I’m standing in ‘a building’ in Savannah, Georgia. I can’t tell you which one. You see, the state of Georgia is in the ‘Deep South’ (even though geographically, its actually more east than it is south), which puts it in Bible Belt territory. This ‘building’, therefore, is frequently used for religious hoolies and shindigs. If the locals knew the debaucherous things that were going on there this week, well… they might not have enough holy water to clean the place.
Spoiler alert: It’s a stripper convention. Three years after the events of Magic Mike, Channing Tatum rounds up his old Kings of Tampa crew as they attempt to outgripped their some similarly washboard-tummied rivals.
As I walked into the cavernous room earlier, it was clear its contents had been very well pre-heated too. More than nine hundred women of all ages, shapes and sizes, all dressed to the nines and in some cases tens, all clutching (presumably alcohol-free, it was very early) beers and neon cocktails, all palpably excited at the prospect of Channing Tatum and his ridiculously ripped posse wandering around the building somewhere. Walking through the crowd, it felt like an African Savannah rather than the Georgian one; I was a scrawny gazelle who just blundered into a phalanx of lionesses, stalking through and trying to look confident, while hungry eyes all around considered whether I was worth pouncing on. They let me me pass unmolested – there is much bigger game roaming these parts.
Like Channing Tatum, for example. How does it make him feel having some 900 women screaming him like that? ‘I’m a little kid,’ he says. ‘I get so excited I cant even hear the music sometimes. It just sounds like WEEEEEE in my mind, and I have to like calm myself down. ‘Especially stripping, but anything live, for me is such a high. It is a drug, You cant even describe it. All eyes are on you. If you fall down, you fall down. That’s exciting.’
Even though he’s fully dressed, you can tell the 35-year-old is in even more amazing shape than normal.
‘“Magic Mike” shape is a little different,’ he admits. ‘When I get ready for a shirt off scene in a movie, when I get up from bed and walk to the shower, I’m fine. I can do that. I can diet for that day. ‘But being in this kind of shape is tough to hold. Even people like Joe (Manganiello) one of the most fit people I know, and its hard. It’s dieting. Dieting is the worst part. Training is not hard. Training is fun, when you can do it. But this type of in- shapeness…’
We head downstairs to watch one of the scenes being filmed. I find myself standing next to none other than the film’s director of photography Steven Soderbergh, who’s staring at a monitor with the director Greg Jacobs. Soderbergh is wearing a Dublin, Ireland baseball cap – I had completely forgotten he shot Haywire there, the film with that mixed martial arts chick, Gina Carano. Come to think of it, Channing Tatum was in that!
‘Nice hat!’ I tell him, and he smiles when he hears my accent. ‘Oh yeah!’ he replies. ‘I got it in….. what was the name of that pub?’ he turns and asks Jacobs. I help them brainstorm until we land on McDaid’s off Grafton St. ‘McDaid’s! That’s it. Great spot!’ he reminisces.
The lights go down as the crew prepares to shoot the scene. This time it’s a single shot of Elizabeth Banks in the crowd, reacting to Channing and tWitch’s dance-off on the stage. Thanks to the magic of editing, Channing of course doesn’t have to be there because the camera is just on Banks and the crowd around her, staring up at the podium. But Channing is up there anyway, helping out and giving a point of reference. Plus, whenever he’s present there is a genuine electricity in the air. It doesn’t matter that he’s in a loose grey hoodie rather than his stripper garb – the sea of heads cannot take their eyes off him.
With him on stage is the film’s dance choreographer Alison Faulk – this tiny girl who’s telling all these enormous men what to do – and right now she is the envy of every woman in the room. The music starts up, the camera is on Banks, and the director asks the crowd to get excited. He needn’t have bothered. On stage, Channing has grabbed Faulk by the hips and lifted her into the air Dirty Dancing style like she was a doll. The crowd are in a frenzy. I don’t doubt that if he fell of the stage he’d be torn to pieces by rabid fingernails. Luckily, he doesn’t.
Jacobs chuckles as the music cuts, and the crowd take a good couple of minutes more to settle back down to an excited hum. ‘Okay, let’s tray again.’ I think to myself it’s a shame if he didn’t get what he wanted that take; there’s no way they can recapture that initial outburst. But when the music starts up again. This time channing plonks Faulk down into a chair, grabs both armrests and does a handstand on the chair. His crotch is literally inches from her face as he starts grinding in an upside-down lap dance. The crowd lose it. And this time, I realize I’m screaming with them.
MAGIC MIKE XXL is at cinemas from July 3rd
Words : Ross McDonagh