on what exactly is (or isn't) going on with G.I. JOE: RETALIATION, whose release date was recently pushed back from, well, now until the end of March 2013. The word is that early reaction to the film was not good, in large part because--for reasons I won't explain--Tatum isn't in the movie very much. Many scheduled weeks of reshoots may change that, but I'll let Channing explain what he knows…
Channing Tatum: Hey, man!
Capone: How’s it going?
CT: Good. It’s good to see you. How are you?
Capone: Good. It hasn’t been that long, has it?
CT: I know, right?
Capone: Since Austin, I guess.
CT: Yeah, I know. I’m sorry, I just sort of dozed off at lunch, and so now I’ve got to wake up.
Capone: Did you really?
CT: I was sitting there talking to somebody on the phone and I totally was like [he bobs his head like he's falling asleep], “Shit, I’ve got to go.” So what’s up man? What’s new?
Capone: Not too much. I was actually just in New Orleans last week. I heard that maybe you might have been down there in the last week for something a little interesting?
CT: [Laughs] Maybe. Very, very interesting stuff. There’s always interesting stuff to be had in New Orleans.
Capone: Yeah, I heard that you were opening a bar down there?
CT: Yeah, we are opening a bar. We're open now, but it’s under the old name. It’s called “Sammy’s.” It will be called “Saints and Sinners” I think, but we are probably going to shut down here in a couple of weeks and then do our renovation.
Capone: That’s cool. So you’ve spent enough time down there that you are going put down some roots?
CT: Yeah, it’s such a bad idea probably with having a bar there, but we're going to see if we can make it fun.
Capone: Yeah, bars do horribly down there.
CT: [Laughs] Yeah, right? It’s not a promising place to open a bar, but we'll do our best.
Capone: Watching the movie yesterday afternoon, I realized that the things that are happening in that movie play to many a lot of your strengths as an actor and performer--the dancing, the romance story, which you’ve done a couple of and have been very successful, and now you’re coming up through the comedy ranks, with a lot of drama thrown in. I’ve always thought since A GUIDE TO RECOGNIZING YOUR SAINTS that you were like this great dramatic actor.
Capone: So MAGIC MIKE is like this “Greatest Hits” package for you in a lot of ways.
CT: It doesn’t hurt that me and my buddy wrote it, so I mean it was really Reid that wrote it, but it was me telling stories, and it’s a nice little roll up of a lot of things that I enjoy. You can’t really genre-ize this movie, and you have a hard time doing it with Soderbergh movies in general. It’s a slice-oflife movie. It’s got comedy. It’s got drama. It’s got a little bit of entertainment. It’s kind of the whole thing.
Capone: And you’re on this roll with Soderbergh. How come you don’t actually have a story credit on this thing?
CT: We could have asked for one. We were so concerned with just making the movie that none of us were really worried about credits. Soderbergh wasn’t trying to take a "Story By" credit, and I was just like “Look, let’s just make this movie and make it great and not worry about the rest of it.” If we were making it with people that I felt like "We're all dogs at the bowl" sort of thing, then maybe I would have done it differently, but I know I’m going to be working with these people for the rest of my life, and that's just not what it was about. And we did it in such a short amount of time. Reid wrote it in under a month, and we were in production within three.
Capone: That’s how Steven seems to work. He gets something in his head and he’s like, “Let’s make it.”
CT: Completely. He’s just like “It’s go time.”
Capone: And then when it’s done, he’s like “Okay, next one!”
CT: That’s a good thing and a… I’m just like “Steven, the movie's not done yet. You’re not allowed to move on to BITTER PILL just yet, because you need to finish this movie,” and he’s good though. I think he needs to take a little bit of a break, because he wants to.
Capone: But how would he keep up his three-movie-a-year pace?
CT: I know, right? It’s just crazy, three movies a year man. That’s ridiculous, so ridiculous, but he can do it. It’s in him, he just pumps it out. I think above anybody can, because of the way he runs the whole creative process can make it work, and he banged out BITTER PILL, I mean it’s done. My buddy Reid just saw a cut, and he’s like “It’s going to be an American classic.”
Capone: I think you described his style to me as a looser way of directing, where it’s not like a lot of other directors. He just trusts the actors; his directing comes more in the casting almost. I’m curious, when you have to have these precisely choreographed moments, is his directing a little bit different then? I don’t know that he’s ever directed a dance sequence.
CT: No, he hadn’t, and in that sense he really just sits back, he watches it one time without turning on the cameras or anything, and he’s just like “Okay” and he’s just like “Alright, we’re cool. Take five and let me think about it,” and he will just walk around. He figures out how he wants to shoot each one, and then he will be like “All right, cool let’s just do the first part, and I’ll tell you when to stop,” and then he sort of paints the thing. He wasn’t too involved in how he wanted the dances to be. He was just like “Look, that’s your shit. You do that, and I’m going to worry about the other stuff.”
