When Channing Tatum's former career as a male stripper came out, the world was not necessarily shocked. After all, the actor made his mark as a dancer in Step Up, and over the past few years has worked his way up to action and comedy flicks like 21 Jump Street and Haywire. Movie fans were caught a little off guard, however, when Tatum not only co-wrote a movie based off of his experiences, but snagged Steven Soderbergh to direct. Buzzine's Izumi Hasegawa recently rounded up Tatum, Soderbergh, Magic Mike screenwriter Reid Carolin, and co-stars Matthew McConaughey, Cody Horn, Joe Manganiello, Alex Pettyfer, and Adam Rodriguez to talk thongs, enthusiastic patrons, and taking it all off.
Izumi Hasegawa: It seems that if you made a movie about female strippers and men reacting excitedly, it would seem lascivious. What is it that differentiates those two experiences which allows us to enjoy this film and see it as pure fun?
Cody Horn: First of all, these guys. They're the ones up there doing it, but actually, Alex and I were talking about this yesterday, and I think that with women, when they go to strip clubs it's more of a group thing and they go for a spectacle. It's kind of like going to a Broadway show in that way, and when men go, Alex implied, obviously I have no personal experience with this and I'm not saying that he does either –
Alex Pettyfer: I love the fact that you're pointing out that I go to female strip clubs.
CH: No, this was a question that came up yesterday, and your answer was that for the men it's more personal, it's one on one. They go to have a moment. That's all I'm saying.
AP: Thank you.
Matthew McConaughey: Channing does a very good impersonation of men at female strip joints.
Channing Tatum: [growling and drooling]. No, I just think we're trying to do our part to objectify men for the first time in movies.
IH: Matthew, you have more movies coming out this year than Channing does –
MMC: Is that possible?
IH: How did you get involved in so many projects?
MMC: Well, I made five in a row last year. I went back to back to back to back to back, and it was my most creative, constructive and fun working year I've ever had. I did not have one single day in all five films where I was not excited to get out of bed in the morning and go to work. I didn't have one hour of complacency in any of the work I did in five films, and I'm happy to be able to say that because that's not always been the case.
It's fortunate to be able to say that, and I got to work with a lot of very interesting directors and some very interesting stories and all characters that didn't really pander or placate to any laws, government, parental guidance, what have you. So, they were very, when I say committed characters, that's really fun because it's boundless how far you can go, almost four dimensionally. I mean, with Dallas, in this role, I couldn't get pinned down with writing down ideas and things and sending off emails. The verbiage of this guy's mind just kind of flew.
IH: What does your new wife think about this movie?
MMC: My wife now, girlfriend at the time, actually showed up, snuck in quite a few days and she gave me the thumbs up and said, “Go for it, baby.” So, she's going to like it.
IH: What about your big dance number? Were you nervous?
MMC: I was very nervous, yeah. Before going out on the stage, to dance, even if you're not taking your clothes off, for everyone live is kind of nerve racking, but then knowing you have to strip down, very nerve racking. Then after doing it once, God, I wanted to get up there and do it again. That was a lot of fun.
When I first talked to Steven, he called to offer the role of Dallas to me. He had pitched the story and told me who this guy was and I was laughing really hard on the phone and said yes. I said, “Can you give me one line just so I can hang up the phone and walk away here and [my] imagination can go somewhere?” He said, “Well, this guy Dallas is pretty connected with UFO's, man.”
So, that was a great launch pad. It was a pretty roofless bit of direction on the phone in the beginning and so I knew that I was going to be able to fly and that was really fun to play someone so committed in many ways.
IH: While filming, did any of the ladies playing club patrons take their roles too seriously?
Adam Rodriguez: Very.
MB: Yeah, I think those were all happy accidents when those happened. It was a part of the world, and if they wanted to lick you in certain places or touch you, it was welcome. It was just a part of the world we were creating.
CT: Gotta commit.
AR: We were really grateful to them for that. They really did things that work for us. You need that. You're going out there and you want that audience screaming to help you know that you're doing the right thing, and they did that for us.
IH: So, that helped to inform your performance?
