MIAMI – Filmmaker Steven Soderbergh wants you to know that there is more to his new movie, “Magic Mike,” than the trailers and TV ads would have you believe.
“I really like the marketing campaign,” says the Oscar-winning director of “Traffic,” “Ocean’s Eleven” and “Erin Brockovich.” “I was the one who wanted to sell the movie like it’s fun, because it is mostly fun. It may not be exactly what people expect, but I don’t think the film is different in a way that’s antagonistic to the audience.”
Then, after a pause, Soderbergh addresses the elephant in the room.
“Look, this is not a movie that is exclusively aimed at women and gay men. To what extent are women going to be able to talk their boyfriends into going? I don’t know. But I don’t think guys will be sitting in the theater thinking, ‘This is torture.’ Ten minutes into the movie, they’ll realize they are not being excluded from this experience at all.”
“Magic Mike,” which opens Friday, is less about bare skin and more about the male psyche and how men start thinking and behaving differently when they become sexual objects – something that happens more often to women. The movie sprang from a conversation between Soderbergh and actor Channing Tatum on the set of the action movie “Haywire.” Between takes, they talked about Tatum’s production company and the projects he was developing.
The actor revealed he wanted to make a movie based on his experiences working for a few months as a stripper and dancer in Tampa, Fla., when he was 18 years old.
“Some people go to college. Some people go to acting school. Some people go to business school. I threw myself into a bunch of different jobs – I feel like I went to the school of life in a way – and stripping happened to be one of them,” Tatum says.
“It was a crazy one. I really enjoyed dancing. It was my favorite part of the job. I didn’t really like taking my clothes off. But I made good money and kept the party going, and it was great for a while.”
In the film, Tatum plays the eponymous hero, the main attraction at the ladies-only Club Xquisite managed by Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), a happy-go-lucky Svengali figure. Several years earlier, Dallas had introduced Mike to the business and turned him into a star. As the movie opens, Mike does the same for a young man named Adam (Alex Pettyfer) he meets at a nightclub.
Although there are plenty of musical numbers – i.e., scenes at the club where Tatum and his fellow dancers perform for screaming hordes of women – “Magic Mike” is less “Showgirls” and more “Saturday Night Fever,” another character study of a working-class guy who hits a crossroads and must decide which path to take.
“I’m not ashamed of this period in my life,” Tatum says. “I’m not proud of it. I would never tell anyone ‘Hey, man, you should go try this!’ Because this kind of work is a slippery slope. It’s a very intoxicating world, on a lot of different levels. And it can be a bit of a rabbit hole, and you can get mired in it. I think I was lucky enough to be able to enjoy what it gave me – it was my first performing job ever – and then able to get out.”
Tatum had originally been in talks with Nicolas Winding Refn (“Drive”) to direct. When that fell through, Soderbergh took over. The actor’s willingness to revisit a chapter in his past other actors might deem too embarrassing was part of the appeal for the director.
“Channing’s attitude was you gotta own it – and use it. That’s the smart play,” Soderbergh says. “I had a great experience with him on ‘Haywire,’ and he immediately became one of those actors in my repertory who I can call upon to do stuff. I became a fan.
“He’s interested in a lot of different things, and he’s well aware of the difference between taking yourself seriously and taking your work seriously. I like his attitude, and I think he’s really got it together. We’ve already shot another movie together (“Bitter Pill”) that will be out in the spring.”
Thanks to Tatum’s soaring stardom and the movie’s “Did-you-see -that?” marketing, “Magic Mike” is being released on 3,000 screens by the same studio that is distributing “The Dark Knight Rises” in July. Although the film is being treated as a blockbuster, “Magic Mike” is subtle, funny, focused and personal, qualities that are not common in the thick of the summer movie season.