Filmmaker Steven Soderbergh wants you to know that there is more to his new movie Magic Mike than the trailers and TV ads would have you believe.
“I really like the marketing campaign,” says the Oscar-winning director of Traffic, Ocean’s Eleven and Erin Brockovich. “I was the one who wanted to sell the movie like it’s fun, because it is mostly fun.
“It may not be exactly what people expect. But I don’t think the film is different in a way that’s antagonistic to the audience.”
Then, after a pause, Soderbergh addresses the elephant in the room.
“Look, this is not a movie that is exclusively aimed at women and gay men. To what extent are women going to be able to talk their boyfriends into going? I don’t know. But I don’t think guys will be sitting in the theater thinking, ‘This is torture.’ Ten minutes into the movie, they’ll realize they are not being excluded from this experience at all.”
Magic Mike, which opens Friday, is a comedy about male strippers — about how men think and behave when they become objects of desire, a privilege usually reserved for women in popular culture. The ads promise playful debauchery, but the movie’s real focus is the male psyche. Compared to the protagonists of Shampoo or American Gigolo, the guys in Magic Mike are relatively chaste. Mostly, they’re just drunk on the thrill of getting paid for being the center of attention. Naturally, it goes to their heads.
The film sprang from a casual conversation between Soderbergh and actor Channing Tatum on the set of the action movie Haywire in 2010. Between takes, they talked about Tatum’s production company and the projects he was developing.
The actor revealed he wanted to make a movie based on his experiences working as a stripper and dancer in Tampa for a few months when he was 18 years old.
“Some people go to college. Some people go to acting school. Some people go to business school. I threw myself into a bunch of different jobs — I feel like I went to the school of life in a way — and stripping happened to be one of them,” Tatum says.
“It was a crazy one. I really enjoyed dancing. That was my favorite part of the job. I didn’t really like taking my clothes off. But I made good money and it kept the party going. It was great — for a while.”
In the film, Tatum plays the eponymous hero, the main attraction at the ladies-only Club Xquisite managed by Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), a happy-go-lucky Svengali figure who introduced Mike to the business and turned him into a star. As the movie opens, Mike does the same for a young man named Adam (Alex Pettyfer) he meets at a nightclub. But Adam isn’t quite as adept as Mike was at circumventing the darker side of the industry.
Although there are plenty of musical numbers — i.e., scenes at the club where Tatum and his fellow dancers perform for screaming hordes of women — Magic Mike is less Showgirls and more Saturday Night Fever, another character study of a working-class guy who hits a crossroads and must decide which path to take.
“I’m not ashamed of this period in my life,” Tatum says. “I’m not proud of it. I would never tell anyone ‘Hey, man, you should go try this!’ Because this kind of work is a slippery slope. It’s a very intoxicating world, on a lot of different levels. And it can be a bit of a rabbit hole, and you can get mired in it. I think I was lucky enough to be able to enjoy what it gave me — it was my first performing job ever — and then able to get out.”