CT: Very much so. Actually, McConaughey said something yesterday, they were there for a while with us and they became sort of our friends. You'd get off stage and they'd go, “That was a really good one. Really, that part where you did the thing, that was great.”
MMC: Yeah, they were crazy during the dances and then afterwards they'd become very motherly, like wanting to take care of us. “That was a good one. You done good today,” especially after a few weeks.
IH: Reid, how do you write this kind of a movie?
CT: Reid was in male strip clubs. I couldn't even get him out. I was like, “Man, you don't have to go to every one. They're all pretty much the same.”
Reid Carolin: There was a personal research component, for sure. I think we went to a couple of these places and had some fun.
CT: A couple.
RC: Then just really sitting around with Chan and Steven. I looked at it really as it was written as much by committee as it was by me. There were so many awesome voices in the making of this movie that every crazy idea had a home. So, it was just really sitting around with these guys and kind of messing around.
SS: Well, there goes your nomination.
IH: Besides all the bells and whistles, what do you think Magic Mike is truly about?
AR: I think so much of what the story is about getting out of this way-station that we're all in that has become our life. We thought that it was a pit stop on the way to achieving some bigger dreams, because all of the guys in the movie have bigger dreams whether it's Dallas or any of the characters.
Joe Manganiello: Big Dick Richie doesn't have bigger dreams.
MB: That's true. He knows what his big dream is.
CT: It's less about the male dream than about the female dream for Big Dick Richie.
JM: This is the best place for him. The safest place for the rest of the world. Ma, I made it! But I think it's about club life. It's about being trapped in this life. It's a very attractive, shiny place to be and I think that people get stuck in it and years go by. I think the Kevin Nash character is the perfect example. He's kind of the Keith Richards of male strippers. He's figured out the chemistry. He's a lifer. He's in his fifties. He's still there. He's going to OD every other day, get that straight, but that's it. You go in there as this fresh-faced kid, probably underage and you wake up twenty years later going, “What the hell did I do?” I think that's what's at the heart of it.
CT: I think everybody either knows somebody or has experienced it themselves, whether they did or didn't graduate college, afterwards you're like, “Okay, what do I do now?” You have the dreams that you want to do and then you have to do other jobs until you can get to that dream. Mike, and I think a lot of these guys, just sort of fell into this thing and it was fun, and years just sort of ticked on as the party was happening. Then all of a sudden you're like, “Wow, it's seven years later and I don't really have very much to show for it. I'm not any closer to my dream.” At some point the party had just gotten away and it became your life. I think that's happened to a lot of people. They just get sidetracked.
IH: Channing and Matthew, you both had some great solo dances. Did you have any reservations about stripping down? Are your wives lucky enough to get some private dances?
CT: My wife married a stripper and so she knew what she was getting into and she made that a prerequisite for the marriage. Look, I just respect these guys for jumping into the thong with both feet and out onto the stage because I've done it before and it was still nerve racking for me. I can't imagine what these guys had to go through. Bomer had to go first. I felt so bad for that. I was like, “Maybe I should go first.”
Everybody just committed. Every single person up here just went for it, and I wish we had time in the movie to show everybody's dance because everyone worked so hard on them. It's a humbling thing to get up there and you're left with very little to the imagination in front of almost three hundred people. It's very, very nerve racking.
MMC: As far as trusting wardrobe, it is one of the larger leaps of faith to trust a thong. Really. It weighs like what a dollar bill weighs. It weighs nothing, and you're going, “This is the only protection... at the end of this performance, this is the only protection that I have.” So, the first time you put it on you're going, “What is every possible angle I can be in and I gotta check to see if it's really covered, [if] everything is covered.” You don't understand how it is and for the most part it is.
I said this yesterday, but I had to put on the thong and kind of walk around and try to have normal conversations. You have to talk about football or what you ate last night, something. Then that's what's funny, and then you lean against a wall, like, “Now I'm just hanging out, man,” to get comfortable with it because the first time you put it on your body kind of contorts and you're like, “I need straighten up, my shoulders back or something, hips out.” It is somewhat unnatural. Channing would be there just talking about what's going on in the scene with Soderbergh. He's in his red thong, just working it out, behind the scenes producer work.
