Former stripper Channing Tatum bares (almost) all in a new movie about his previous profession. Susan Griffin enjoys a private audience with Hollywood’s hottest leading man
Summer might be a washout but there is something to brighten up the daily commute – the sight of double-decker buses emblazoned with the rippling muscles of Channing Tatum and crew to promote their new film Magic Mike.
Set in the world of male strippers, it features 32-year-old Tatum as Mike, a jack-of-all trades who spends his days pursuing the American Dream and his nights as the hot headliner Magic Mike in an all-male revue at Club Xquisite, run by Matthew McConaughey’s Dallas.
It’s a slick, sexy film depicting casual sexual encounters and drug use against a sun-drenched back-drop and even if the promise of tearaway trousers isn’t enough to entice you to the cinema, the sight of Tatum’s sharp street dance moves should be.
“It doesn’t matter exactly what you’re doing out there if you’re having fun,” says Tatum, the Alabama-born star of the show, on whose life the film is loosely based.
A former stripper himself, Tatum felt the subject matter had cinematic potential but it was a conversation with the Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh, the man behind Ocean’s 11, 12 and 13 (who Tatum worked with on Haywire and will again in the upcoming movie The Bitter Pill) that led to the film getting made.
“I mentioned that I’d worked as a stripper for eight months when I was 18, 19 years old,” says the polite, softly-spoken Tatum, radiating a laid-back vibe that’s a world away from the pneumatic drill stage humping of his on-screen alter ego.
“I’ve always thought about doing a story about that life because whenever the subject comes up, guys always want to know about it. Steven said, ‘You write it and I’ll direct it’.”
It was during brainstorming sessions that Soderbergh suggested giving the story a dual perspective, pairing the 19-year-old character Adam, aka The Kid, played by Alex Pettyfer, opposite Tatum’s mentor character.
Seeing the potential in Adam, Mike takes him under his wing and schools him in the art of stripping, partying, picking up women and pocketing lots of cash.
Then Mike meets Adam’s older sister Brooke (Cody Horn), and believes he has a chance with her – until his lifestyle gets in the way and he has to take stock of where he’s heading.
Rather than depict actual events from his past, Tatum says: “It was the atmosphere and energy of [male stripping] I wanted to capture.”
Tatum has described himself as a bit of an outsider until he discovered football and street dance.
“When I was about 15, my sister was friends with the manager of this club and I remember going to deliver flyers,” he says.
“There were these guys in this circle who were flipping and doing all this crazy stuff. I was just like, ‘Oh, my God. I want to do that!’”
One day he heard a radio pitch for guys who liked to dance, and auditioned for the male revue.
“It sounded like something I could do for fun for a while,” says Tatum.
He remembers making $150 for a couple of hours work, “which was a ton of money for me at the time”.
“I really enjoyed the performing aspect of it, although being in a thong can be a humbling experience,” he chuckles.
“The more you try to look sexy, the lamer it is, so you just have to commit to the comedy and the skit because that can be hilarious.
“But the women love it. They scream and laugh and stuff money into your underwear. It was wild. We thought we were rock stars.”
After eight months, he hung up his thong and moved to Miami where he was discovered by a modelling scout on the street. Soon after, he landed roles in the TV series CSI Miami and films such as Coach Carter and Supercross.
In the past few years, he’s starred in romantic films ( Dear John), dramatic projects (Public Enemies and Roman epic The Eagle), and action romps such as GI Joe.
“I’ve played a lot of thick-necked, jug-head sort of guys but they’re all different movies and different characters and I hope I don’t get typecast,” he says.
“It’s your own fault if you do.”
Magic Mike is released in cinemas on July 11