Magic Mike's stripped-down drama

By Michele Manelis

Michele Manelis talks to Channing Tatum and Matthew McConaughey about the real-life origins of their new stripper movie, Magic Mike.

Channing Tatum (centre) in Magic Mike, also starring Matthew McConaughey, and directed by Steven Soderbergh. Photo / Supplied
Channing Tatum (centre) in Magic Mike, also starring Matthew McConaughey, and directed by Steven Soderbergh. Photo / Supplied

The notion of the Academy-award winning director Steven Soderbergh - the man behind such issues-driven movies as Traffic, Erin Brockovich and Contagion - making a male stripper movie is a little surprising.

But though the subject matter is a little frothy, there's more to Magic Mike than abs-of-steel and sequinned thongs.

The movie is loosely based on the real experiences of actor Channing Tatum in his pre-Hollywood teenage years.

"Channing and I were talking on the set of Haywire," says Soderbergh. "I knew he had a production company and he told me he was working on this idea based on the days when he was a stripper," he recalls.

"I said to him, 'that's one of the best ideas I've ever heard. You need to make sure you do that soon, because if you're having that idea, somebody else is having that idea.'

"Then a year went by and he emailed me and said, 'are you still interested?' We immediately sat down and I said, 'tell me everything you remember'."

There was no script in place when Soderbergh signed on. Tatum's producing partner, Reid Carolin, came up with the storyline, and off they went.

"It was an insane huge leap of faith on Steven's part," says Tatum.

Tatum, who headlines the film's beefcake troupe, which includes Matthew McConaughey and True Blood's Joe Manganiello, plays Magic Mike, a fictional character named after Tatum's onstage persona.

Set in a Tampa, Florida, the film reveals the dark side of an exotic dancer's lifestyle and offers a glimpse into what happens when he's not gyrating sans pants to It's Raining Men, amid hysterical screams from female patrons.

Says Tatum: "I was never ashamed of being a stripper but it's also not something anyone would be proud of either. I wouldn't suggest anyone should pursue it. However, I learned a lot of life lessons about human behaviour by watching these guys and learning from their mistakes."

As with any nightclub lifestyle, drugs are almost always involved. Tatum says, "I was lucky. I got out unscathed," he says, candidly. "But a lot of them didn't so do well. I was only in that world for nine months, whereas some of them end up in dead or in jail."

Evidently, Tatum's former lifestyle didn't get the better of him and this 32-year-old Alabama-born actor is now regarded as one of Hollywood's biggest players.

He's starred in such successful movies as Dear John, The Vow and, more recently, 21 Jump Street. It didn't hurt his personal life, either. He's married to dancer/actress Jenna Dewan-Tatum, whom he met on the set of dance movie Step Up.

"She knew she was marrying a stripper," he laughs. "So, it was kind of a prerequisite that I had to strip for her at some point."

McConaughey, famous for taking his shirt off in many of his films, was happy to sign on.

"When Steven pitched the idea to me, I thought: I'm probably going to be in one male stripper movie in my life. If I don't do it, I'm going to regret it. So, I'll go walk the plank.

"Stripping on stage really is like stepping off the plank. That whole performance is the time when you're in the air before you hit the water. It was very nerve-racking.

"And as far as understanding the world of strip clubs, I'd never been to a male revue, but I'd been to a couple of female strip clubs. So Channing took me to a couple of them to watch the guys perform."

As for physical training, McConaughey says, "If you want to see six guys who are already in good shape get in great shape, tell them they're going to be showing their backside on a 40-foot screen in a film. Not only that but to do it in front of 300 women; that will make a man go and work out and it will also make him watch what he's eating."

And, of course, there's the element of amusement in watching men being sexually objectified in an arena traditionally monopolised by women.

Says McConaughey: "Well, it's a very different experience for women at a male revue than it is for men at a female show. The men usually go alone, they watch and they think whatever they're thinking. But the women touch. There's no barrier," he laughs. "They break the law. But women are not threatening in any way, so it's a very different thing."

The Texan-born movie star took to his stripping duties like a fish to water. "I was nervous and I was scared," he laughs, " But I knew I had it in me."

What: Magic Mike, directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring Channing Tatum and Matthew McConaughey.
When: Opens at cinemas July 26

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