SS: Channing had a great phrase about all of that because one of the appeals of it to me was if everybody is dressed like that, every conversation is funny. There's no wrong answer. Anybody who starts having a serious conversation while they're wearing a thong, it's going to be funny. But you said also, when you first got into it, your mantra was, “It's only weird if you make it weird.”
CT: It's true, very, very true.
SS: So, that was the attitude that everybody took, which is it doesn't have to be weird if you don't want it to be weird.
MMC: There's nothing weird about Kevin Nash in a thong, talking to you about Picasso's cubism years.
CT: What's weird about that? God, I wish he was here.
IH: So much of the film plays without dialogue. Is there an additional push the actors need to do to capture a scene in relative silence?
SS: Well, one of the things that people forget, I think, even a lot of people that make movies forget is that, in my mind, a movie should work with the sound off. You should be able to watch a movie without the sound and understand what's going on. That's your job, to build a series of chronological images that tell the story. I'm frustrated when I see movies in which I feel like the plot is being told to me instead of shown to me. I also like to stage scenes in which you see a lot of people in the frame at once.
So, physicality becomes a really important part of that aesthetic. I need actors who understand how to use their bodies because the shot is going to be up there for a while. You're going to see them, if not full length, probably down to the thigh. So, all of that stuff becomes really important. Sometimes I'm choreographing moves with the camera with moves that they're doing. So, they're sense of having to dance a little bit with the camera needs to be pretty pronounced. In this case, everybody, I think, fell into that very quickly and understood what I was trying to do.
IH: What did you learn about living the life as a stripper, were there any surprises?
CH: The guys, I think that they have an understanding of what women go through more often because wearing thongs and shaving is not something that we're well-versed in. Everyone seemed pretty comfortable with their bodies by the end of the shoot, there was a lot of just hanging out.
CT: I was a male stripper. How did you guys liken to the world?
AR: The waxing was an interesting experience. Not quite as painful as I expected.
AP: By the way, me, Kevin Nash, and Adam, we actually practiced together this one day. Adam and Kevin had walked in after just being waxed and we're obviously not dancers and we're trying to get to somewhat the level where we can entertain, and all I see is Kevin Nash and Adam – I didn't actually wax, I shave in the film – having these moves being very airy because they feel so...
AR: We're streamlined.
MB: I think this whole experience opened all of us up in some way. I remember being at my sister's wedding reception a month after we wrapped and I'd had a few drinks and all of a sudden I was doing body rolls on the dance floor. I realized, "Matt, it's time to let go. You can't take this with you. It's already been captured on film. Stop."
JM: I think the sense of humor about it is what surprised me a lot. At a female strip club things are very serious. You get that archetypal guy that Channing demonstrated, that guy in the trench coat, the serial killer guy with his dollar bills. You don't really get that at the male strip club. It's really hard to take yourself seriously with an American flag thong on, with a strategically placed sparkler. There's just a whole level to it that's about fun and I think that's really the one big thing that I took away was how much fun it was. The hardest thing I think about shooting this movie was biting the inside of my mouth, trying not to laugh as McConaughey is in a yellow spandex halter top with bike shorts, riding on Alex's hips with a mirror. I mean, come on.
MB: It was also an exercise in complete commitment. Steven said to us early on, "Jump off the cliff and I'll catch you." He's the kind of director that you believe when he says something like that to you. We were all completely terrified, but it's not the kind of movie that you can only commit seventy-five percent to. You have to go all the way or you're going to be in real trouble.
IH: How many hours did you spend in the gym, dieting and working on the choreography?
SS: I can only tell you that these guys were so disciplined. They ate like rabbits. It was lettuce with, like, lemon juice on it. It was nothing. Really, honestly, I've worked on movies with a lot of women who look great and take care of themselves. I've never seen this kind of diligence. Look, maybe it was just fear, but also, I didn't sense any competition because I think the fear of doing it bonded you guys really quickly. They're all sort of jumping out of the plane together. As soon as I saw the routines for the first time I knew we were going to be fine, because they were funny. Like, Joe, was saying, they were fun. They weren't dirty. They were fun.
