Channing Tatum: Stripped Bare
With those chiseled abs, perfect pecs, and a smile that could charm the pants off anyone with a pulse, it’s easy to see why so many gay men swoon over Channing Tatum. But the Hollywood hunk knows it takes more than a toned torso to have longevity in the fickle movie industry. One look at his filmography reveals a versatile actor who’s striving to grow into a well-rounded artist—and his latest acting gig proves he isn’t afraid to take risks.
Directed by Academy Award-winning director Steven Soderbergh, Magic Mike is loosely inspired by Tatum’s formative experience stripping at the age of 19. For OUT’s June/July 2012 cover story, Tatum spent the day with OUT editor-in-chief Aaron Hicklin to chat about his latest film, honing his craft and, of course, those days he worked taking off his clothes.
With films like The Avengers dominating the box office, Tatum recognizes that today’s moviegoers are looking for action-packed blockbusters, and while Magic Mike may not offer that kind of spectacle to draw in the straight young male demographic, he’s hoping his “Saturday Night Fever with strippers” will pay off. “It’s risky,” Tatum concedes. “People say that women and the gay community will go see it — knock on wood — but I know straight guys won’t be like, ‘Yo, what’s up man — you wanna go see the stripping movie after the game tonight?’ I doubt they’ll have the balls to see it. What’s funny is that the girls don’t ask me questions about my stripping days, but straight guys want to know everything. It’s that fantasy element. It’s probably why a lot of females on Halloween are the whorey version of a ketchup bottle, or slutty nurse, which I love and respect — it’s liberating.”
While Tatum acknowledges the life of a male stripper “can be exciting,” he’s quick to point out the job’s darker side as well “You see a lot of depressing shit, people that are lost,” he says, adding, “I never enjoyed the taking-the-clothes-off part. You are on a stage with people yelling at you, and you feel you’re a rock star, but you’re nothing — you’re just a guy taking off his clothes, looking like a fool in a stupid outfit.”
In addition to his unflinching honesty about his stripper past, Chan, as he is known to friends, is equally open about his humble beginnings. He grew up in Alabama, in what he calls a straight-up middle-class family. His dad was a roofer and his mom worked for AAA. He describes his older sister as “the dog’s bollocks, just the sickest chick on the face of the planet,” and is candid about the world he grew up in.
“My uncle Bruce is about as country as you get,” he says. “He’s not OK with interracial stuff, probably, and I don’t think he’d met a gay man before my wedding. Where I’m from, there’s not a lot of out gay men.”
The impact Tatum’s upbringing has had on his life can be seen in his attraction to stories about blue-collar people who do extraordinary things. Movies about warriors and freedom are among his favorites, with Braveheart being one he admits to watching at least 100 times.
“Chan comes from a ranching family in Alabama, and didn’t grow up with a lot of money, and I think both of us can relate to those kinds of characters more than we do to superheroes,” says Reid Carolin, Tatum’s producing partner and creative collaborator. “He is vastly different from everyone else I’ve met in this business, perhaps because his ambition was never to be famous, or have pictures taken of himself.”
Though his star is on the rise, Tatum doesn’t take his success for granted. He knows that the movie industry is a unpredictable beast, and remembers a not-so-distant time when he was struggling to pay his rent.
“I’ve been acting for eight years now, and I feel I’m just starting to understand things,” he says. “As soon as you think you’re the shit, you’ll find 100 people that will point at you and laugh. I don’t ever want to be that person -- I want to keep finding people I can learn from. That’s my entire journey in life.”