In an industry that often reverts to stereotypes, Channing Tatum is an actor who doesn't fit into any specific category. Is he a hulking action hero or sensitive romcom extraordinaire? Is he a serious Hollywood character actor, or an unassuming, self-deprecating comedy persona?
The evolution of Tatum is one of the most interesting in Hollywood. Before he was an actor, he worked as a stripper to pay the bills, the basis of which formed the semi-biographical hit, Magic Mike (2012). His early breakthrough appearance came in the form of breakdancing Tyler Gage in Step Up (2006), as well as an appearance in She's the Man in the same year.
It's safe to say his early projects weren't serious acting roles. Tatum's physique and non-conventional good looks resulted in an amalgamation of tough guy roles (Fighting, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra) cheesy romcoms (Dear John) and serious lower-budget flicks (A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints).
A Leading Man Who Doesn't Take Himself Too Seriously
Despite the range of roles, it was starring opposite, and striking an unlikely chemistry with Jonah Hill in 21 Jump Street (2012) that changed the already fragmented perception of Tatum. Now not only could he add a highly tuned, effortlessly hilarious performance to his repertoire, he also showed he didn't take himself too seriously, using the film as a platform to gently mock the persona he had unwittingly earned in the industry.
Tatum's obvious gratitude at his profession, mixed with his unrelenting work ethic, result in a number of varied hits. In the same year as 21 Jump Street, Magic Mike was also released (which he helped fund out of his own pocket), as was another romcom, The Vow. In 2012, Tatum those three films grossed over $100 million across a period of six months, a testament to his willingness to fulfil different roles and succeed in doing so.
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From that moment on, Tatum's stock started to rise, while he continued to illustrate his ability to provide constant, polarized performances. He appeared in Steven Soderbergh's critically acclaimed thriller, Side Effects (2013), but also appeared in a cameo as a sex-slave in the acclaimed comedy, This Is the End (2013). The former highlighted his credit as a serious actor, the latter again emphasised his humility and disregard for fitting a Hollywood image.
In an interview with GQ in 2014, Tatum discussed his role as Danny McBride's gimp, and his rationale for performing the cameo. He said:
"Only a true insane person would try and play a gimp that’s on a leash with reserve and dignity, in my opinion. If you put on a jockstrap and a Mexican wrestling mask and you think reserve and dignity is anything in your near future. "[I wanted to] be as crazy as I could possibly be, and have fun. If it felt weird, I would have stopped. It felt weird in a good way. I get one shot at life, and I can say that I’ve lived a crazy one, and I’ve pushed the limit almost at every turn, and I’m super proud of that."
That tenacity paid off, landing him a role in 2014's Foxcatcher. Not only was the movie nominated for five Oscars, Tatum was also noted for his gritty and compelling performance as real-life Olympic wrestler, Mark Schultz. In some ways, that role highlighted Tatum's transformation into a serious, well-respected actor. Since then, he's worked for some of Hollywood's finest directors, including the Coen Brothers (Hail, Caesar!) and Quentin Tarantino (The Hateful Eight).
In an interview with The Guardian, Tatum reflected on his fortune at being able to work with such esteemed visionaries. He said:
“I’ve been really blessed to work with so many different types of director. It’s fascinating. The way the Coens work is really precise, and they really try to bring you into the process. With Quentin, he’ll give you a note that is so specific: I want you to pick this up on the first syllable, I want you to walk all the way across the room, set it down, then say the last syllable. It’s just different styles. Everyone has their way.”
Strippers, Kingsman And Gender-Swapping Mermaids
But this is Channing Tatum, an unlikely leading man who doesn't fit the mould. As well as recognition in serious roles, the 36-year-old continues to eschew expectations. A follow-up to his crime comedy caper with Jonah Hill, 22 Jump Street, was just as good, if not better, than the first. He also revisited the world of Magic Mike with box office success.
So what's on the slate for Tatum? Can we expect serious roles from the actor who refuses to follow one path? Next, he will appear in Kingsman: The Golden Circle, the sequel to Kingsman: The Secret Service. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he's also confirmed to star in the remake of 1984 comedy Splash as a gender-swapping mermaid.
It looks like that path will remain eclectic, varied, and very much the hallmark of Tatum, the serious actor who refuses to take his industry too seriously.
Is it time we started taking Channing Tatum's acting ability seriously?