This ease with discipline is a quality visible to this day. He pulls off arduous physical tasks with amiable energy, and gives typically sober action sequences an air of fun and mischief.
His family moved from Mississippi to Florida, where Tatum picked up dancing by practising with the grandmothers of girls he was seeing. Then on to Hollywood for modelling, commercials and bit parts. Watch the video for Ricky Martin’s She Bangs (2000) with a magnifying glass to see him as a topless bartender.
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He started to be cast as street toughs and romantic heroes, sometimes both as in his 2006 calling card, the dance movie Step Up. As Tyler Gage, a prodigy from the wrong side of the tracks, there are glimmers of the charismatic movie star he would become. His default louche delivery is in play as he lets his body do the talking, winning over monied dance student Nora (Jenna Dewan) with graceful athleticism and grounded charm.
The film that changed his reputation after a slew of action flicks and romances was 21 Jump Street (2012) and its equally great sequel 22 Jump Street (2014). Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller paired him with established comic performer, Jonah Hill, in their buddy-cop movie reboot of the ’80s TV series.
Talking to HeyUGuys in 2014, Lord talked about meeting Tatum, who was not known at the time for comedy. “We knew within five minutes and we were both like, ‘This guy’s hilarious and charming and so funny and natural and I don’t know why anybody hadn’t discovered that he’s a really funny guy!’ And so we felt like we were sitting on a very exciting secret.”
Tatum and Hill’s chemistry is a constant source of uproarious amusement and delight, with no gag too small not to be executed with precision. Tatum shines the brightest when he has a comedy partner, ideally a quick-witted, physically contrasting actor (like Hill or Bullock) who can make scathing remarks, drawing out many adorable flavours of woundedness.
Tatum’s biggest asset is a willingness to be the butt of jokes. He understands that someone with his body is expected to be fearsome, yet he only ever uses it to treat us.
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Which brings us to Magic Mike (2012), or rather its sequel: Magic Mike XXL (2015), dessert to the original’s main course. I can think of no film that conveys its desire to please more swiftly.
Consider the opening scene of Tatum, muscles bulging in a vest top, as the squelchy beats of Ginuwine’s Pony fill his carpentry studio. He smiles that impish, infectious little smile before dancing with his power tools with such sexual innuendo that sparks literally fly.
Channing Tatum is a maestro of the tease. He knows what we want and always delivers that with spin. This year marked his directorial debut in Dog, an unexpected little gem. Whatever muscles he has to flex in the future, we will gladly watch them move.
The Lost City is out now. Sophie Monks Kaufman is an author and film journalist
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