Last September, when I went to visit the set of the latest Channing Tatum vehicle, White House Down, I was very aware of the fact I'd be speaking to Hollywood's most buzzed about new star. Between the critically praised spy thriller Haywire, to the big romantic hit The Vow, the surprisingly wonderful 21 Jump Street, and the summer sensation that was Magic Mike, Tatum had proven himself to be so much more than a handsome hunk. His being deemed People's Sexiest Man of the Year was still weeks away, but already 2012 was undeniably the Year of Tatum.
I'd heard people talk about Tatum's star power, and how it is impactful in person. This is true, but not in the way I expected. Yes, he's sexy. But the charisma people who've met him speak of taps into something deeper. Tatum is a confident performer who deeply loves his craft and feels truly grateful for the chance to make movies. As we spoke about White House Down and working with director Roland Emmerich, I was struck by how present he was, even when asked questions he'd surely heard before. Nothing he said felt rehearsed, and he seemed freshly excited and sincere as we talked about his amazing year, his hopes for his biggest action role to date, and what he has in mind for 2013. Basically, it was easy to see why so many so many filmmakers are fighting for his attention.
When you thought about being the star of one of these big action movies, did you watch any of those movies or have you been a fan of those movies?
Yeah, of course, I was an 80’s/90’s baby so you went to the movie theater every weekend and there was one on, whether it was Stallone, Van Damme, Seagal or Schwarzenegger himself.
Did you ever think you were going to be in this type of movie? Because you started off in a small way and have been billowing up and up and up, and now you’re top lining an Independence Day-type action movie. Is that kind of trippy and fun?
I think every step of the way is trippy in this. You never think you’re going to be in a love story. You never think you’re going to be in a comedy. You never think anything. I’ve said it before, that movies are the highest stakes make believe game in the world, and this is truly the most highest stakes. It’s unreal how fast this project got going to begin with, and all the people that just jumped on immediately. This movie got its script sold like that [snaps fingers], and then it went into production like that [snaps fingers]. I met Roland two or three days after he decided to take the movie. He had a similar movie, I think, that he was writing and this just sort of came along and he took it over. But I don’t think you can ever plan for anything like this; this is nuts. I’m getting to shoot Javelins (missile launchers)—not shoot them, but stop people from shooting them. I get shot at the whole way. It’s cool.
Talk a little bit about what it’s like for you after having so many successful projects this year, the scripts that are being offered to you now and the debate between, “What do I take next to keep this sort of pace going?”
That’s a good question because, ultimately, for the last two years I’ve been trying to get more behind the camera than I have in front of it. And it just seems like interesting movies and big movies like this (keep coming). I’ve always wanted to do a Die Hard. Die Hard’s one of my favorite films. To do it with Roland, there’s only a few directors that can do what Roland does on an international scale and on an action scale. Then when I met him it was sort of just like, “I’m definitely in.”
Then the Wachowskis just came up (for Jupiter Ascending), Bennett Miller (with Foxcatcher), so I can’t say no to those people, [laughs] and then a sequel to Jump Street. I can’t let Jonah (Hill) down, but after that we (producing partner Reid Carolin and me) are calling it stop. We’re not going to do anything until we write and direct something. But, yeah, you’re right, the things that do come by are getting more interesting. And it’s great, but I don’t want to forget about the things that are really on my dream list. It would take one of the titans to get me to get into another movie again.
You already know what’s going to happen though, because after you wrap on Jump Street 2 there’s going to be some sick project sitting on your lap.
Unless it’s a sick director I probably will still say no, unless it’s one of the top three directors that I like, you know, like Paul Thomas Anderson, (David) Fincher, somebody like that. Then I’ll jump for one of them. But other than that I’m going to stick to my guns. Because there are so many great stories and characters out there that you can just keep saying yes, but you’ve got to eventually make the decision that if it’s something you really want, then do it for yourself.
What was it about out the story of White House Down and this character that made you say “I definitely want to play this”?
