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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.
Talk a little bit about collaborating with Roland, what did you think it was going to be like before you got here and what has it been like in actuality?
It’s funny because I’ve always said that movies are a direct mirror of the director, I mean they just are. And it is totally clear in this instance as well. Roland, when you go into his house, it is one of the most interesting places I’ve ever been in my life. There is so much unbelievable art. He’s really into propaganda art, all kinds from all different countries; every room in his house has a different propaganda theme. It’s very, very interesting.
He knows how to do things big, but he wants it to be fun, he doesn’t want it just to be big for big. He is really specific. He is an actor’s director, as big of movies as he does do, he does have very specific notes on what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. I think when I met him I didn’t know what to expect because I was just like, alright, big movie director, generally the spectacle is the most important thing and making sure that that’s correct. With Roland, I’ve had more fun on this movie because he’s a big kid.
Most directors will sit in these big movies--because you’re running behind always in the set ups--if the squibs go off and you didn’t get the shot now it’s a 30 minute reset, and he doesn’t get stressed…when you watch him at the monitors, he’s like a kid; his eyes are wide. He’s making motions; he’s like “Yes, yes!”
You can always tell how the take went by the way he yells cut. When he goes, “Cut! Ha!”, then you know it was a good one, if it’s “Cut…” You’re just like “Dammit, we’re going again.” But he enjoys it and I will make movies with him forever because of it, I really will. We’re talking about something else because, I just really do, I think he’s one of the more enjoyable directors. What we do is not brain surgery, but especially the schedule we’re on right now, working 6 day weeks, 15 hour days, it can be grueling and you can lose your patience like that [snaps fingers].
You were talking about how Roland seems like a big kid and that seems to permeate the whole set, can you talk more about the energy of this environment?
The director sets the tone, and if someone’s ruling it with an iron fist, people are quiet and the days go long in my experience. When there’s a very serious tone, the days just drag. When there’s someone who in between takes is joking or laughing the days go quick. That can be a good thing or a bad thing, but I think that he completely is aware of what we’re doing. He loves filmmaking and he thinks it should be fun. It will be our 15th hour and he’s the only one still having fun and we’re all just like, “God…” We’re just exhausted and he’s like, “Alright, a little more time, let’s go!” And you’re just like “Alright, here we go,” and then you just do it.
I think I would love to make movies with people like that for the rest of my life, because at the end of the day, you look back on it and no matter what the movie does, this was time out of my life that you don’t get back. Whatever it does in the box office is just a whole other thing. That’s a whole other campaign of selling the movie, doing the whole thing, trying to be creative. This is our version right now of being creative, and when you can look back on this and go, “Alright no matter how it does I was really happy with that time spent in my life,” then that’s saying something in my opinion.
You had to be a little bit surprised at the success of all your movies this year, even with Magic Mike breaking 100 million. Talk a little bit about what it means to you to see all these films doing so well. What’s it been like for you over the year?
I feel like I’ve won the lottery three times, I’ve used that line a lot, even getting into this industry is winning the lottery. Jonah and I said it a lot when we were doing Jump Street; you don’t work any less hard on any one of these movies. You don’t phone it in. You’re there trying to make every scene, trying to make every day as good as possible, and there’s so many things that can go wrong. You could have a great movie and you don’t know how to sell it, or the marketing people don’t get it, (so the) movie goes nowhere and it’s a failure. You can have a crappy movie and then they have a great marketing campaign, everybody sees it and they think that’s what you’re doing and you’re just like, “Shit.” You don’t ever know.
For The Vow to have done what it did, I think the marketing campaign was classic and really perfect for that movie. I think me and Jonah’s chemistry in (Jump Street) was amazing and Chris (Miller) and Phil (Lord) murdered that movie. They completely knocked it out of the park, and you just don’t know, you just don’t know if those things are going to shine through. Rachel and I had a great time on (The Vow).
Then Magic Mike, we had no idea what was going to happen with that thing. It was such an outlier that we knew how we wanted to make it. And that’s why we made it for so little money, because we wanted to make it outside of the studio system. Soderbergh knew what kind of movie he wanted to make and even along the way we were like, “Are we doing this right?” We tested the movie; it did not test well. It tested in the 50s and we were like “Oh shit, what did we do?”
We went back to the drawing board on the ending, we made the ending a little different, and we tested it again and it only tested 69 or something, and we were just like, “We are screwed.” No, not screwed, but then we just kept telling ourselves, “Okay, this movie doesn’t test, this movie doesn’t test, it’s going to be fine. This movie is not a testable movie.”
We were running circles in our heads. I can’t even explain to you guys what that feels like, when you’re just like, “I put all my money into this movie and I’m praying that it works,” and that’s the kind of results you’re getting back. Then the online was skyrocketing, the press from it and the tracking of was tracking like The Avengers, the awareness online. The normal tracking was abysmal. They were so far away from each other we had no idea what the movie was going to be. We were just white-knuckling the weekend; we had no idea what was going to happen. It worked.
I don’t feel like any of these movies I knew for a fact were going to work. The Vow, I didn’t know if people were going to want to see it, but we felt good about it. We we’re like, “Alright, either way, I liked the movie for what it was,” and I think we knew exactly what we were trying to do. Jump Street, I knew we had a great time, it didn’t matter, didn’t know if it was going to do well. Magic Mike, you just don’t know. I think that just luck, luck and a lot of hard work. It’s got to be at the right time. Like Magic Mike came out during 50 Shades of Grey. I think it was kind of perfect, there was this whole 50 Shades of Grey movement happening and Magic Mike just, “Bam!” Just hit it, and we couldn’t have lucked out anymore.
Speaking of Magic Mike, you did not mention Magic Mike 2 when you were listing your projects.
We’re scratching our heads because Soderbergh is gone, for directing, at least for a long time. He wants to paint and I think he should, I really do. I think he wants to be done for a while and I don’t think he should make movies if he wants to be done. I think these last two that he made, from what I hear, I haven’t seen A Bitter Pill [later retitled Side Effects], and I haven’t seen Liberace [later retitled Behind the Candelabra], but I hear they’re some of his best movies, and I think he should go out on a high note, for a little while.
So that leaves us with who’s going to direct Magic Mike 2? Greg Jacobs said he would do it if we come up with the right script. Warners was like, “Well, why don’t you guys do it?”--me and Reid--and I’m like, “I am not going to direct my first movie behind Soderbergh!” There’s no win there [laughs], there’s zero win. But Greg has been working with Stephen long enough and Stephen would produce it. I think it would probably be Greg if we did it or somebody completely different. It would almost be like reboot, like we’d get someone like Roland to do the thing and just completely change it…We’re dying, everybody’s dying to do it, it’s just it’s got to be right. None of us just want to do some cash grab of a sequel. We want it to be good, because it was a special one for all of us and we all just jumped in family-wise on it.
But there definitely is going to be a stage version, a Broadway version, so we’re slowly pounding away on that. None of us has ever done anything like that so we’re writing a light story and we’re trying to find somebody to really write the stage version because none of us know how to do it! [laughs]
Would you reprise the role?
We’re thinking we want it to be a musical so I’m not… I might do it as a “ha ha” one night, but I don’t think you all want to see me sing and pony. I don’t think it would be so good. I wouldn’t mind doing it, but I don’t know how to sing like that, singing for the rafters, not my bag.