Channing Tatum bares his soul in ‘Magic Mike’


The actor drew on his own past for this story about male strippers, directed by Steven Soderbergh.

More information

Life After “Che”

After the disappointing public and critical response to his two-part epic biography “Che” in 2009, Steven Soderbergh told several reporters he was planning on retiring from filmmaking and taking up another form of art — possibly painting.

But since then, the director has remained as prolific as ever, having directed several films (including “Contagion” and “Haywire”). “The Bitter Pill,” his follow-up to “Magic Mike,” is already wrapped, and he’s currently preparing to direct “Behind the Candelabra,” a biopic of the famed pianist Liberace starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon.

So what gives? Here’s what Soderbergh said about his recent career choices and why he’s been working on noticeably lower budgets and smaller scales.

“In retrospect, the most frustrating thing about ‘Che’ was that the quality of the discussion wasn’t where I had hoped it would be. It broke out so obviously along ideological lines and nothing else was discussed. I always knew it would be a polarizing movie. I just thought there would be a more wide-ranging discussion.

“After that, I’ve been consciously looking for things that would be more fun to do. With ‘Contagion,’ I was trying to push into a genre category as far as I could. Even though it came out in the fall, I didn’t want it to feel like important Oscar-bait. I wanted to make something really entertaining. As far as the smaller scale goes, that hasn’t necessarily been by choice. I was fired off ‘Moneyball’ [he was replaced by Bennett Miller] and then got sort of shoved off ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ Those movies were on a larger scale.

“‘Contagion’ was $60 million. When I was on it, ‘Moneyball’ was $50 million. When you get into those kinds of numbers, the amount of time you spend doing the things you like to do decreases. I like being in a room with actors. But when the scale of a film grows, you are forced to wrangle with a bunch of other elements. And that’s not fun for me.

“I look at these huge movies that come out, and some of them are really, really impressive, and I think I couldn’t do it. ‘Haywire’ was really fun to do. I was stretching in a way I was comfortable with. Even though ‘Contagion’ may not appear that way, it was really fun to make, too. That’s all that motivates me now. After ‘Che,’ I have no desire to make another quote-unquote important movie. I’ve been cured of that.”

- Rene Rodriguez

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.”


Owning your past

Tatum began his acting career the usual way, with bit parts on TV shows that led to independent films. His breakthrough role came in 2006’s Step Up, in which he played a white kid from the slums who was built like a linebacker but could move like Tony Manero. He used that success to explore various genres, including big-scale action ( G. I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra), comedy ( The Dilemma) and melodrama ( Dear John). Two earlier films released this year – The Vow and 21 Jump Street – have grossed more than $385 million worldwide.

But despite his snowballing popularity, the actor decided to revisit a chapter in his past many others might deem too embarrassing.

“Channing’s attitude was you gotta own it — and use it. That’s the smart play,” Soderbergh says. “I had a great experience with him on Haywire, and he immediately became one of those actors in my repertory who I can call upon to do stuff. I became a fan.

“He’s interested in a lot of different things, and he’s well aware of the difference between taking yourself seriously and taking your work seriously. I like his attitude, and I think he’s really got it together. We’ve already shot another movie together [ Bitter Pill] that will be out in the spring.”

Tatum had originally been in talks with Nicolas Winding Refn ( Drive) to direct Magic Mike. When the deal fell through, the actor immediately called Soderbergh to see if he was interested.

“Steven is one of the two or three directors who made me want to make films,” says Reid Carolin, a longtime friend and business partner of Tatum’s who wrote the screenplay for Magic Mike. “I was awestruck at getting the chance to work with him. And he’s truly a mentor. There’s a culture of respect. He doesn’t care who you are; he values your ideas, listens to them, gives you the feedback that you need, and you construct the story along with him. I think that’s why his movies are so distinct: He’s in every frame and every line of dialogue.”

Magic Mike is being released on 3,000 screens by the same studio that is distributing The Dark Knight Rises in July. The film is getting the usual blockbuster treatment: Magazine covers, primetime TV spots, media attention and an online viral campaign featuring racier, naughtier clips. But the movie turns out to be far different than the typical summer multiplex fare: The film is subtle, funny, focused, earnest and a little weird, never quite heading in the direction you’d expect.

Even the first few seconds of the film — the red and black Warner Bros. logo designed by Saul Bass and used in all of the studio’s movie from 1972 to 1984 — tip you off that the picture you’re about to see is not just more of the same-old.

