Everyone has had friends ask them about former jobs. The questions "Magic Mike" star Channing Tatum receives aren't exactly, "So, did you like being a camp counselor?"
"'Were you naked? Were you butt-naked? How many girls did you take home?'" Tatum recalls being asked about the eight months he spent as a male stripper when he was 18 and 19. "[Guys] just want to know [everything]. It's something that I think they never really thought of."
The actor, who adds that many women are similarly fascinated by uninhibited aspects of female stripping—"They might judge it," he says, "but there's an interesting thing that happens on Halloween where girls always are like the slutty version of a ketchup bottle"—says he didn't have a plan when he took the job at a Florida club, only to "make as much money as I possibly could."
In "Magic Mike," opening Friday, male stripper/furniture designer Mike (Tatum) takes a new stripper (Alex Pettyfer) under his wing and gradually discovers what he may never achieve while holding his revealing, late-night job. The film is both the hooting-and-hollering entertainment that the trailers suggest and a funny, often-sad drama given weight and style by director Steven Soderbergh ("Traffic," "Ocean's Eleven").
"Magic Mike" is not, however, based on Tatum's actual experiences. Read on for true stories that the 32-year-old Alabama native (who's already having a huge year with "The Vow" and "21 Jump Street") shared at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, including stripping while dressed as a clown and packing eight "meatheads" into a U-Haul to attend a stripping convention.
When you were involved in stripping, how much did you use costumes? Did you have any favorites or least favorites?
Yeah, my favorite was I did an Usher routine. I don't know if you've ever seen the "My Way" music video where he has "A Clockwork Orange" thing with a bowler and a trench coat and he dances. That was probably my favorite. Least favorite was the owner made me do a clown routine one night. Literally to "99 Red Balloons" or whatever. Such a weird act. I was like, "This sucks, dude, let's not do this." And he was like, "No, no, it kills bro, trust me!"
You were wearing a red nose and floppy shoes?
Yeah. Literally. Like a clown outfit.
How do you take that off in a seductive way?
You can't. It opened to crickets. There was no one cheering. Generally, you can't screw it up. You can walk out on stage, fall down and break your leg and people will still cheer. That's just what it is. It got NOTHING. I was just like, "Well, not doing that again." [Laughs.]
I haven't seen many people asking you about the story in "Magic Mike," and when I tell my wife and colleagues I really liked the movie they laugh. How much do you think people are expecting just a two-hour strip show?
[Laughs.] Um, I think probably a lot. It's really funny. Soderbergh and I, we had a really hard time trying to figure out, how do we do it? Because every single dance ends the same way: You dance a little bit, you dance for a girl a little bit, you take your clothes off and you get naked. It all ends the exact same way. So once you see it once, what are you going to do? See it exactly again? It just gets redundant. So you can't show it all. You can't show the whole dance. And once you've seen it once, how do you keep making it interesting? It's not probably what people are thinking. Even though there is obviously stripping in the movie.
You've said that stripping for guys is almost inherently comic. Why is it funny for guys to do that?
Because there's no other way to do it other than the cheesy way. Because when a guy tries to be sexy it's so corny that it's ridiculous. Women don't even really go for the sexual turn-on. That's not why they go.
There's no "Red Light Special" scene in this.
Yeah. It's more, they go to laugh and to enjoy themselves. They go for really the entertainment. And the entertainment is not so much even on stage but it's their best friend next to them when their face gets red when a guy gets on top of her. The embarrassment of that is the entertainment. And that's why it's just innately different. Men go for a completely different reason. We go for a visual, carnal thing, and I don't think women do that.
People are talking about there being no full-frontal nudity in this movie. Lots was said about "Shame" and Michael Fassbender and that he may have lost out on an Oscar nomination because of all the nudity. It's almost like male nudity happens so rarely on screen people can't handle it. Did you guys consider that when making "Magic Mike"?
