Enough nudity, please

Channing Tatum, who has taken off his clothes in a lot of movies, took on heist caper Logan Lucky as he gets to stay clothed

There are many reasons why Channing Tatum chose to shoot humorous heist caper Logan Lucky, one of which was the fact that he gets to keep his shirt on.

The 37-year-old American has disrobed in a whole clutch of movies, perhaps most notably his pair of Magic Mike films, which drew on his experience working in a strip club.

"I do take my shirt off in a lot of movies," he says with a smile. "I have taken my pants off in a lot of movies as well. In every movie, there seems to be a point where I have to take my stuff off."

He even does it in films he has produced.

"I am like, 'Why have I done this to myself? This is so stupid. Why?' But they do let me go outside with my shirt on these days."

The shirt stays on throughout Logan Lucky, which sees Tatum team up for his fifth film with director Steven Soderbergh.

He takes on the role of Jimmy Logan, a blue-collar labourer in West Virginia who decides to rob a race-car circuit after he is laid off from his construction job.

The likes of Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, Katie Holmes and Hilary Swank also feature, but it is Tatum who takes centre stage.

The film opens here tomorrow.

Indeed, the scriptwriter, Rebecca Blunt, is an old friend of Tatum's and wrote the film and lead character with him in mind.

"I see Jimmy as an alternative version of Chan's own story," she says. "Chan's from a small southern town, he won a football scholarship but ended up blowing out his knee before the season started, so he became a stripper."

She then wondered what might have happened if he had not become a stripper and was not subsequently spotted by a modelling agent, a move that eventually launched his acting career. What might his life have been like if he had returned to the small town he had grown up in?

"Rebecca is a really beautiful woman and we go way back," says Tatum as he smiles coyly.

And does he, like his old friend, believe his latest character on screen is akin to an alternative version of himself?

"Probably," he concedes. "I did play American football in college and I played in a school in West Virginia, which was kind of weird and crazy. I played for a year. I didn't get badly injured though."

In real life, Tatum says, he simply got tired of playing football.

"I had played for 10 years of my life. Once you get to a certain level, you have to want to really play, and it is not fun any more. You are playing to keep your scholarship and I was not good in school."

He struggled in school, with attention deficit disorder, and was tested for learning disabilities and dyslexia.

"I was questioning all that and just wanted to go home and figure what the rest of my life was going to be because I kind of had put my entire life into football. And that's a bit like Jimmy."

Though Logan Lucky is pitched as a fun-filled heist movie - something of a hillbilly Ocean's Eleven (2001) - it also has a political edge buried beneath all the shenanigans.

For a start, it highlights the difficulties blue-collar workers face in places such as West Virginia, offering an insight into the lives of frustrated Americans who voted President Donald Trump into office.

With its coal industry now consigned to the past, the state offers precious few opportunities for those wanting to forge a better life.

"In West Virginia, almost across the board, there's very, very little opportunity and it is a problem in America," says Tatum. "It's been a problem for a while. Ever since the coal industry shut down, they have just shut the door. It would be like if Wall Street left New York or Hollywood left Los Angeles.

"Generations of families have made it their home and they can't just leave. The government is telling them to leave, but it's where they have lived for 50 years and they don't want to go."

He says he "got lucky" when he moved back to Tampa, where there were more opportunities. "But I have framed houses and I could easily see myself moving mud around in a hole somewhere."

Tatum's chiselled looks spared him that fate and, after finding work as a model, he moved on to acting, first in commercials and then in movies.

He was dubbed "the next Marlon Brando" after his breakout performance in 2006's indie drama A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints, and soon stepped into bigger roles, appearing in the likes of war drama Stop-Loss (2008) and the G.I. Joe movies (The Rise Of Cobra, 2009, and Retaliation, 2013).

As his star rose, he went on to work with Soderbergh on Magic Mike (2012) and its sequel, Magic Mike XXL (2015), which he also produced. He also headlined actioncomedy films 21 Jump Street (2012) and its 2014 sequel, 22 Jump Street.

He is set to co-produce a malefocused sequel to the supernatural comedy Ghostbusters reboot (2016) and is developing a superhero movie based on the X-Men character Gambit, who is incredibly skilled in card-throwing, handto-hand combat and the use of a bo staff.

Tatum's connection to the character stretches back to a moment in his childhood, when he was living in Mississippi.

"There wasn't a comic store, but the cartoon was on TV and he was this cool Cajun guy," Tatum recalls.

"And he was the easiest person to play as a kid because you could just unscrew the broom handle, get a pack of cards and wrap a bandana around your head. We had a lot of fun throwing cards and trying to take our friends' eyes out across the living room."

His affection for the character comes through.

"He is just cool, man. He is one of the few superheroes that has an actual culture to him. He doesn't talk like a vanilla American. He is from a specific geo-location, New Orleans, which is a really specific thing."

Before the Gambit movie takes off, Tatum will be seen in the comedy spy sequel Kingsman: The Golden Circle, playing an American secret agent called Tequila.

"That first Kingsman just kind of came out of nowhere," he says of the 2014 film. "I thought it was really cool."

Kingsman: The Golden Circle opens here on Sept 21 and, as to whether he is allowed to keep his shirt on, well, we will have to wait and see.

•Logan Lucky opens here tomorrow.

'Military training was some of the best acting training I've had'

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 06, 2017, with the headline Enough nudity, please. Subscribe