MIAMI BEACH — In the half dozen years that he’s been a movie star, Channing Tatum could be excused for skipping the exercise of reading his reviews.
He’s been in some big hits — “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra,” “Step Up,” but the good notices have been few and far between. “Tatum makes what use he can of his two expressions,” critic Derek Malcolm might crack about Tatum’s turn in “Dear John.” Or The New York Times might call his work as a guilt-stricken cop in “The Son of No One” “one of the year’s most wooden, expressionless star turns.”
The ex-model, onetime stripper seemed written off as just another big screen six-pack, a guy famous for turning up shirtless in almost everything he did.
But 2012 has changed all that. At 32, Tatum is on a roll, with commercial hits (“The Vow” and “21 Jump Street”), the attention of a name director (Steven Soderbergh) and critical acclaim for a newly discovered gift for comedy.
“It’s the ‘10,000 hour rule,'” he says. “It takes that many hours to master something. I don’t know if I’ll ever master it, because every role is a totally new experience. But you can understand the process more. And for me, in acting, times on sets, I’m closing in on 10,000 hours. I’m just starting to understand the whole thing.”
The cherry on the top of this year’s coming out party for Tatum is “Magic Mike,” a dramatic comedy that Soderbergh and screenwriter Reid Carolin built around Tatum’s first job in show business — taking it all off for screaming female fans at a Miami strip club.
“This has almost nothing to do with my experience in that world,” he says. “It’s a movie. It’s fictitious. I only danced for about eight months. But the stuff that happened was so crazy and outrageous that you couldn’t put it into a movie without somebody going, ‘You’re making that up just to sell tickets.’
“I was 18 at the time. I was living in Florida. I dropped out of college where I had played football. And I have a sister. That much of the film is true. But I never OD’d or any of that other stuff.”
In the film, Tatum plays the star stripper of an all male dance revue who takes an 18 year old (played by Alex Pettyfer) under his wing, courting the younger guy’s sister (Cody Horn) as he does.
“The first half of ‘Magic Mike’ really captures my experience of what exposure to this world was like,” Tatum says. “Soderbergh told me, ‘I can’t believe an 18 year old kid went into this world, where the other guys were grown men — guys who had been doing this dancing for years.’ This kid doesn’t know what he’s getting into. I didn’t. “
Tatum had been talking up a movie on this subject for a few years, before his rising star power and the attention of Soderbergh made that dream a reality.
“The one thing I really wanted the movie to capture was the wildness of it all,” he says. “We know what the female stripping world is like, thanks to a lot of movies. But men go to see a strip show for different reasons than women. Men go for a carnal experience. Visual sexual stimulation.
“I think women just go to laugh, and embarrass the friend sitting next to them. Laughing at their friend’s red-face as she’s getting grinded on. That’s been my experience, anyway. They’re not there to get turned on.”
The secret to taking it all off, in public? It’s not just about the workout, about the dance moves (Tatum was an accomplished dancer, even at 18).
“Committing is the key,” he says. “It’s like acting, in a way. You’ve got to sell it.
My thing was the dancing part of it. I didn’t like taking off my clothes. I wasn’t very big, not some big muscle-bound meathead who could flash the muscles and everything. I could dance. So I got the younger girls.”
For the film, which was shot and set in Tampa, Tatum became the on-set truth-detector. He was the guy who had lived this life.
“There wasn’t a power point presentation that he gave or anything,” says co-star Joe Manganiello of TV’s “True Blood.” “But his experiences were in the script. He was open and frank about his past, with us. He says he did do this and there’s no shame to it. That was all the rest of us needed.”
And preparation? There was the gym time, of course. And rehearsing with a choreographer. And for some, getting used to appearing in the buff.
“I didn’t think I could get more naked in a movie,” Tatum laughs. “They proved me wrong!
“But it was more fun, this time. Stripping was my first performance. My first time up on stage. And it’s very funny that it’s come around to this, me stripping again, performing that way again, in a movie.”