This month, actor Channing Tatum stars as a soldier yet again in “The Eagle,” a film adaptation of Rosemary Sutcliff’s 1854 Roman-era historical novel “The Eagle of the Ninth.” Though Tatum is best known for his portrayals of military men, his career is anything but uniform. With a resume that boasts everything from a romantic lead in the dance phenomenon “Step Up” to this year’s comedic role in Ron Howard’s “The Dilemma”—as well as personal producing credits—Tatum is more than a pretty face and a buff exterior. While the actor claims that there is no “rhyme or reason” to the films he chooses, in a roundtable interview with The Crimson he said that he is eager for diverse experiences and unafraid to fail in unusual roles. He spoke at length about the challenges he faces in his ever-expanding repertoire—challenges which included getting into a soldier’s mindset, acting in computer-generated imagery (CGI) environments, and performing comedy alongside Vince Vaughn.
The Harvard Crimson: For “Stop-Loss,” your 2008 Iraq war film, you’ve said that you had a lot of trouble playing a soldier. Does that still happen to you now?
Channing Tatum: Yeah. At the time I felt false and phony—and it’s kind of our job to not feel that way. What a soldier does, I think, is the most noble thing that you can do, no matter what your politics are, and I just felt really scared to kind of say that [I’d] ‘done’ these things. I’ve been in a fistfight, but I have never been shot at or had things blown up around me.
THC: You’ve said that having this role in “The Eagle” was one of your childhood dreams. Did it live up to your expectations?
CT: Yeah, in so many different ways. You really get a glimpse for a second of what it really was like, even though it’s a movie. There was one take that we did that was about a minute and a half long, and it was just a melee. We were losing the light so we shot until we ran out of film. I could not breathe afterwards, it was so exhausting. But [historically] these guys fought weeks at a time, sometimes months. They would march, then they would build, then they would fight—then they would march and build and fight more. I really don’t know how they did it. I wish I could say that I was that tough. I would have never been able to do it. They were just different men back then.
THC: When you played a soldier in “G.I. Joe,” that film had a lot of CGI, while in “The Eagle,” all the battle scenes had real extras. How do you compare working with real actors to working with computer graphics?
CT: I mean, the stuff in “G.I. Joe,” it’s hard to understand. You’re in a half-built pod and they’re like, “Lean left!” “Lean right!” “Missile blows up!” “Shoot now!” and they just give you directions like that. I like hand-to-hand combat. It’s just so much more tactile and you can feel like you’re really in it. [Some of the action scenes in “The Eagle”] were maybe the most fun I’ve had on a movie set ever. But there are other opportunities, I think, coming down the road, that CGI will [make] just as fun, because you can really stretch the world of reality.
THC: Did director Ron Howard give you total freedom for your comedic role, Zip, in “The Dilemma?”
CT: You know, there was a lot freedom. I remember I auditioned over Skype. I was in New York shooting a little independent movie and I hear that Ron Howard wants to Skype with me and I’m like, “What does he want to Skype for?” They sent [the script for] “The Dilemma.” I felt weird about doing a scene ... so I just kind of made up a character and riffed into the camera a little bit. His only note was, “a little less high.” I was like, “alright, deal.” I’ve never been more extremely, convulsively nervous to go into a rehearsal period, because people don’t call me for funny. They just don’t. And to go in with Ron Howard and Vince Vaughn—two of the most talented people at what they do—was a nerve-wracking experience.
THC: In interviews and blogs, you’ve mentioned how you’ve explored different areas like acting, modeling, and writing. Do you have any advice for the younger generation trying to figure out what it is they want to do?
CT: Just do it. I heard Spike Jones talk on a panel, and this young filmmaker stood up and said, “do you have any advice for young filmmakers?” And he was like, “man, there’s no magic words. Just go shoot. You’d be shocked at the amount of film, amount of things I do on a daily basis, and sometimes no one will ever see it. I make it so that no one will ever see it, to experiment. If you think you might want to go do something, don’t wait, start failing early.” I want to direct one day. I want to start failing early at it so hopefully by the time I’m older, I’ll have more experience. Whatever it is, just do it. If you want to sculpt, and you don’t know how to sculpt, go buy some clay. Go dig up some dirt in your backyard. Just don’t try to do anything perfect. Set yourself up to fail so you know what you’re not supposed to be.
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