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People In Film | Channing Tatum

Channing Tatum | Body and Soul

In Kevin Macdonald’s The Eagle, Channing Tatum plays Marcus Aquila, the son of Flavius Aquila, the leader of the 9th Legion who’d disappeared mysteriously with all his men some 20 years earlier. In some ways, Tatum playing a Roman nobleman might seem a far stretch for an actor best known for his physicality and all-American good looks and openness. But the qualities and talents that Tatum has exhibited in his previous roles––from the dexterity and grace in films like Step Up and Fighting, to the vulnerability in Dear John and the strength of character in Stop-Loss and G. I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra––are woven harmoniously into his character, a soldier out to redeem his father’s honor. The Eagle’s director Kevin Macdonald relied on Tatum’s past roles, noting “Channing has played soldiers before, in American films, so he well understands the military mentality and has a lot of sympathy for these men.” But as The Eagle screenwriter Jeremy Brock underscores, Tatum is more than just brawn: “Channing approached the role with a wonderful openheartedness. Everybody knows that he is strong and charismatic, but what surprised me was how sensitive he was to the shifts in Marcus’ emotional journey. Marcus migrates from confident warrior to despair to a different kind of confidence, underscored by a new maturity. Channing negotiates that trajectory with great sensitivity and thought.”

Channing Tatum | Finding His Soul

If Channing Tatum often plays all-Americans, that may be because his upbringing reflects so many different aspects of America. Born in Cullum, Alabama, of Irish, French and Native American stock, Tatum defines a real cross-section of the American psyche. His father, who was also a star athlete, ran a roofing company until a back accident shut down that career. His mother Kay was an airline worker. Tatum moved to Mississippi when he was six, and then later lived in Tampa, where he excelled at sports. Tatum has joked, “My parents couldn’t handle my energy so they enrolled me in every sport the school was offering.”  His success in sports certainly pointed him towards his future. After high school, he was offered a football scholarship at Glenville State College in Glenville, West Virginia, but chose instead to stay close to home. He picked up work as exotic dancer (an experience he hopes to make a film about in the future). After being cast as a dancer in Ricky Martin’s music video for “She Bangs”, Tatum started picking up modeling work in campaigns for Abercrombie & Fitch, Nautica, Dolce & Gabbana, and Emporio Armani, as well as being cast in commercials, like his now famous Mountain Dew ad. His athletic background also landed him his first film role, that of a basketball player in Coach Carter.

Channing Tatum | His Body of Work

In 2006, in his first starring role as the gang leader Antonio in Dito Montiel’s A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, Tatum defined a new type of star. A. O. Scott exclaimed in his New York Times review, “Mr. Tatum, who has the bullish physicality of a young Brando, is an electrifying actor, and I suspect we’ll be seeing a lot more of him after this breakout performance.” In Step Up and She’s the Man, Tatum proved himself versatile in doing both comedy and dance. In Fighting, his second outing with director Dito Montiel, Tatum proved that his graceful moves could be both lyrical and deadly. In the Denver Post, critic Lisa Kennedy identified this beguiling mix of body and soul: “Tatum's performance…leads us to praise men of brute innocence. The former model, who hails from Mississippi, is becoming a great pitchman for masculine tenderness… His surprising sensitivity is slowly making him a star.” 

Channing Tatum | The Soul and Body of a Soldier

To be sure, Tatum’s resumé  playing soldiers helped secure him the role of a military man in The Eagle. But in his previous army films––Stop-Loss, Dear John and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra––Tatum is more often than not fighting his feelings as he is the enemy. In Kimberly Peirce’s 2008 Stop-Loss, Tatum plays the best friend (and war pal) of Sgt. Brandon King (Ryan Philippe), a soldier who’s considering deserting after being called up again by a Stop-Loss order.  Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle compliments Tatum’s “nice job” in playing an emotionally conflicted friend “who thinks he's trying to understand but who unconsciously knows he can't afford to.” In Lasse Hallström’s 2010 romantic melodrama, Dear John, Tatum plays a soldier in love, who communicates to his sweetheart Savannah Curtis (Amanda Seyfried) from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But again Tatum’s real war is with his emotions. In his review, Perry Seibert points out, “Tatum and the screenwriter have created a unique three-dimensional character whose terse exterior makes it so difficult for him to release the pent-up emotions roiling inside him.” While Tatum proves that he can display the soul of a soldier, his part as the top-gun top-soldier in G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra showed that he could roll with the action as well. The popcorn adventure, and what makes it so fun, is succinctly summed up by Peter Hartlaub in the San Francisco Chronicle: “Stuff blows up. Lots of it. Most of the actors are hot-looking, and those who aren't do cool things with swords.”

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