Actors Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer and Matthew McConaughey take the plunge as a troupe of hard partying male strippers in Steven Soderbergh's comedy/drama, 'Magic Mike'.
Seductively unbuttoning your shirt? Stripping down to your undies? Peeling off your clothes and acting sexy might seem like it's all in a day's work for many actors. And yet - according to Magic Mike stars Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer (Beastly, I Am Number Four), and Matthew McConaughey - it's actually one of the toughest jobs in the world. "Curiously enough, I'd rather play a serial killer or a rapist than a male stripper," admits Pettyfer, who is at the film's centre as the college drop-out who stumbles into Tatum's late night world of sleazy entertainment, where picking up women is easy and drugs are on tap. "The embarrassment factor was enormous. But you just have to dive in head-first, and after being so nervous, it was actually very liberating taking off my clothes and getting a buzz off it."
Based on Channing Tatum's own experiences as an exotic dancer in Florida when he was eighteen, the actor is at pains to point out that Magic Mike is not actually his personal story. But the idea of transforming that formative experience into a film had been at the back of his mind for years until a casual conversation with director, Steven Soderbergh, made it a reality. "I was working with Steven on Haywire, and he said that it was a great idea for a film, and that we should do it fast," recalls Tatum.
It actually turned out to be a lot faster than he expected. Soderbergh - on a mission to complete all his directing jobs before taking an alleged early retirement - gave Tatum and his producing partner, Reid Carolin, four months' notice to complete a script, with a shooting date slated for September last year. "It was too good an idea to wait any longer. I thought that someone else might steal it," says Soderbergh, talking with FilmInk in late June, just two weeks before he begins directing Michael Douglas as Liberace in Behind The Candelabra, his last film before taking a retirement break to focus on his art.
With Channing in the eponymous role of Magic Mike, there was little time to spare, and Soderbergh immediately cast Matthew McConaughey as Dallas, a veteran stripper and hustling owner of the male strip club where the story begins. Bringing a few personal touches to the character - including a semi-naked bongo-playing routine - McConaughey gave over to his performance completely. "I felt like I was in a circus, and that I got to be the P.T. Barnum character," the actor laughs. "You're always going to do a better job if you 100% commit to it, so I just committed to being as sexy as I could."
Soderbergh cast some fine eye candy in the well-chiseled shapes of Alex Pettyfer, Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer and Adam Rodriguez, and the guys bonded over nights out at male strip clubs, and their own sexy work-out schedules and male grooming sessions.
"We all spent time talking with male strippers, and the thing that they all seemed to share in common was the notion that they were only going to be in the business for a short time," says Pettyfer. "You'd soon find out that they'd all been doing it for years. It's one of those professions where time just slips by, and before you know it, you're in it for the long haul. Drugs are also a part of that culture. We touch on that in the film, but it would have been easy to go even darker with that. There's a very dark side to this world."
Tatum prefers not to elaborate on his own real life experience with the drug culture involved in male stripping, but the actor does point out that easy money and late nights lead to a variety of possibilities. "I was making about US$150 a night, which you can't really survive on, but it seemed like a lot of money back then," Tatum says. "It's all cash, all under the table, and the drinks are on the house. Too often, it got in the way of doing other jobs and deciding what you want to do with your life. It was easy to get into trouble. I was lucky because I got out unscathed. It's not something that I would really recommend."
Having produced, co-financed and also starred in Magic Mike, Tatum punches home the fact that this was a real labour of love for him. "Reid, who is my best friend as well as my producing partner, and I put our hearts into it," he says. "It's a bizarre film that we know we haven't seen before. There's stuff physically that you haven't seen before, although it's a simple story. In a way, it's very Saturday Night Fever."
Magic Mike is released on July 26. This is an excerpt from a feature included in the current issue of FilmInk, which is on sale now and a digital version can be downloaded here. For those who prefer something a little more interactive, the story's also featured on our bi-monthly iPad edition which has just went live here.