Channing Tatum gives fans more dancing, less story in Magic Mike XXL

Hot star: Channing Tatum (right) in Magic Mike XXL in which he also calls the shots as executive producer.
Hot star: Channing Tatum (above) in Magic Mike XXL in which he also calls the shots as executive producer.PHOTO: WARNER BROS

Channing Tatum, who reprises the title character of a stripper from the first Magic Mike instalment, is open about admitting he was one

Channing Tatum is about as hot as it gets in Hollywood, and not just because of his sex appeal.

As Magic Mike XXL opens in cinemas this week, the star can lay claim to launching the first film franchise about male strippers - a story inspired by his own youthful adventures.

He not only reprises the title character from the 2012 first instalment - a construction worker-turned- stripper - but is also calling the shots as an executive producer, a role the former model and dancer has grown increasingly confident of as his career soars.

Despite a growing catalogue of success both on and off camera, there is no hint of self-importance when Tatum chats with Life and other media in Los Angeles, where he is a favourite with the press because of his approachability and humour.

The versatile performer - who has scored hits in almost every genre, from comedy (21 Jump Street, 2012) and romance (The Vow, 2012) to action (White House Down, 2013) and drama (Foxcatcher, 2014) - is almost absurdly humble, given to saying he is "not smart enough" when asked to comment on one thing or another.

I wanted to tell people I had been a stripper, but my publicist was like, 'Hell, no'

CHANNING TATUM

But Tatum, 35, was obviously smart enough to see the potential of making a movie about the wild life of a male entertainer, a profession he dabbled in for eight months in the 1990s - long before he became a successful model, dancer and actor.

"It was just an interesting time in my life. I met some really crazy characters," says the star, whose stories so enthralled director Steven Soderbergh on the set of their 2011 movie Haywire, the latter agreed to helm Magic Mike, which he and Tatum took the unusual step of self-financing.

In hindsight, it was a genius move - the film cost just US$7 million to make but went on to earn US$167 million, making Tatum one of the top earners in Hollywood in 2013.

Not everyone, though, was convinced that an aspiring leading man - whose biggest hits at that point were the Step Up dance movies (2006, 2008) and action flick G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra (2009) - should be so open about his dubious past.

"I wanted to tell people I had been a stripper, but my publicist was like, 'Hell, no,'" he says, grinning at a sombre-looking woman sitting behind him, who dourly confirms this. "I've always wanted to do something with it and finally it came out and I was like, 'We can talk about this!'"

Another thing Tatum is open about is his goal with Magic Mike XXL.

Whereas Magic Mike focused heavily on the seedy underbelly of this world, the second chapter would be more of a playful romp with its story of a road trip to a stripper convention, a change of tone that Tatum and his production company, Iron Horse Entertainment, decided on after reading message boards where fans were demanding "more dancing and less story".

So while it will look as stylish as the original - Soderbergh has stayed on as cinematographer and editor despite handing the director's chair to long-time assistant Gregory Jacobs - Tatum has no illusions about this being an art film.

"Look, at the end of the day, it's a stripper movie," he says. Hence the extended dance sequences, with catchy tunes and screaming women in the background.

"We didn't want to have no story, but it's a fine needle to thread. We wanted the movie to be a bit of a tease in itself: You let yourself into it and hopefully you get a big bite of what you really want in the end... and maybe something you didn't think you were getting," Tatum says.

The same could be said of the man himself, who has come a long way since appearing in Pepsi commercials and Ricky Martin music videos in his 20s, and shimmying his way into Hollywood with the Step Up movies.

A well-received turn in last year's indie Foxcatcher established the action-and-comedy star as a sought-after dramatic actor too, a status he has cemented with roles in Quentin Tarantino's widely anticipated The Hateful Eight, due out later this year, and Coen brothers' Hail, Caesar, to be released next year.

Tatum, whose production company is developing another hot property, the upcoming all-male Ghostbusters reboot, says he has never felt underestimated or at a disadvantage because of his background as a hip-hop and street dancer.

"No, I looked at it as all strengths for me. I got probably my biggest break on Step Up. You just use what you have."

For those who have seen him move, it may be a surprise to hear that before that film, he never really considered himself a dancer.

"I never looked at myself that way. I didn't even know how to count music before that movie," says Tatum, who taught himself to dance in clubs and at quinceaneras - they are sort of like sweet sixteen parties for girls in certain Hispanic cultures.

"Abuelas (Spanish for grandmothers) taught me a lot," he adds, grinning. "I would grab them because I was tired of being the tall skinny white kid in the back who didn't know how to dance.

"But I've always loved movement and I didn't have a teacher so I would just watch it in movies and try and mimic it. And you can't, because it's super technical and hard, so I would do my own version."

Another debt he owes to dancing - it is how he met his wife, Jenna Dewan-Tatum, who was his co-star in Step Up and provided a lot of in- put for his sexy Magic Mike moves.

Dewan-Tatum, 34, would take breaks from filming her now-defunct television series Witches Of East End to visit the Magic Mike XXL set, where she happily critiqued his raunchy routines.

"She had a very instrumental part in this, no joke. It's probably weird for people to understand but I would be choreographing dry- humping down in the gym with, like, her best friend, and she would go, 'Yeah, that works, I think you should do more of that,'" says Tatum, referring to Magic Mike XXL choreographer Alison Faulk, who befriended Dewan-Tatum when they were back-up dancers for Janet Jackson.

Now, he and his wife do not have as much time for dancing as they used to because they are parents to a two-year-old girl, Everly.

He says he is more than happy for his daughter to watch the Magic Mike movies some day, although he jokes that he is setting aside money for her to undergo therapy after she does.

"I can't change the fact that I did this in real life," he says. "And I'm not ashamed of anything."

• Magic Mike XXL opens in Singapore tomorrow.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 08, 2015, with the headline ''I was a real stripper''. Print Edition | Subscribe