At the recent Los Angeles press day for “Magic Mike,” which tells the story of a successful stripper who takes a newcomer under his wing, there were a lot of questions about thongs – certainly more than are usually asked at a press conference. But with director Steven Soderbergh at the helm of the film and the center of the panel of contributors who brought it to life, much more was ultimately discussed than just where the cast purchased their undergarments, and how they chose the ones that they felt best represented their characters’ personalities. Rather, Soderbergh, screenwriter Reid Carolin, and stars Channing Tatum, Matthew McConaughey, Matt Bomer and Joe Mangianello all offered some substantial insights about the making of the movie – which, as it turns out, did include some rather involved and thoughtful experiences with thongs.
Here’s what they all had to say about the making of “Magic Mike” which hits theaters this Friday, June 29th.
There are a lot of dance montages in this movie. Are we going to see the full numbers on the DVD, like Matt’s Ken Doll number?
Steven Soderbergh: We have edited together the full-length versions of all the routines. They’re pretty disturbing. Honestly, we sent them all to Sue Kroll [President Of Worldwide Marketing] at Warner Brothers and she said, “I really like these a lot.” I think it’s not for men, these things. It made me really uncomfortable to watch them. They’re what, we did ten or twelve. To watch them all back to back was really disturbing. So, I don’t know.
Channing Tatum: I don’t think that people get that they all end the exact same way. They all start clothed and end naked, and there’s no really cool editing happening to miss the really gory parts. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Matthew, how was your first dance routine — were you nervous?
Matthew McConaughey: Sure — I was very nervous, yeah. Before going out on the stage, to dance even if you’re not taking your clothes off, for everyone live is kind of nerve-wracking, but then knowing you have to strip down, very nerve-wracking. Then after doing it once, God, I wanted to get up there and do it again. That was a lot of fun. When I first talked to Steven, he called to offer the role of Dallas to me. He had pitched the story and told me who this guy was and I was laughing really hard on the phone and said yes. I said, “Can you give me one line just so I can hang up the phone and walk away here and my imagination can go somewhere?” He said, “Well, this guy Dallas is pretty connected with UFOs, man.” So, that was a great launch pad. It was a pretty roofless bit of direction on the phone in the beginning and so I knew that I was going to be able to fly and that was really fun to play someone so committed in many ways.
It seems that if you made a movie about female strippers and men reacting excitedly as the women do here that it’d be lascivious. What is it that differentiates those two experiences that allows us to enjoy this experience and see this as fun?
Tatum: I just think we’re trying to do our part to objectify men for the first time in movies.
Is there something about the way you shot it that makes it seem like a more celebratory experience?
Soderbergh: I just can’t believe we’re having a press conference for a stripper movie. It’s really hard to be serious. Look, now that people are starting to see the film, I think there might’ve been a concern for men who were having to see the film, that really the movie was so driven towards the female audience, that there would be nothing in it for them to sort of latch onto. Of course I knew that wasn’t what I wanted to do, that in point of fact some of the issues that the male characters are going through are issues that all men confront about what they want. Men tend to define themselves by what they do, and so if you’re dealing with a character who’s trying to figure that out, or multiple characters, then there’s something there for guys, too. When we tested the film the female scores were not significantly bigger than the male scores. I mean, guys liked it. The trick is, I think, getting them to come, but we’ll see what happens.
Matthew, do you feel that this is a renaissance year for you?
McConaughey: Well, I made five in a row last year. I went back to back to back to back to back, and it was my most creative, constructive and fun working year I’ve ever had. I did not have one single day in all five films where I was not excited to get out of bed in the morning and go to work. I didn’t have one hour of complacency in any of the work I did in five films, and I’m happy to be able to say that because that’s not always been the case. It’s fortunate to be able to say that, and I got to work with a lot of very interesting directors and some very interesting stories and all characters that didn’t really pander or placate to any laws, government, parental guidance, what have you. So, they were very, when I say committed characters, that’s really fun because it’s boundless how far you can go, almost four dimensionally. I mean, with Dallas, in this role, I couldn’t get pinned down with writing down ideas and things and sending off emails. The verbiage of this guy’s mind just kind of flew.
Did any of the ladies playing the club patrons ever take their roles too seriously?
Matt Bomer: Yeah, I think those were all happy accidents when those happened. It was a part of the world, and if they wanted to lick you in certain places or touch you, or whatever, it was welcome. It was just a part of the world we were creating.
Tatum: You’ve got to commit.
So, that helped to inform your performance?
Tatum: Very much so. Actually, they were there for a while with us and they became sort of our friends. You’d get off stage and they’d go, “That was a really good one. Really, that part where you did the thing, that was great.”
McConaughey: Yeah, they were crazy during the dances and then afterwards they’d become very motherly, like wanting to take care of us. “That was a good one. You done good today,” especially after a few weeks.
Reid, how do you write this kind of a movie?
Tatum: Yes, Reid. Reid was in male strip clubs. I couldn’t even get him out. I was like, “Man, you don’t have to go to every one. They’re all pretty much the same.”
