Channing Tatum has worked in his fair share of genres, from indie films (A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints) to dance flicks (Step Up) to blockbusters (G.I. Joe). In his latest, Dear John, the Alabama native takes on a heavy Nicholas Sparks love story under the direction of Lasse Hallstrom, who’s no stranger to pulling breakthrough performances out of young actors.
“Lasse’s a beast,” Tatum says of his Swedish director.
“He has an allergic reaction to anything that’s false. Even down to wardrobe. You don’t argue. But acting-wise, he really gives you freedom. It’s nerve-wracking and it makes you work harder.”
Tatum remembers Hallstrom encouraging him to open up the way Leonardo DiCaprio did for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? That role led to DiCaprio’s first Oscar nomination.
“He’s says he’s going to give you the same freedom he gave Leo in Gilbert Grape,” Tatums says. “I had no idea what that meant. I was like, ‘So you want me to be mentally challenged?’”
Part of preparing for Dear John, in which Tatum plays a young soldier torn between true love and duty, involved getting to know some actual Special Forces soldiers, many of whom appeared as extras in the film.
“They are gun-slingers,” Tatum says of the soldiers he met.
“They want to go. They view it as, like, recess. They get to go blow stuff up every day. When you get them away from their military stuff, they’re just normal kids that are just a little crazier than most. And they’re all insanely intelligent as well.”
Tatum himself is a fan of blowing stuff up, but he admits acting in action films isn’t quite the same as actually working with explosives.
“The blowing up stuff is fun, but they never let the actors be around that stuff. That’s the stunt guys,” he says. “They never let you do the fun stuff. If you do a bull-riding movie, you’re never going to get to be on a bull.”
That’s why he prefers dramatic work like Dear John, he insists.
“Doing the emotional side is such a more extreme way to experience a film and to experience a character,” he says.
“It’s raw — naked at times. It’s kind of scary because acting is one of the one jobs where you never really know if you got it right.”
Tatum’s next chance to try to get it right is The Eagle of the Ninth, a period action film set in Roman-ruled England and co-starring Jamie Bell.
“My favourite movies are Braveheart and Gladiator, so I’ve been looking for one of these movies for a long time,” Tatum says, though he admits filming wasn’t exactly easy.
“It’s by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Not physically, but climate-wise. Don’t ever go film a movie in Scotland. Like, ever.
“The people are amazing and it’s beautiful, but you are going to be wet and soaked all the way through. It was harsh.”