Opens June 29
The idea of making a movie set in the world of male strippers had been simmering with Channing Tatum for a long time. Having once been a part of that world, he felt it had real cinematic potential to be fun, unique, entertaining. But it was a conversation he had with Steven Soderbergh that finally put “Magic Mike” on its path to the big screen.
“I thought it was one of the best ideas I’d ever heard for a movie,” says Steven Soderbergh. “It’s sexy, funny and crazy, and a view into an interesting, exclusive environment most people never experience.”
He adds: “We both felt it was something we hadn’t seen in a movie before. And Channing’s approach was fearless.”
Soderbergh, Jacobs, and Nick Wechsler joined Tatum and his producing partner Reid Carolin for a series of lively brainstorming sessions that formed the basis and inspiration for Carolin’s final script. “I’ve never worked with anyone who is more collaborative,” Tatum says of Soderbergh, who directed him in the thriller “Haywire” last year. “Not just collaborative but empowering, really, to the actors and the crew, to bring their own ideas into the process.”
Mike and the Kid
It was during these sessions that the director suggested giving the story a dual perspective, pairing the 19-year-old character Adam, called the Kid, who best represented Tatum’s youthful point of view, with the 30-year-old mentor character, Mike, that he would be portraying now.
In the film, star attraction Magic Mike packs the house for Club Xquisite’s savvy stripper-turned-manager Dallas, played by Matthew McConaughey. Dallas discovered Mike six years earlier, dancing with friends, and invited him to hone his talents professionally.
“Dallas is a lot of things but primarily a businessman, and he’s always on the lookout for the next big thing,” says McConaughey. Similarly, when Mike spots Adam, aka the Kid, played by Alex Pettyfer, he offers the eager young recruit the chance to make some fast cash and find his bearings, and the Kid becomes the audience’s all-access pass into the lives of the self-proclaimed Kings of Tampa.
Family of Cool Brothers
“I wanted it to be all green lights for him, so you could see why he would find it so appealing and want to be a part of it, especially with someone like Mike guiding him through it; like a family where all your brothers are cool,” Soderbergh explains. “There’s a lot of camaraderie and insider humor that’s specific to a tight-knit group of people, where the comedy is in the characters and the situations. It’s funny because of our recognition of how people are.”
“It’s about him finally seeing what’s really going on around him,” says Soderbergh. “And realizing he wants something more.” “Channing has such charisma and engaging humanistic quality that no matter how dysfunctional things are for Mike, you can’t help but root for him,” he states.
Apart from Tatum, “Matthew was the first person cast,” Soderbergh recalls. “He committed based on the idea of it. I just told him what the character was and he said, ‘I know exactly what to do with that. I’m in.’ Matthew embraced all the eccentricities we imagined and took them to another level, but in a way that you could believe such a person exists. It’s an amazing performance.”
British actor Alex Pettyfer, who takes on the role of the endearing but reckless Adam, says, “I think there’s a period in many peoples’ lives when they kind of jump off the deep end for awhile. Adam’s at that stage where he doesn’t want to be at home anymore; school didn’t work out and neither did the jobs his sister lined up for him. He’s looking for something to excite him and that’s when he meets Mike and falls into this crazy world. It’s perfect, it’s freedom, it’s everything he wants. And he takes off with it at 120 miles an hour.”
For a time, the two of them are inseparable, with the Kid emulating his mentor’s moves both on stage and off, in the endless rounds of hanging out and hooking up that fill the bulk of Mike’s downtime. He also starts to spend a lot of time with one of the club’s inner circle, an intoxicating woman named Nora, played by Riley Keough.
“For Mike, being with Adam is like looking into a mirror,” Soderbergh observes. “The Kid reminds him a lot of what he was like at nineteen—someone who needed a job and just wanted to have a good time.” The difference is that almost from the beginning, Adam is willing to take more risks than Mike ever did. And no one is in a better position than Mike to know that’s not something anyone else can control.
While giving audiences a window into Mike’s growing awareness, the film also puts them into the hot seat—front row center—as the Kings of Tampa storm the stage and Adam joins his newfound brothers-in-arms: six guys at the top of their game, representing a range of man-candy archetypes anyone will recognize, whether or not they’ve ever been to a strip club.
Joining Tatum and Pettyfer in the spotlight are Matt Bomer, starring as Ken, whose signature act is emerging from a toy box as every girl’s perfect Ken Doll come to life; Joe Manganiello as Big Dick Richie, known for an act requiring no props apart from what he was born with; Kevin Nash as the wild man Tarzan, who swoops across the stage on a rope; and Adam Rodriguez as the suave Tito, who provides a Latin flavor to the show.
“All the guys were great and each one brought something specific. We wanted actors who could improv and be funny, not necessarily guys who could dance,” says Soderbergh. As it turned out, aside from Tatum, none of the new recruits had that kind of dance experience but were all natural athletes who could draw on either stunt training or musical theater backgrounds, while Nash, portraying the veteran of the group, has more than 20 years of professional wrestling to his credit. Even so, nothing could fully prepare them for that moment when the pants fly off.