Reid [Carolin] and I, my partner, we always try to figure out either for my character or the movie, what is it if you had to say it in one sentence? I think for me, I want to be a dad eventually, and we tried to sum it up like this: a guy that ends up saving the leader or the free world through the love of his daughter. I think that was sort of what we hoped—not in a hard handed or on-the-nose-way, but in a roundabout way—that was the reason that he ended up in this situation. It was all because of his daughter. And he’s probably not the best husband or even dad, but he’s more of—I have friends that have dads that are better friends then they are dads, they’re more like buddies than they are actual parental advisors. So I think that’s more what John Cale is, and this is the first time he’s really been able to love his daughter through what he’s good at, and that’s just dogged determination.
I thought that was interesting and also just to do a movie like this right now, during the whole political showdown that’s happening. The perception in the world that’s happening right now of us, the whole thing that’s going on in Libya, we have a black president. There’s so much political stuff happening right now, it’s interesting. This is not Hollywood getting on a soapbox whatsoever. I think that there’s definitely going to be points brought up in a movie that are political, but I don’t think this movie preaches.
I don’t really think Jamie Foxx is doing Obama, even though he’s doing very politiciany type things, which are very staple to ever politician. He does little things every once and a while that are sort of very Obama, which is fun, but you’ll never be like “Oh, he’s trying to be Obama”. He actually looks more like Denzel in the movie than he looks like Obama. It’s hilarious, I’ll be like, “Denzel- sorry, Jamie!”
Reid and Brad were talking about your chemistry with Jamie being important in this, how did you guys work that out? Because obviously this is a super tight schedule, 14 months from script to release.
Jamie and I got along from jump. Oddly enough we had met for the first time at the spring/summer of Sony whatever thing that they have, I don’t understand exactly, but it’s awesome so I’m just like [laughs] “Yeah, I’m going.” I met him on that, he was there for Django (Unchained) and I was there to sell Jump Street.
I just met him and he’s maybe one of the singlehandedly most talented people I’ve ever met in my entire life. The man can literally do anything. There’s a piano in one of the hallways that leads to the residence in the White House, and in between takes he just over there playing jazz, and you’re just like, “shit”. Then he stands up and he’s Jamie Foxx, kid from Texas, you know, from maybe not the highest class part of town. He’s one of the boys. Then you get him into the scene, and he’s the president. It’s incredible to watch him and he’s such a good guy. I’m learning a lot from him as far as even how to just be in this industry. It’s cool, I love him to death.
When you’re shooting a scene like you did today and throughout the action stuff, how much do you rely completely on the choreography from the fight coordinators and how much do you go on instinct?
There’s a dance that happens (in stunt work) and that’s why I really like doing it with stunt men, because they know how to dance generally better than actors do. It is choreography and if you aren’t used to doing it things can go wrong. We’re dealing with a big, huge pipe (the Javelin) that had hard edges on it, and if you move that thing even the slightest bit of the wrong direction while I’m going in it can shear off the side of your face. It is a lot of controlled violence. You go really hard up into a moment and then you stop. So I’d say it’s about 50/50. But you really do rely on the other person, that they’re taking care of you and you’re trying to take care of them.
Then there are certain moments where it’s just like “Well, this is just going to suck for both of us.” There’s one gag that we’re going to do today that’s going to suck, it’s going to really suck. I go to knee him, he grabs my knee and basically picks me up over his head and we fall off a ledge onto a glass roof.
The stunt guys aren’t going to do that?
The stunt guys to do the “pre”, before the cameras go; I do generally all my stuff except for motorcycles and cars. That stuff I don’t know how to do as well as certain people do.
So this movie’s going to be as much of you as possible?
All me, they’re still trying to talk me out of one stunt. I’m going to look at it and if I think I can do it; it’s just a fall, a 25-foot fall, but the way you have to fall is bad because you have to fall on your side or on your back and that’s always dangerous.
So that’s the only one in this movie that’s questionable?
Yeah, that’s the only one questionable. Everything else will be me. I like doing this stuff though, it’s kind of the whole reason that you want to do the movie. When you’re reading it you’re like, “Oh, I get to dive out a window? Cool! I get to jump off a building? Great!” So I love doing that stuff, it’s like the stuff we used to do in high school to be stupid and fun.
Now you get paid to do it.
Yeah, now I get paid to do it and it’s a lot safer, because you have people around that are watching out for you.