How Channing Tatum Conquered Hollywood

Channing and Steven Soderbergh
Channing and Steven Soderbergh
 

This story first appeared in the July 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Magic Mike proved it: Channing Tatum has mastered all the right moves. His winning 2012 trifecta -- in just over four months, he has segued, seemingly effortlessly, from the romance of The Vow to the comedy of 21 Jump Street to the raunchy social commentary of Mike -- has made him Hollywood's most in-demand actor under 35. As Tatum, 32, plots his next move, studio execs are lining up in hope of snaring a spot on the former stripper's increasingly crowded dance card.

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"It's very hard to find good-looking guys who can appeal to both women and men," explains Warner Bros. Pictures Group president Jeff Robinov. "He has a self-deprecating quality and a great sense of humor. Women love him, but men think he's the cool guy. He's really that guy you root for."

Tatum doesn't have to rush to book his next movie because he won't be hurting for cash. He'll be splitting a pot of tens of millions of Mike dollars with director Steven Soderbergh thanks to their prescient decision to self-finance the $6.5 million movie. The Warner Bros.-distributed film tucked $83 million into its thong in just its first two weeks and should top out at more than $100 million domestically.

Having spanned the worlds of G-strings, G-men and G.I. Joe, Tatum has avoided being pigeonholed. And his next five movies offer a glimpse of the well-diversified approach he and his team have taken. First, Tatum is playing Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz in Bennett Miller's low-budget Oscar bait Foxcatcher. That will be followed by a turn as a heroic Secret Service agent in the Roland Emmerich-helmed tentpole White House Down for Sony, which will be followed by the Wachowskis' supersecret sci-fi pic Jupiter Ascending for Warners. Tatum then heads back to Sony for the fantasy adventure Neverland, a new take on the Peter Pan story, before doing 21 Jump Street 2.

Channing's ascent is staggering given that only seven years ago he was considered a risky choice to topline Disney's dance pic Step Up. But months before the release of that breakout hit (where he met his eventual wife, co-star Jenna Dewan-Tatum), director Kimberly Peirce drafted Tatum for Stop-Loss. And it was on that 2008 drama about Iraq War vets that he began collaborating with Harvard-educated producer Reid Carolin. The two formed Iron Horse Entertainment, putting together the 2010 HBO documentary Earth Made of Glass as their debut producing effort. The film about the legacy of the Rwandan genocide marked a 180-degree departure from Tatum's first onscreen role as an extra in Ricky Martin's "She Bangs" video. But not one to disavow his past, Tatum gave Carolin the idea for a screenplay about his early experiences as a dancer in a male revue, which attracted the interest of Soderbergh, their favorite director.

VIDEO: 'Magic Mike' Star Channing Tatum Shows Off Stripper Dance Moves on 'Today'

By opting to mix in work with auteurs like Soderbergh and Peirce rather than gorge on a steady diet of abs-flaunting popcorn pics, Tatum has avoided becoming the hunk-of-the-month. But when he does step into gung-ho roles, like Paramount's G.I. Joe, he has become such a selling point that the studio hopes to keep his character alive in the sequel Retaliation, set for a March 29 release.

Atop the list of projects Tatum is now considering is an Evel Knievel pic for Sony, which will team the leading man with the newly minted Fifty Shades of Grey producing team of Michael De Luca and Dana Brunetti. Tatum and Carolin also will produce, with Carolin adapting the screenplay from Stuart Barker's 2008 book Life of Evel.

It's no surprise Tatum is attracted to such a '70s icon. "All of our favorite movies came out of the '70s," says Carolin, citing Dog Day Afternoon, Saturday Night Fever and anything from the decade that starred Paul Newman. "With Magic Mike, we were looking to create a '70s movie -- small crew with a feel that is very stripped down but has charismatic main characters."

In a business where hot young actors (Taylor Kitsch in John Carter, Ryan Reynolds in Green Lantern) are simply plugged into open franchise slots and left to fend for themselves, Tatum, like older, more experienced stars, has demonstrated a shrewd sense of how to sell himself. "What impressed me most about Channing was he didn't ask how do we market him. He asked how do we market with him," says Sony's marketing and distribution chief Jeff Blake, who worked with the actor on Jump Street and Vow. "We just love the fact that he'll make three of his next five movies with us. And we got him before his quote went through the roof."

STORY: Channing Tatum Planning 'Magic Mike' Sequel

COURTING THE LADIES, HANGING OUT WITH THE GUYS: Moving quickly from film to film, Tatum has displayed versatility while building an ever-widening fan base.

Dear John ($115 million): He establishes himself as a romantic leading man opposite Amanda Seyfried.

Haywire ($31.1million): Working with Soderbergh brings cachet, if not big box office.

The Vow ($193.6 million): This romance, where he's paired with Rachel McAdams, far exceeds expectations.

21 Jump Street ($197.8 million): Young men flock to catch him in a comic teaming with Jonah Hill.

Magic Mike ($82.8 million*): Gays and gals rush to theaters to see him bare nearly all alongside Cody Horn.

* In current release. Source: Box Office Mojo, worldwide grosses

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