Channing Tatum, left, Matthew McConaughey and Joe Manganiello of "Magic… (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles…)
"It's harder than anyone thinks for guys to actually be sexy."
Channing Tatum (No. 50 on Empire magazine's list of 100 Sexiest Movie Stars) was on the back patio at Cinema Bar in Culver City, commiserating with Matthew McConaughey (People magazine's "Sexiest Man Alive" in 2005) and Joe Manganiello (No. 1 on Men's Health magazine's best Summer Bodies of 2011).
Although a heady cloud of easy charm and testosterone was forming spontaneously above the picnic table, slowly expanding and intoxicating any females in proximity, Tatum elicited enthusiastic nods from his fellow actors as he explained just how much work it takes for guys like them to be sexy — especially when they're nearly naked. And oiled. And onstage. Gyrating.
"Girls can just do it, just walking. ... Guys, it's not the same thing. Especially when you put them in a thong," Tatum insisted. "Everything you're trying to do to be sexy makes you look like a clown. I challenge any guy to go and try to be sexy to his girl. ... It's a very humbling experience."
Many a gaggle of gal-pal moviegoers will be happy to render a verdict on the issue come Friday, as the three bare nearly all in Steven Soderbergh's male-stripper film "Magic Mike." (The Warner Bros. movie will have its world premiere Sunday night at the L.A. Film Festival.) Inspired by Tatum's brief turn in the world of exotic dancing in Tampa, Fla., in his late teens, "Magic Mike" features McConaughey as the male revue's fire-breathing emcee, Manganiello as lady killer Big Dick Richie and Tatum as the show's main attraction, Mike.
On the surface and in trailers and other advertising, "Magic Mike" seems like nothing but a raucous bachelorette party relocated to a cinema. Soderbergh loads the front half of the film with copious amounts of fun, flesh and flamboyance. But the back half mellows into melancholy as Mike initiates a young dancer dubbed the Kid (Alex Pettyfer) into the troupe and the newcomer moves toward center stage.
Mike's budding romance with the Kid's sister (played by Cody Horn, daughter of new Disney studio Chief Alan Horn) pushes him to reexamine his life choices.
Soderbergh sparked to the idea of a male stripper movie when he was filming"Haywire"with Tatum last year in Spain. "I told him about this eight-month period in my life, and he was like, 'You've got to make that film.... You should write it for sure,'" Tatum recalled. "And I was like, 'OK, Steven Soderbergh, I'll get right on that.'"
Tatum's producing partner, Reid Carolin, did get on it, penning a script, and the shoot came together quickly last fall as the prolific Soderbergh had a brief window of availability between his other projects. Carolin and Tatum, along with veteran Soderbergh producers Gregory Jacobs and Nick Wechsler, scraped together about $7 million, the director said, and embarked on a rapid 25-day shoot in Southern California and Tampa.
McConaughey, 45, said it didn't take much for Soderbergh to persuade him to come aboard. "I got the call and talked to Steven, and within 10 minutes when he pitched it to me, I was on my knees in my kitchen, banging the floor, laughing," he recalled. "I love the idea of these corny little subcultures and worlds, and Steven's great at it."
Manganiello, who's well known as the werewolf Alcide Herveaux on the HBO series"True Blood"and recently played a buff object of envy in the movie"What to Expect When You're Expecting,"was a bit more hesitant.
"The clothes come off a lot on 'True Blood' so there was a sense of 'OK, when am I going to have my shirt on again?'" Manganiello, 35, said. The actor said he consulted his "What to Expect" costar Chris Rock on the decision, telling him, "I don't know, because my shirt's off again, and I just think dudes are going to hate my guts if I don't put a shirt on soon. And Chris was like, 'Guys are going to hate your guts anyway. Brad Pitt spent 15 years with his shirt off. He's doing fine.'"
With the cast in place, learning the choreography was the next major hurdle. Alison Faulk, who has worked with the likes of Britney Spears, Madonna and Pink, designed the routines — everything from a trench coats-and-umbrellas dance performed to "It's Raining Men" to a classic fireman-in-suspenders number.
"I'd never danced," said McConaughey, who also sings in the film. "We know one thing, it ends up with clothes off. I was thinking, there will never be enough time. I could rehearse this thing for 10 years."
Even the experienced Tatum, 32, confessed to nerves. "I'm about to go on stage and dance for the first time, and I'm like, 'Why did I want to do this again? This is completely not what I remembered.' I was terrified."
But once onstage, the actors said, a pleasurable trance sets in. "You've got anxiety, there's fear, but you've got pride and you're like, man, I worked this, I want to nail this," McConaughey said.