Yeah, we didn't want to have a bunch of penises flopping around. I don't think that was on our bucket list for this movie. I just think it's distracting whenever you really see stuff like that. It's like sex scenes in a way or full nudity scenes. All of a sudden, for me personally when I'm watching a movie, and I see an actress butt-naked or something, I'm just like, "Oh my God!" I forget about the character and I'm like, "There's Angelina Jolie, and she's beautiful and she's naked in front of me." I think it completely takes you out of—unless it's like really done well and that's hard to do. Unless it really has something to do with the story. Just to have an arbitrary sex scene to show love, I don't think that shows love. I think that if the movie's about passion or lust or sex then do it. "Shame" was a good example of a reason to do it. Go for it. If you're going to go for it, then go all the way. But just don't have it in there just to have it in there. We didn't want to just have it in there just because it's a stripper movie. We wanted to do it in a funny way, in an entertaining way. We didn't want to have just a bunch of dude penis around because people are expecting it.
Was there any part of going back to this experience that wasn't enjoyable to relive, or felt like it was getting out of your system to put the past behind you?
You know, I think at that time of my life I was pretty lost. I didn't have a clue what I wanted to do with my life. I found my way into this thing. I definitely wanted to go down the rabbit hole a little bit. I think I definitely found one. I got out of it relatively unscathed. I don't have a drug problem. I don't suffer any sort of long things that I struggle with. In that world you can fall down a very, very slippery slope in a lot of ways. I don't have any bad memories because I got out pretty coolly.
"Magic Mike" is almost all fiction; you said if you put the real stories in the movie people wouldn't believe them. What's something that happened to you that people would have seen on screen and said, "Yeah, right?"
We rode up to a stripper convention—which those are actually for real; that actually happens—in the back of a U-Haul van. With no windows, doors, we're all just with sleeping bags in back. It's ridiculous. You have eight meatheads and crazy people in the back of a moving truck traveling up to South Carolina.
What happens at a stripper convention?
A whole lot of stripping. There [are] about 50 strippers. Or maybe more than that even—60 or 70 strippers. And then about 2,000 women. And you strip from like 9 to about 3 in the morning.
Not long panel discussions about the sociology of stripping?
No, there's no sociology talks. Very little talking, if any at all. It's a marathon. It's a crazy marathon. If we make a number two of "Magic Mike," we'll do the prequel and we'll make it the convention.
I don't think you can do a sequel. You keep saying this is the end, and you're not talking about it anymore.
I'm definitely not talking about it anymore. It's all everybody wants to talk about. They don't want to talk about anything else. [Laughs]
So on the press tour for the sequel you'll sit silently with arms crossed.
I'll just be like, "I'm going to let the other guys do the heavy lifting." I'm just going to be like, "No … Let's talk politics."
On Chicago: "We always go to Kingston Mines but we didn't get to go this time."
On two former stripper co-workers claiming he stole their stories for "Magic Mike": "[Laughs.] Yeah. I've heard about this. Somebody texted me about it this morning … I think it's the same guy that sold the video the first time. There's a video of me dancing, that's how this all sort of came around. They're just coming out the woodwork. All the people that I essentially danced with, they're all good guys, man, and I wish them the best. I don't really know what to say. This has nothing to do with anyone's life. This has nothing to do with real fact. The only thing that has to do with fact is there's an 18-year-old kid with a sister. Very little. That's it. We specifically made it vague for that reason because we didn't want anything like that to happen because we knew that it was going to. I haven't watched these things yet, but I'm going to watch them because it's just hilarious. It's funny to me. But I'm really appreciative of that, we need other people promoting this movie, so thank you, guys. [Laughs.]"
On why it's fun to impersonate Matthew McConaughey: "He's such a character. He's a larger-than-life character. I think everyone sort of wishes that they had something like that in them. I don't know if I've ever met very many people that are as special as he is. He is a one-of-a-kind thing."
If everyone walked into a room saying, like McConaughey, "All right all right all right": "I think a lot more people would enjoy their lives if they would do that. He's such a dude. He's such a suave, swaggering character. I think wherever he had grown up, he'd have just been that guy. Because he's just that guy. I don't really know how to explain it."