Reid Carolin: There was a personal research component, for sure. I think we went to a couple of these places and had some fun. Then just really sitting around with Chan and Steven. I looked at it really as it was written as much by committee as it was by me. There were so many awesome voices in the making of this movie that every crazy idea had a home. So, it was just really sitting around with these guys and kind of messing around.
Soderbergh: Well, there goes your nomination.
How does it feel to work on a movie that looks at what it means to be a man these days? Channing’s character has to become a man, to grow up.
Tatum: I think everybody either knows somebody or has experienced it themselves, whether they did or didn’t graduate college, afterwards you’re like, “Okay, what do I do now?” You have the dreams that you want to do and then you have to do other jobs until you can get to that dream. Mike, and I think a lot of these guys, just sort of fell into this thing and it was fun and years just sort of ticked on as the party was happening. Then all of a sudden you’re like, “Wow, it’s seven years later and I don’t really have very much to show for it. I’m not any closer to my dream.” At some point the party had just gotten away and it became your life. I think that’s happened to a lot of people. They just get sidetracked.
Channing and Matthew, you both had some great solo dances. Did you have any reservations about the lack of clothes?
Tatum: I just respect these guys for jumping into the thong with both feet and out onto the stage because I’ve done it before and it was still nerve racking for me. I can’t imagine what these guys had to go through. Bomer had to go first. I felt so bad for that. I was like, “Maybe I should go first.” Everybody just committed. Every single person up here just went for it, and I wish we had time in the movie to show everybody’s dance because everyone worked so hard on them. It’s a humbling thing to get up there and you’re left with very little to the imagination in front of almost three hundred people. It’s very, very nerve racking.
McConaughey: As far as trusting wardrobe, it is one of the larger leaps of faith to trust a thong.
Tatum: And sometimes they completely betray you.
McConaughey: It weighs like what a dollar bill weighs. It weighs nothing, and you’re going, “This is the only protection…at the end of this performance, this is the only protection that I have.” So, the first time you put it on you’re going, “What is every possible angle I can be in and I gotta check to see if it’s really covered, everything is covered.” You don’t understand how it is and for the most part it is.
Tatum: For the most part.
McConaughey: I said this yesterday, but I had to put on the thong and kind of walk around and try to have normal conversations. You have to talk about football or what you ate last night, something. Then that’s what’s funny, and then you lean against a wall, like, “Now I’m just hanging out, man,” to get comfortable with it because the first time you put it on your body kind of contorts and you’re like, “I need straighten up, my shoulders back or something, hips out.” It is somewhat unnatural. Channing would be there just talking about what’s going on in the scene with Soderbergh. He’s in his red thong, just working it out, behind the scenes producer work.
Soderbergh: Channing had a great phrase about all of that because I felt, one of the appeals of it to me was if everybody is dressed like that every conversation is funny. There’s no wrong answer. Anybody who starts having a serious conversation while they’re wearing a thong, it’s going to be funny. But you said also, when you first got into it, your mantra was, “It’s only weird if you make it weird.”
Tatum: It’s true, very, very true.
Soderbergh: So, that was the attitude that everybody took, which is it doesn’t have to be weird if you don’t want it to be weird.
McConaughey: There’s nothing weird about Kevin Nash in a thong, talking to you about Picasso’s cubism years.
Tatum: What’s weird about that?
So much of the film plays without dialogue, maybe just some music tracking over a scene. Is there an additional push the actors need to do to capture a scene in relative silence?
Soderbergh: Well, one of the things that people forget, I think, even a lot of people that make movies forget is that, in my mind, a movie should work with the sound off. You should be able to watch a movie without the sound and understand what’s going on. That’s your job, to build a series of chronological images that tell the story. I’m frustrated when I see movies in which I feel like the plot is being told to me instead of shown to me. I also like to stage scenes in which you see a lot of people in the frame at once. So, physicality becomes a really important part of that aesthetic. I need actors who understand how to use their bodies because the shot is going to be up there for a while. You’re going to see them, if not full length, probably down to the thigh. So, all of that stuff becomes really important. Sometimes I’m choreographing moves with the camera with moves that they’re doing. So, they’re sense of having to dance a little bit with the camera needs to be pretty pronounced. In this case, everybody, I think, fell into that very quickly and understood what I was trying to do.
Was there any sense of competition among the dancers when you were performing on stage?
Tatum: Steven was very competitive, yeah. Steven got up there and he gave it all, he gave it all up.
McConaughey: Let me say this on the competition side. We all got to see Channing dance for the first time so it was obvious. We were like, ‘Okay, the best I can do is get second place.”
Joe Manganiello: A very, very distant, distant second place. Chan is in a dancing movie. We’re in a dry humping movie.
How many hours did each of you spend in the gym, dieting and working on the choreography?