CT: It really was that thing where – I've said this before, but I'll say it again – most movies, when you're done with your scene you go home. You go home, you're like, "That's it. I'm good. I'm going to go home for the day." That's not what happened with everybody. You wanted to see them do their routine and do it well and kill it. Every time that Bomer or anybody came off stage you went back and high-fived them and told them what really worked, and you're just like, "You murdered that." It really became a weird team, in a way, like a very weird, strange team. I want to do strip competitions, guys. Can we do that? Can we enter some competitions, strip-offs?
IH: Starting now?
IH: Did any of you guys have a favorite costume? Did you take any home with you?
CT: I loved all my costumes. I have all mine.
MMC: I kept all mine. As soon as we found the leather pants on the first day with Christopher, the costume designer, we were like, “Okay, that's Dallas's staple.”
JM: I've had many requests for the fireman's suit.
MB: I liked them all, too. The Ken Doll was really fun, but I really liked the group numbers that we got to do as well. The only thing that I took home was... Ken was kind of a hippie. So, he had this tiger's eye necklace and I took that.
CT: Reid is still wearing his thong.
RC: I'm wearing mine, I was actually just going to say that.
JM: I love my An Officer and a Gentleman outfit. When I die, I want my In Memoriam at The Oscars to be in the Gold Man. I'm calling it right now.
IH: On some level this is a movie about entertainers caught between art and commerce. How do each of you deal with that theme, and Steven, how much would you like the audience to think about that?
SS: I wanted to make sure that there were a lot of conversations in the movie about money and work because I feel like for most people these are issues that dominate their lives, especially lately. So, we were always looking for ways to sort of bring that conversation into the film. The most obvious example, obviously, is when Chan goes to the bank to try and get a loan, but I think this issue of what you're willing to do to be paid is interesting. At a certain point, when Mike starts to feel that what he's doing is undervalued and he has to make a decision about whether he can accept that, I think everyone in this room has been in a situation where they have felt, [at] a certain point, undervalued and has to make a decision about how they're going to express that or whether they're going to express it. So, I think it's a very relatable issue.
IH: And then as actors, how do you relate to this?
MB: Are you asking how we straddle the line between art and commerce? I think you work on the roles that draw you in and the stories that you want to tell, and if you're lucky enough to get to work with a director like Steven, all the better, but I think this was one of those movies that I felt was kind of the best of both worlds.
JM: I think we all signed on to this one coming from the independent spirit. This was filmed as this little indie movie expose and I think we all signed on to work with who we got to work with, on the script that we got to work on, in the world that we got to work on. We're sitting here now, and I mean, the big shock to me was when all the studio executives were coming to filming every day. I went, “Wait a minute, this little tiny art house movie...wait, everyone is going to see what I just did to that girl?” Then we all came in with this great spirit and I think the fact that it's snowballed into what's snowballed into is exactly what you hope for. I mean, that's it. You work on this project to make the artists happy and you wind up, hopefully, making the bill payer happy, too.
IH: This movie is based on your real life, Channing. What do you have to say about the two male strippers in Florida who claim you didn't give them credit for this?
CT: Okay, I can't wait. I was waiting for someone to bring this up. Look, there's nothing that's factual in this whole movie other than I was an eighteen year old kid and went into this world and I dropped out of college and playing football and was living on my sister's couch. There's not one character that I took from my real life. This is just a world that I went into and that I had a perspective on and we created everything from a fictional place. Those guys have been trying to make money off of me since I've gotten into this business.
Literally, London was one of the guys that sold the video that essentially, thank God, my friend here saw and liked it and then we made a movie of it. They're just very interesting people. I don't want to say anything bad about them because they're part of the reason why I think this world is so interesting. They're very interesting, intriguing, bizarre characters and I'm thankful for the weird people out there because they're some of the most creative people. I mean, watch his YouTube video. It is really, really entertaining. I mean, that's how he starts every one, and you're just like, “Oh, we're back, baby. We're back!”
'Magic Mike' is currently playing in theaters nationwide.