Channing Tatum and the eternal appeal of Hollywood’s himbo king

After a five-year hiatus, everyone’s favourite beefcake-with-a-brain is back with a pair of hit movies, including the Sandra Bullock romcom ‘The Lost City’. To celebrate, Adam White tracks how Tatum transformed from a Florida stripper with a specialty in silver thongs to one of cinema’s most versatile stars

Tuesday 12 April 2022 06:30
Comments
<p>Sexuality and sensitivity, brains and brainlessness: Channing Tatum in ‘Magic Mike’, ‘Step Up’, ‘The Lost City’, ‘Foxcatcher’ and ‘22 Jump Street’</p>

Sexuality and sensitivity, brains and brainlessness: Channing Tatum in ‘Magic Mike’, ‘Step Up’, ‘The Lost City’, ‘Foxcatcher’ and ‘22 Jump Street’

For a decade or so, we’ve all been able to sketch Channing Tatum’s buttocks from memory. There they were, in and out of a thong in Magic Mike and its sequel, making an unbilled cameo in Foxcatcher, and roundly eclipsing their owner in The Vow. It’s no wonder they’re the centrepiece of his new film, an action-adventure-romcom called The Lost City and co-starring Sandra Bullock. The buttocks in question appear midway through, as if carved out of marble, a swarm of leeches clinging onto them for dear life. Bullock is tasked with pulling off each and every one, and she squirms and mugs with that charming way she has. But it is Tatum, her younger and not quite as celebrated scene partner, who leaves you in awe. Here’s one of Hollywood’s most unexpectedly versatile actors, flexing his body and his range, and kindly offering up his glutes for giggles.

The Lost City is Tatum’s second massive hit of 2022, following Dog, a war veteran weepie that’s already made five times its budget in the US (although it didn’t get much of a release here). For an original movie to make money at the box office amid the superhero glut and a pandemic is unusual enough. To have two in rapid succession is surely wizardry. But it speaks to the distinct and increasingly unusual space Tatum has found himself in after nearly two decades of fame: universal approval. It’s partly a product of good business sense, Tatum having cultivated a vast, diverse fanbase thanks to his bro-y comedies (21 Jump Street), romances (Dear John), prestige movies (Hail, Caesar!) and odd fusions of sun-kissed drama and crotch-thrusting rock show (the Magic Mike industrial complex). Most significantly, though, it’s down to his oft-underestimated charisma, which crochets sexuality and sensitivity, brains and brainlessness. No one does it quite like him.

In The Lost City, Tatum plays a model named Alan, who moonlights as Dash McMahon, the star of a series of romantic bestsellers written by Bullock’s blocked novelist. He graces their dust jackets, makes appearances at book signings, and vamps for horny readers in a long, blonde wig and an unbuttoned shirt. However, beneath all that bluster is a beautiful dunce who strives to be taken seriously, or at least be perceived as anything but a meathead himbo. It goes without saying: Alan is Dash is, sort of, Channing Tatum.

Reducing Tatum to that narrative does him a disservice, though. Ever since he pirouetted through the streets in the mid-Noughties dance movie Step Up – five sequels and a TV spin-off inexplicably followed – Tatum has deliberately tangled with his perception as a sentient sirloin steak. At first, it wasn’t easy. His early roles bear the thrum of a shaky actor just happy to be working. There he is as a monosyllabic jock in an Amanda Bynes movie (She’s the Man), or as a gruff outsider mumbling through poor dialogue (forgotten high school dramas such as Havoc and Coach Carter). It made sense that Hollywood didn’t see a movie star. Tatum had the face of an Abercrombie & Fitch floor model; someone who could conceivably play the silent, brooding love interest in a Mariah Carey video. As an actor, was he really going to be in anything other than a GI Joe movie? But then something miraculous happened. An amateur video from Tatum’s past appeared on a US tabloid site, and everyone suddenly asked the same question: wait, this guy used to be a stripper?