“It’s cool, right?” Soderbergh says, sounding pleased. “The association for me was very powerful because of all the great movies that used that logo. I convinced Warner to let us use it on the film. They didn’t want to confuse people with regular advertising and trailers and TV spots, but they let us have it for the movie. I told them it was good karma.

Magic Mike is so clearly a child of movies from that era. When we were writing the script, we talked a lot about Shampoo and Hal Ashby, because he had such an incredible run during the 1970s. He literally didn’t make a bad movie through the entire decade. He gave his performers so much freedom, and he was such a great editor, obviously, that you never felt there wasn’t a purpose to what you were looking at. His movies had this beautiful, shaggy quality that we really wanted to capture.”

Where no movie has gone before

More than paying homage to a cherished filmmaker, though, Soderbergh wanted Magic Mike to feel revelatory, to take the viewer to a place that he had never seen explored in a movie before.

“When Channing brought up this idea, I instantly thought ‘Oh God, that’s so good,’ because I hadn’t seen it,” Soderbergh says. “This is a good movie idea. It is an idea best served by being in a movie as opposed to a book or magazine article or documentary. It had never even occurred to me that these kinds of places existed.”

Unlike regular strip clubs, where men silently leer at women from a distance as they pole dance and gyrate, Club Xquisite is a boisterous, lively place, a veritable animal house for women.

“Part of the difference is that men tend to go alone and women go in packs,” Soderbergh says. “Women have a much more realistic fantasy in their heads than guys. Men look up at a stripper and start thinking ‘Is she trying to work her way through medical school? Maybe I can save her.’ They imagine something going on beyond the performance.

“I don’t think women go to these things thinking that at all. They’re just like ‘I’m going out for two hours to do this, and then I’m coming home.’ They see it for what it is. It’s funny how that works. The way women behave in these clubs, no guy would ever do at a strip club. They are completely out of control! They are no boundaries or sense of propriety.”

“It’s a free-for-all in those clubs,” says Joe Manganiello ( True Blood), who plays one of Mike’s fellow dancers. “With female strippers, it’s more serious. You can’t touch the girls. There’s the threat of sex and violence always going on. But it’s tough for a guy to be sexy while wearing an American-flag thong and a strategically placed sparkler.

“I come out in a fireman suit stroking this ax, and you’re gonna laugh. The sexiness comes in the boldness or the confidence or the swagger. Female stripping is about really turning that guy on. Male stripping is about making a girl blush in front of her girlfriends and make them all start screaming ‘Oh my God!’ You would learn a lot about women with a job like this. I think people would be amazed at how women behave when they think no one’s watching.”

Read more Reeling with Rene Rodriguez stories from the Miami Herald

 <span class="cutline_leadin">What’s the secret?</span> Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites are a brother and sister trying to solve the mystery of a demonic mirror in ‘Oculus.’

    Oculus (R)

    Mirrors have been as much of a fixture in horror movies as knives and cats that suddenly jump from the shadows. But they’re best in cameos, as in the ending of Dressed to Kill or the bathroom scene in The Shining. Oculus revolves entirely around an ornate mirror that is, what, a gateway to hell? A summoning force for evil spirits? A really ugly piece of furniture from a medieval Pottery Barn?

Iko Uwais and Cecep Arif Rahman square off in a scene from ‘The Raid 2.’

    The Raid 2 (R)

    Every time you think The Raid 2 can’t possibly top itself, writer-director Gareth Evans goes “Oh, yeah? Watch this.” Most of 2011’s The Raid: Redemption took place inside a tenement raided by a SWAT team to apprehend a mobster and his squad of killers holed up inside. Practically no one survived the movie — the violence was astonishing — but the contained setting and the idea of having events grow hairier for the good guys the higher they went in the building gave the tight 101-minute movie a sense of compressed, relentless action. Now comes The Raid 2 (known as The Raid 2: Bernadal in its native Indonesia), which is far more expansive and complicated, and runs almost 2 ½ hours. Miraculously, the new picture makes the old one feel like Evans was just warming up.

A sexual addict (Charlotte Gainsbourg) visits a therapist (Jamie Bell) with unorthodox methods to try to help get over her compulsion in ‘Nymphomaniac: Vol. 2’

    NYMPHOMANIAC VOL. 2 (unrated)

    Nymphomaniac Vol. 2 (unrated)

    Things get really kinky in Nymphomaniac Vol. 2, the second chapter in director Lars von Trier’ epic-length saga about a woman who can’t get enough. If you saw Vol. 1, which ended with our perpetually horny heroine Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) losing all feeling in her sexual organs, you might be wondering, “How could this movie outdo the first one?” To quote the great Bachman-Turner Overdrive, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category