And I don’t want to say that he doesn’t direct, because he does. I don’t want that to be a thing that is out about him, because that’s not the truth at all. He’s actually very, very specific, but he's very specific in a different way. He's so specific in what he wants out of the scene and he’s really specific in the way that he wants you to do it, but not in telling you how to do it. He really wants you to surprise him, you know? It’s just refreshing. It’s such a new way to do it. I’ve worked with directors that they are just like, “Say it exactly like this,” and you’re just like “All right…” And that doesn’t mean that either one is right or wrong, it’s just I really respond to this way.
Capone: Because you and I have had conversations about what this movie’s tone is going to be since last year, when the trailer dropped, I feel like I’ve spent a lot more time than I ever have for any other movie just trying to tell men that this movie is as much for them. I know you’re probably sick of talking about this point…
CT: No, no, no…
Capone: There's already been so much discussion about getting straight guys into the theaters. But I’ve heard people ask, “Oh my God, Steven Soderbegh, what have you done?” And I keep trying to tell them, “He’s made this awesome movie that this trailer does not accurately reflect.”
CT: No, and you know it’s hard for us, because we're sitting there and we made the thing, we slaved over the thing, and they're selling it as a dance movie-stripper movie thing, and that’s fine if it gets people to go see the movie, then great.
Capone: It will get some people to see it for sure.
CT: Yeah. And I think ultimately people will see it. Straight, gay, male, female, whatever. Every single one of my straight friends that have seen it forget that it’s a stripper movie within the first 20 minutes, and they're like, “Okay, that happened and now it’s onto the story.” So I don’t know if we could have ever done it any different. It was always going to be that. It was always going to be a stripper film, and I’m glad people are seeing the dancing and want to show up for that, because then they'll be happily surprised that there’s actually a little bit more to it.
Capone: I’ve been trying to emphasize the sleazier aspects of it too.
CT: [laughs] It’s a little grittier. I’ve tried to explain it. Not only are they strippers, but it’s like guys being guys, guys being total dudes. It’s a bro film.
Capone: These guys could be basketball players or fraternity brothers.
CT: Completely. It doesn't matter.
Capone: Any intelligent, forward-thing single guy is going to consider “Who is going to be in that audience,” which is a bunch of women going to see this movie. Guys could just stand in the lobby and watch them come out.
CT: If they're smart they'll wear a fireman’s outfit and be like “Hi, I work for MAGIC MIKE, let me show you my moves.” I would have done that. The funny thing is, all of my friends back in the day when I used to do this, they used to show up at the club, because all of the girls would stay at the club afterwards and they would be all frothy and wound up already, and they would just move right in.
Capone: That’s a good word by the way, “frothy?”
CT: Frothy! When we ride horses, they would be like, "The horse’s sweat gets all frothy."
Capone I didn’t realize this going in, but McConaughey is kind of essential of this movie, like…
CT: He’s the best part of the movie. I’m not being self-deprecating.
Capone: I know, I get it. He’s like this sleazy ring leader.
CT: But he “believes.” He’s a believer, you know? He believes he is going to change the world with this, he’s going to take it global. It’s brilliant. His performance in this is my favorite thing in the movie. I like what I did in the movie, it’s not tha. But the movie for me doesn’t start until he gets on the screen.
Capone: And thankfully he is the first thing on the screen actually. He’s the first voice you hear and the first thing you see.
CT: Yeah. I’ve seen so many different incarnations of this thing, and that opening used to not be there, and I love the cold opening now so much. But yeah, it’s when he blows the fire. That used to be the first time that you say McConaughey, and when Reed and I were first talking about how to introduce London’s character. We wanted him to be the devil. We wrote this crazy thing of like, “You go through the back stages of all of the different things that are happening backstage, like sewing thongs. Then you get to this person, and he’s blowing fire and it’s just like the devil, like “Here he is.” And McConaughey just knocks it out of the park. That was my favorite thing that we even wrote in the script, and I thought we wrote a perfect character and then McConaughey got a hold of it and ran with it. And he ran in such a beautiful way that we couldn’t have thought of it in our wildest dreams what he came up with.
Capone: Before I let you go, because I’ve got to ask, can you shed any light on what is going on with this G.I. JOE sequel right now?
CT: You know what? I would love to, and this is the honest answer, they haven’t talked to me about anything. I haven’t even seen the movie, so I don’t know anything.
Capone: I keep hearing they're going to bring you back in to do some reshoots.
CT: They haven’t called me. Everybody sends me the Deadline reports, all of my friends and even my representation. They're just kind of like, “Has anybody called you?” I’m like “No,” then they’re like “Well they haven’t called us.” So I don’t really know. I have no idea.
Capone: All right, well I had to ask.
CT: We’ll see, though, very shortly I'm guessing.
Capone: They’ve got a lot of time to play with.
CT: Yeah, exactly. More than enough, right?
CT: Which is interesting. I’m intrigued to see what their plan is. [G.I. JOE: RETALIATION Producer] Lorenzo di Bonaventura, he’s also a producer on BITTER PILL. So I’m going to see him very shortly here, and I’m going to be like, “What’s up, dude?” [Laughs] “What’s the deal?”
Capone: Okay. All right, thanks a lot man. Great to see you.