Tatum has a flamboyant history. He was a working-class drifter from Florida, whose body was his instrument. It seemed inevitable that it would be the root of his money making. As a teenager with a limited education – ADHD and dyslexia had meant school was a struggle – he found work as a roofer, a cleaner and, for a few months in 1998, an exotic dancer known as “Chan Crawford”. When footage emerged just over a decade later, of “Chan” snaking around a grubby stage in a silver thong, Tatum’s managers wept – Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt never had to explain away pre-fame sex work, after all. But Tatum quickly realised that, at that point in his career, his past was the most interesting thing about him. Yes, it was a bit cringe, but – most importantly – he was really, really good at shimmying and body-popping while barely dressed.

Embracing it instead of running away from it was his smartest move. “I can’t say I would want Leo’s career, or Brad’s career, or Daniel Day-Lewis’s career,” he told Vanity Fair in 2013. “I don’t think I can do half the things those guys do. I’m just trying to be me, and I don’t know what that is half the time.”

There is a direct through line between Tatum’s stripper video and the blossoming of his movie career. The one-two punch of 21 Jump Street and Magic Mike in 2012 – the latter a self-produced drama inspired by his time as “Chan Crawford” – allowed Tatum to be scrappy and vulnerable rather than pouty and taciturn. In 21 Jump Street, he’s a beefcake cop, pretty of face but small of smarts. There is a giddy, endearing enthusiasm to his performance, something tapered down but equally present in Magic Mike. There, he plays a dancer dreaming of building his own custom-furniture empire, and possesses an ineffable, empathetic quality that makes you root for him.

Channing Tatum in ‘White House Down’

Tatum’s best work sits in that field. In 2014’s Foxcatcher, he quietly steals the show as a lonely Olympian who has built up his body but forgotten to develop everything else. He plays real-life wrestler Mark Schultz as a self-punishing caveman, whose loneliness makes him an easy mark for bad people. You spend the entirety of the film wanting to give him a hug. Even if Tatum’s co-star Steve Carell – buried under distracting prosthetic make-up – got the lion’s share of kudos for Foxcatcher, the film is the purest distillation of Tatum’s greatness. He has a lumbering gait and the body of Superman, but also a heart of gold. It’s a potent mix of brute masculinity and delicate guile.

When a Tatum vehicle doesn’t achieve lift-off, it’s usually because that quality is absent. The GI Joe franchise, the action thriller White House Down and the ill-fated Wachowski movie Jupiter Ascending aren’t tailored to their leading man. In those films, he could be easily swapped out for Liam Hemsworth, Sam Worthington, or any one of the interchangeable white men Hollywood tried to psy-op to stardom in the past decade. They don’t understand Tatum’s sensitivity, and neither satirise nor completely embrace the fact that he looks like a Baywatch cast member beamed out of 1995.

Access unlimited streaming of movies and TV shows with Amazon Prime Video Sign up now for a 30-day free trial

Sign up

Maybe if Tatum had greater control over those projects, they might have worked better. Because if the past decade has proven anything – beyond his actual talent – it’s that Tatum is a fantastic self-marketer, with a keen understanding of his appeal and how best to exploit it. Magic Mike begat a series of films and an internationally successful cabaret show, he posts copious thirst traps to his Instagram, and Dog and The Lost City both play into tried-and-tested actor modes from his earlier hits: the bruised lunk and the dim-bulb striver. They’re two smart moves, particularly after Tatum took five years off from films just as he began to risk overexposure.

And look at how he promoted them. For a profile in Variety, he posed like Derek Zoolander at a spiritual retreat: barefoot, melancholy, dressed in earth tones. One shot found him sitting on the floor and sketching in a notepad, as if he’s Jack in Titanic, or a dewy-eyed Hollywood waif being privately creative in his log cabin. He discussed creativity, sculpture and trauma. For a profile in VMan, he got his bum out. Never for one second suggest that Channing Tatum doesn’t know his audience.

‘The Lost City’ is in cinemas from Wednesday (13 April)

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in