Channing Tatum owns 2012. He rang out the New Year in Steven Soderbergh's star-studded if little-seen Haywire, hosted Saturday Night Live in early February, romanced an amnesiac Rachel McAdams in The Vow on Valentine's Day, and finally won over critics with St. Patrick's top-grossing film 21 Jump Street. And last weekend, Magic Mike—his second Soderbergh film of the year—opened to $39.1 million. In other words, Channing Tatum is everywhere, so you might as well learn who he is, and why he and his prominent abs aren't going away.
So why is this guy famous again?
He's been in a lot of movies since his career revved up in 2005, and his resume recently kicked into high gear. (An appropriately manly metaphor.) "Chan" Tatum—or as I sometimes call him, "Tatum Channing," because, really, what's the difference?—got his start playing likable jocks in the teen films Coach Carter and She's the Man. He flexed his love muscles romancing future wife Jenna Dewan in the dance movie Step Up and then Bambi-eyed Amanda Seyfried in the Nicholas Sparks groaner Dear John. Then he proved his man parts by starring in G. I. Joe, the Roman war epic The Eagle, and a movie titled simply (and hilariously overcompensatingly) Fighting.
But is he in anything I'd see when I'm not on a plane?
Watch Dito Montiel's well-received A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, about Montiel's troubled coming-of-age in '80s New York. Robert Downey Jr. headed the cast, but it was Channing Tatum who received an Independent Spirit Award Best Supporting Actor nom for playing a hotheaded teen growing up in violent, drug-addled Queens. And I can't stress this enough: 21 Jump Street and Magic Mike are really good—full of heart and swagger and laughs. You can't accuse Tatum of taking his career lightly, either—not after a part of his penis was burnt off on the set of The Eagle when someone poured boiling water down his wetsuit to try to keep him warm.
You sure talk about his penis a lot. Is there anything else I should know about it?
I'm glad you asked! In a word, yes. A lot of people have seen it. After dropping out of college, Tatum worked as a stripper in Florida under the alias "Chan Crawford." (There's a YouTube video. It's super-hot and super-hilarious.) And his swiveling schnitzel was the second-billed star after Tatum himself in Magic Mike, a film about the ins and outs of male exotic dancing that Tatum developed based on his own experiences. As a newbie producer, he failed to land Drive director Nicolas Refn for the project and had to settle for Steven Soderbergh, who added hunky hunks Matthew McConaughey, Alex Pettyfer and Joe Manganiello to the man-meat buffet cast.
I've heard he's not that great an actor.
Yeah, a lot of people say that. He'll be the first to admit that he's no Daniel Day-Lewis, and it doesn't help that his occasional blankness on screen emphasizes his caveman brow and thick neck. (Some of the crueler nicknames he's been given by bloggers include "Charming Potato," "sentient bologna statue," "turkey drumstick with lips," and "living embodiment of the word ‘thick.'") Judging by the megabucks success of Step Up, Dear John and The Vow, though, a lot of female fans seem to think he's Prince Charming Potato. Also, not for nothing have both Steven Soderbergh and indie director Dito Montiel made three movies with him.
Okay, but is there anything interesting about him?
Depends on what you mean by interesting. He's definitely a snooze gossip-wise. His wife is gorgeous, age-appropriate and not as successful. He copped to having dated men in the past to Out Magazine, but he seems totally straight and boring now. He's been refreshingly open about his stripper past—so open he made a movie about it—which makes rumor-mongering a lot less fun. In fact, the most interesting (and attractive) thing about Tatum is his willingness to poke fun at his low-rent Chippendales past and his lughead image, which he did copiously on SNL and Jump Street.
I still don't see why he's popular.
You mean aside from his beefcake bod, box office pull, and career-savvy stratagems? He benefits greatly from being a good-times guy, and he's just charismatic enough for audiences to have fun watching him have fun. Plus, there's a small-town, blue-collar genuineness to his PR image that screams Uncomplicated Americana. He's handsome—but not too much, and he's certainly not a pretty-boy. He's a hard worker, but stumbled into the shady world of showbiz by being discovered on the street by a model scout, not from seeking fame or fortune. Even with his confessions about naked dancing and bisexual trysting, there's little in his personal life to indicate that he's not an altogether decent, upstanding dude who loves his wife, his country, his beer, and his dog—in that order. He embodies a simple and straightforward masculinity that in our era of confused gender codes and norms seems comforting and nostalgic. And because no one's feeling threatened by him, no one begrudges him his success. And that's how Tatum is winning the lunkhead PR game.