Soderbergh: I can only tell you that these guys were so disciplined. They ate like rabbits — it was lettuce with, like, lemon juice on it. It was nothing. Really, honestly, I’ve worked on movies with a lot of women who look great and take care of themselves. I’ve never seen this kind of diligence. Look, maybe it was just fear, but also, I didn’t sense any competition because I think the fear of doing it bonded you guys really quickly. They’re all sort of jumping out of the plane together. As soon as I saw the routines for the first time I knew we were going to be fine, because they were funny. Like, Joe, was saying, they were fun. They weren’t dirty. They were fun.
Tatum: It really was that thing where – I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again – most movies, when you’re done with your scene you go home. You go home, you’re like, “That’s it. I’m good. I’m going to go home for the day.” That’s not what happened with everybody. You wanted to see them do their routine and do it well and kill it. Every time that Bomer or anybody came off stage you went back and high fived them and told them what really worked, and you’re just like, “You murdered that.” It really became a weird team, in a way, like a very weird, strange team. I want to do strip competitions, guys. Can we do that? Can we enter some competitions, strip offs?
On some level this is a movie about entertainers caught between art and commerce. How do each of you deal with that theme, and Steven, how deliberate was that theme and how much would you like the audience to think about that?
Soderbergh: I wanted to make sure that there were a lot of conversations in the movie about money and work because I feel like for most people these are issues that dominate their lives, especially lately. So, we were always looking for ways to sort of bring that conversation into the film. The most obvious example, obviously, is when Chan goes to the bank to try and get a loan, but I think this issue of what you’re willing to do to be paid is interesting. At a certain point, when Mike starts to feel that what he’s doing is undervalued and he has to make a decision about whether he can accept that, I think everyone in this room has been in a situation where they have felt a certain point undervalued and has to make a decision about how they’re going to express that or whether they’re going to express it. So, I think it’s a very relatable issue.
Bomer: Are you asking how we straddle the line between art and commerce? I think you work on the roles that draw you in and the stories that you want to tell, and if you’re lucky enough to get to work with a director like Steven, all the better, but I think this was one of those movies that I felt was kind of the best of both worlds.
Manganiello: I think we all signed on to this one coming from the independent spirit. This was filmed as this little indie movie expose and I think we all signed on to work with who we got to work with, on the script that we got to work on, in the world that we got to work in. We’re sitting here now, and I mean, the big shock to me was when all the studio executives were coming to filming everyday. I went, ‘Wait a minute, this little tiny art house movie…wait, everyone is going to see what I just did to that girl?’ Then we all came in with this great spirit and I think the fact that it’s snowballed into what’s snowballed into is exactly what you hope for. I mean, that’s it. You work on this project to make the artists happy and you wind up, hopefully, making the bill payer happy, too.
And Channing, why did you stop stripping?
Tatum: I was undervalued so I stopped stripping. No. Look, I was eighteen years old and I worked three jobs. This was just one of them, and I really enjoyed performing. It was probably my first performing job ever. I really like to dance, obviously, but then I didn’t really love taking the clothes off at the end, but the world in itself was just a very dark world in a way. I don’t think we even scratch the surface of really how dark that place can get and how slippery of a slope it can actually be. This was probably the most palatable version of this movie. Otherwise, you wouldn’t want to see it twice, you’d just be like, ‘Okay, I feel dirty now.’ I think we blade ran that topic, but just really got out and then I basically kept working in the clubs but I just went with some of boys that danced as well and we’d just put on shows at this one nightclub. It’s actually in the movie. Amphitheater. We put on these crazy shows on in the back that we didn’t get naked in.
What was more challenging, getting into character, getting into wardrobe or learning your routines?
Tatum: I’d say they’re all pretty equal. It wasn’t hard. It wasn’t so much hard. The routines, you wanted to stick them and do well and perform them well, but it wasn’t hard. They were all fun and hilarious. I remember the first day that they were like, ‘Alright, guys, we’ve learned these routines and now it’s time to get naked now, boys. It’s got to happen sooner or later,’ and everyone was like, ‘Woo!’ and just went out and did it. You were just like, ‘Okay, never mind. This isn’t going to be as hard as I thought it was going to be. It’s going to be pretty easy.’ Everybody just went nuts.
This movie is based on your real life, Channing. What do you have to say about the two male strippers in Florida who claim you didn’t give them credit for this?
Tatum: Okay, I can’t wait. I was waiting for someone to bring this up. Look, there’s nothing that’s factual in this whole movie other than I was an eighteen-year-old kid and went into this world and I dropped out of college and playing football and was living on my sister’s couch. There’s not one character that I took from my real life. This is just a world that I went into and that I had a perspective on and we created everything from a fictional place. Those guys have been trying to make money off of me since I’ve gotten into this business. Literally, London was one of the guys that sold the video that essentially, thank God, my friend here saw and liked it and then we made a movie of it. They’re just very interesting people. I don’t want to say anything bad about them because they’re part of the reason why I think this world is so interesting. They’re very interesting, intriguing, bizarre characters and I’m thankful for the weird people out there because they’re some of the most creative people.
What do you miss the most about this world?
Tatum: I don’t miss anything about this world.