“He’s the guy in that stripping movie, right? The one who dropped his pants in that movie…”
Er, yes, that’s him. Channing Tatum. The opening quote is a summary of the reaction we got when we showed anyone over the age of about 37 the photo on this issue’s cover.
For anyone under that age, recognition was far more instant. They’ve grown up with the guy. Sure, there was the torso-led fame of Magic Mike, and Magic Mike XXL, but earlier, there was Tyler in dance movie Step Up, Jenko in 21 Jump Street, Duke in GI Joe, and even much earlier, young Antonio in the highly praised if rarely seen A Guide To Recognising Your Saints.
Point being, Charming Tatum is “next-gen”. The new breed, even though he’s been around a decade or more now. Our friends at Esquire dubbed him, “the first honest-to-God movie star of his generation.”
And that’s because beyond the pecs, and the god-given jawline, and the all-round hyper-masculine, alpha male appearance, this Tatum chap can really act. Watch him in Magic Mike, closely. The scenes where he’s not ripping his clothes off, we mean. Like when he’s in the bank trying to get them to loan him money, pretending he’s anything but a stripper. The not inconsiderable balancing act, performance-wise, of trying to convey cock-suredness, vulnerability and fear all at once. Tatum manages it. He’s convincing.
The story goes he was an overactive and at times “troublesome kid (that’s the word the profiles of him most favour when describing his youth), originally from Alabama before the family moved to Tampa, Florida. His dad fixed roofs and his mum worked for an airline. Channing was good it sport, sizeable for his age, and considered playing football at higher levels. He wrestled, did martial arts, and also learned to dance.
An unsuccessful period at College in West Virginia followed school, after which Charming moved back home and began working as a male stripper – the real-life material for the Magic Mike character. Eventually he moved out to Los Angeles, apparently without any firm idea of what he’d do there.
“I didn’t do much when I first got there,” he told Esquire’s Tom Chiarella for the magazine’s cover story on Tatum in December 2014. “I was roofer for a while. It was mostly long days and hours, and hours at night spent in dance clubs. I mostly learned to dance by hanging out in clubs and grinding on girls. Women, cars, alleys. Fun one night, then ugly, too. Then I started modelling. And the travel schedule, the food, the demands brought things together for me. That was a full day, with expectations every day. I’d never had that. Suddenly, every hour of the day was accounted for. Busy. And I never want to be without that again.”
Campaigns for the likes of Abercrombie & Fitch, Dolce & Gabbana, Sean John and Armani followed, while in between Tatum hit the LA audition circuit. He’d had a taste of the screen when he danced in Ricky Martin’s “She Bangs” video in 2000, but when he was cast in the 2005 Samuel L Jackson vehicle Coach Carter, about a high school basketball coach, the film career of the former tradie, stripper and athletic prodigy had now shifted to drive.
“I learned how to act in auditions, not even in movies, but by reading for Thug Number Two or Thug Number One Tatum told Vanity Fair. “You’re trying to learn by reading three lines and hoping that you get the part.” His physique and “fat neck from playing football” meant Tatum was never likely to be offered lawyers and bankers as roles, but he continued to impress as the muscle through a series of films both good and had in the next few years, earning the attention of critics and the praise of co-stars.
“There’s no vanity with Chan,” his co-star in Dear John, Amanda Seyfried, once told Details magazine. “That’s the first thing that struck me about him. I saw this intensely good-looking guy, and I expected some vanity. But he’s not like that at all. He’s not afraid to be embarrassed, not afraid to look stupid. One of the reasons he’s such a good actor is that he’s not afraid of anything.”
The role which truly showed the potential of Channing Tatum was the 2014 film Foxcatcher, playing real-life US Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz. Tatum’s physical yet emotionally vulnerable performance opposite the brilliant Mark Ruffalo was a stand-out, and evidence that while earlier he may have been regarded as “eye-candy”, there was much more than meets the eye.
“I’d come to this place where I didn’t want to just keep doing parts because I think the movies will do well,” he told Vanity Fair. “I want to do character work. I still like all the movies I’ve done but with Foxcatcher I went deeper. I became obsessed with everything about [Schultz], even the way he holds a fork… I’ve never dabbled in a sport that is more suffocating than freestyle wrestling. You have an opponent staring you in the face, trying to dominate you. It’s fear-driven. You don’t want everything you’ve worked for to go away in a second.”
A sentiment which perhaps describes his career, not that there’s any fear of that happening for the foreseeable future. Recently seen on Australian screens, first in the latest Quentin Tarantino flick The Hateful Eight and then the Coen Brothers retro Hollywood take, Hail, Caesar!, Tatum has a raft of work coming up, including lead billing for the sequel to Kingsman: Secret Service, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, opposite acting young gun Tagon Egerton.
Clearly the roles he’s securing are changing as his resume lengthens. Off screen he has been married to Jenna Dewan since 2005 – who he met on the set of the dance film, Step Up – and they have a daughter, Everly. Life is in a good place for the kid who was once diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia. And his ambition has not been sated yet.
“I would, in the end, like to know that I’ve made at least one movie that will stand the test of time, that will be up there with the work of the people I grew up watching.”
As seen in the Winter issue of Men’s Style Australia.