It helped that everyone else was in the same boat. Indeed, standing around in thongs and robes, discussing waxing and tanning techniques, was a great equalizer. As Soderbergh acknowledges, “There’s nothing like shared potential humiliation to bond people, and they bonded quickly. They all came in to watch one another do their solo routines and lend support and they were so generous with each other—no competitiveness, no egos. Watching them go through those routines in front of 150 female extras and the entire film crew was awesome. They all jumped off that cliff.”
To choreograph the shows, the filmmakers enlisted Alison Faulk of The Beat Freaks, who worked on “Magic Mike” between supervising choreography for Britney Spears’ and Madonna’s world tours. Faulk did her homework by going to lots of clubs and getting a feel not only for the dancing but for “what works with the audiences. What do they respond to? What do they like?”
Starting the cast with basic moves like body rolls and hip circles, then graduating to staging and spacing, she ultimately prepared them for a series of comic skits tailored to each of their characters, as well as several group numbers, including the rousing crowd-pleaser “It’s Raining Men.” The goal was to make them look sharp and put on an exciting show, but not be so highly polished as to make it unrealistic.
Following his auspicious intro, the Kid later returns to the boards more confidently decked out as a boxer and then a cowboy. Matt Bomer’s additional personas include not only the Ken Doll but a white-coated Dr. Love; Joe Manganiello does a silhouette dance as a suited businessman and also nails the ever-popular fireman routine, as well as a golden statue that springs to life; and Adam Rodriguez introduces a sly merengue in a Havana Nights routine and later appears in Navy whites as an officer and not-so-gentlemanly gentleman.
The most demanding and acrobatic sequences fell to Tatum, including a show-stopping performance that has him spinning fast on a hand loop and executing a standing back-flip off the stage, a stunt he’d always loved. “It’s doesn’t matter exactly what you’re doing out there if you’re having fun,” he states.
Helping to create that illusion for audiences was costume designer Christopher Peterson. As Faulk crafted dance routines to showcase the guys’ personalities and natural talents without pushing it over the top, Peterson made everyone look as good as possible while conceding the limitations their characters would naturally face. “Nearly all the clothing is found, especially with the boys,” he says. “These are guys who carry their costumes around in plastic bins. They shop off the rack. Club owners might put something together for a special group number but for the most part the costumes are devised by the performers who wear them, so there’s some variation on the themes. Steven’s directive was to make it real.”
Toward that end, the designer used an admittedly low-tech but effective method of simulating water on the umbrellas and raincoats for the “It’s Raining Men” sequence: spray glitter. For a patriotic military-themed ensemble piece he raided an Army Surplus store. But one essential element on which he did not compromise were the thongs, which were custom made in specific fabrics and colors, from a company called Pistol Pete.
The final element was the music, for which Soderbergh brought in music supervisor Frankie Pine, who worked with the director on his “Ocean’s” trilogy and earned a Grammy nomination for the “Traffic” soundtrack. “Frankie pulled a lot of great music, from iconic songs that everyone knows to some indie stuff, and I’m really happy with the variety and veracity of what she found,” says Soderbergh. “It feels like what they’d use for these routines.”
On screen, it was comedian Gabriel Iglesias running the board in the role of Club Xquisite’s DJ, Tobias, a laid-back dude with the gift of gab and a few entrepreneurial ventures of his own. “We wanted someone in that role with a lot of personality, and who was distinctly different from the dancers, representing another element of the club scene, and Gabriel was perfect,” says Jacobs. “He brings a lot of wit and energy to Tobias.
Throughout, Soderbergh employed a double straw camera filter, to create “a warm yellow-wash that feels like the sun,” he says. “We used it during the whole film except for the interior of the Xquisite, because I wanted the colors in there to pop.”
For Mike’s beach condo, production designer Howard Cummings selected a 1970s-style home in Playa del Rey on the verge of renovation—not for an overtly retro look, but for its distinctive features that might have appealed to Mike’s eye for structure and design.
Dallas’ place, befitting his personality, had a more sprawling and theatrical vibe. Deciding that Dallas was the type of guy who would have a dramatic picture of himself on display at his home, Cummings recounts, “I asked Matthew if he was up for posing for a portrait with a live python. He said… Well, I can’t repeat exactly what he said but he was enthusiastic. So we set it up.” Additionally, Cummings worked with the props department to cast a bust of the actor that graces the grand piano in Dallas’ living room.
“Howard’s biggest opportunity to shine was in the club,” says Soderbergh, for which the production secured a vacant club space in Studio City, California, that had a bar and kitchen but no stage. This enabled Cummings to design one from the ground up to accommodate the film’s developing choreography. For the performers’ dressing area, he focused on the kitchen.
Noting that Xquisite only exists a couple of nights a week, renting space in an existing business with its own daytime identity, the designer put up a flimsy plastic banner bearing the club’s name, which he calls “their cheap solution to signage. Overall, everything about the place had to be visually engaging and entertaining, but not too slick. I wanted it to have a real edge.”
In many ways the club is the focal point of Mike’s life—emotionally, socially, and financially—so the fact that it hasn’t quite hit the big time yet is telling. The temporary nature of its success, the transitory nature of its clientele and some of the relationships he has formed there represent a part of Mike’s life that may be nearing its expiration date.
“A lot of the story, to me, is about the way in which we misplace our emotions, pick the wrong things and the wrong people to invest in,” says Soderbergh. “There are signals, but Mike hasn’t been picking up on them until now. He wasn’t paying attention to the bigger picture.”