Stepping into the scene-stealing shoes of Matthew McConaughey is certainly a daunting task, but Jada Pinkett Smith was up to the challenge. In fact, she walks into "Magic Mike XXL" and walks right away with the movie. Or struts away with it, rather.
"Nobody can replace Matthew, let's just be real on that. I surely know I can't, with his fine self," Pinkett Smith says. "But I actually didn't feel the pressure being a woman. If a man had actually played that role, that's a hard act to follow. But because I'm a woman, I knew right away that the audience's minds would have to shift, because there's just no comparison."
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For the follow-up to Channing Tatum's partially autobiographical stripper film, McConaughey's Dallas has abandoned the boys. In desperate need of a new emcee, they turn to Pinkett Smith's Rome, who runs a private adult entertainment club catering to an exclusively female clientele.
"The role was at first written for a guy," Pinkett Smith reveals. "I was like, 'Channing, why me?' And his whole thing was like, 'Jada, I really feel like in this arena there's a sense of responsibility that we can inject in this idea.' I just really connected to how I wanted women to feel about themselves watching this movie, and adding the energy of exaltation, celebration and inspiration."
Pinkett Smith found a willing and gracious collaborator in Tatum, who also served as a producer. "With Channing, when he wanted to bring me on board, I can almost assure you there were people in the studio and people around that were like, 'Really?' But Channing had a vision," she says. "He has a really high regard for the feminine, and he really felt like through dance he understood that this brought women joy. In the first movie he really explored what isn't so great about the industry itself, so in this movie he had more license to have more fun."
In discussing "Magic Mike XXL," Pinkett Smith takes on a tone of almost religious reverence, which may seem surprising given the subject matter, but she's very serious. "Rome looks at it as a religion and feels like women can really, truly find themselves through that," she says. "What I brought to the table was the idea of stripping away degradation and really adding a celebratory factor in this act of exaltation. It should never be demeaning and it should never be about dominance. And so that was really what was important to bring energetically, to kind of elevate the idea of adult entertainment."
Follow Ned Ehrbar on Twitter:@nedrick