Yesterday, Vulture’s Kyle Buchanan declared Channing Tatum the new McConaughey — a seemingly meat-headed hunk turned Oscar contender — based on his brooding, mostly wordless, often heartbreaking performance in Foxcatcher. Tatum plays Mark Schultz, a real Olympic gold medalist who, in the ‘80s, was seduced by a sponsorship from paranoid schizophrenic millionaire John du Pont (played eerily by Steve Carell, in a complete transformation), with tragic consequences. The movie has gotten stellar reviews since its Cannes premiere yesterday. And today, at a journalists’ lunch for the movie, we got a chance to see if Tatum has what it takes to charm his way, Jared Leto style, through a grueling awards campaign. The answer: Oh, hell yeah! Here are seven things we learned about Tatum and Foxcatcher.
1. He transformed himself too!
You’ve probably already heard all about Steve Carell being unrecognizable in the film (he is and it’s remarkable). But Tatum also spent two hours every morning in the makeup chair getting a new, broader nose and cauliflower ears. He’s so committed, in fact, that he accidentally transformed his ears for real. After that much wrestling for the camera, both he and Mark Ruffalo, who plays his character’s older brother, Olympic champion wrestler David Schultz, “have a little bit of cauliflower on our ears,” says Tatum. “We have the beginnings of nodules that will never go away.” Tatum also spends the entire movie simulating Mark Schultz’s under bite and almost-Neanderthalic jutting jaw. “I can’t watch the movie without doing it,” he says, and demonstrates.
2. In fact, he got so Daniel-Day-Lewis-lost-in-character that his wife couldn’t deal.
Jenna Dewan-Tatum was pregnant when Tatum started shooting and was supposed to stay on set for a week. “She left after two days,” he says. “She was just like, ‘This is not fun at all. I do not like being here. I am not in an emotional place to be around you in this.’” He describes the entire shoot as, “just not fun, in the best possible way. It was a really painful experience, physically, emotionally, spiritually. But I think it needed to be.”
3. He actually got injured wrestling with Ruffalo and the Olympic-level wrestlers who also did matches in the film.
“Me and Ruff are still dealing with it,” Tatum says. “It’s a movie that won’t leave us.” In addition to the cauliflower ear, his knee is still giving him problems. “I’m pretty sure I broke my hand on the movie in training. Wrestling’s an inexact science. You’re just throwing bodies around and things get caught or whatever.” In another scene, David Schultz comes in to slap some sense into his brother. “The first take, [Ruffalo]’s so sweet, he pushes me. I’m like, ‘Look, I don’t want to do this all day. Just smack the shit out of me and let’s get it over with. I don’t like these scenes. They’re super un-fun.’ He’s like, ‘Are you sure?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, just do it.’ And the very next take after that, he punched my ear accidentally and he popped my eardrum. I’m thinking, Just do it man, hit me. And all of a sudden it’s just like, Beeeeeeeeeeeiiiiiiieeeee. I can’t hear anything that he’s saying. It’s a happy accident in a way, because I look dazed and I am dazed. Ear drums heal, so it’s fine”
4. He did even more damage on his own.
There are several scenes when Mark Schultz hits himself. “I feel weird talking about it,” Tatum says. “They were all real hits. I asked Bennett if he added any sound and he said, ‘No.’ I don’t remember anything of it, but I was sore afterwards. Your adrenaline’s going so much at the time it’s more of something you realize later.” In another scene, he smashes his head into a stunt-glass mirror. “That was maybe not advisable,” he says. He hit it so hard, “I went through the wall on the other side. You get jacked up and you don’t really think, Oh, I’m just gonna hit it hard enough to break the mirror. I missed a stud by about four inches. The cut on my head, that was real.” Then the shoot broke for Thanksgiving. Helluva way to go into family time.
5. He has thoughtful things to say about wrestling.
“[In] wrestling, there’s sort of a saying that you have to be very comfortable being uncomfortable,” says Tatum. “Because everything is a struggle and a fight and if you’re getting choked you have to understand when, like, you’re gonna die, like literally you’re about to go out, or does this just suck? Does this just suck right now and are you gonna be able to live through this and be able to be in control of the pain and all that? And that’s what I think this movie is. Like everyone is just trying to deal and be comfortable, while being so unbelievably uncomfortable.” And not only is it about discomfort, he says, “Wrestling, it’s an intimate thing, even though it’s super violent. You have to be comfortable being basically naked and wrestling. It’s weird. From an outsider’s perspective it looks very homosexual. I’ve gotten that a lot. And I always say, ‘Come on and try it out. You’ll see how non homosexual that is.’ And I don’t know what that’s like, even. But I can’t imagine it’s very much like that. It’s too painful. It’s chess, but a violent chess.”
6. He’s in an adorable bromance with director Bennett Miller.
- Describing Miller’s directing style, Tatum says, “He likes to sit in the pain and the uncomfortableness of it. He just revels in that. Bennett just loves it when it sucks. He’s like, ‘Yeah! More suck!’”
- Explaining why the movie went through something like 14 different versions in editing, Tatum says it’s just Miller’s methodical, slow, deliberate style, and he’s fine with it. “I don’t know if you know this, but he’s a master chess player. He was a kid who grew up in the park playing chess in New York. So he kind of wants to know all the moves and pick the right one. I think he needed to go through the process. There’s a movie where I was almost out of it. There’s a movie where Mark was almost out of it.” (In the final cut, most of Sienna Miller’s part as David’s wife is gone.) “I really have to give it to [producer] Megan [Ellison] and Sony Classics. They let him have that process, and it’s one of the most ballsy, brave things, to let him not put it out last year, give him time to get it right, not try to jam it in a slot and just throw it out there. And I think it’s going to be the saving grace of the thing.”
- Explaining why his character almost never talks — Miller slowly whittled out dialogue in editing — Tatum laughs. “Bennett loves icebergs. He’s like, ‘You get this little tip that’s, like, really, really clear, and then you feel the rest of the iceberg, and the current underneath the current.’”
7. And he’s totally in love with Mark Ruffalo, too!
“Mark has this thing where you just sort of want to snuggle into him anyways,” Tatum says of their incredibly intimate, brotherly warm-up wrestling scenes. Some of the lady journalists at our table sighed a bit. “I get it!” said Tatum. “Trust me.”
8. He’s got killer dance moves.
How many former strippers have made the Oscar campaign rounds, ever? Diablo Cody might currently be the only member of that elite club. Plus, have you seen Tatum in Step Up? Unlike his Magic Mike co-star Matthew McConaughey, Tatum knows, in his bones, how to shake that ass. At the Foxcatcher premiere after-party, Tatum and Megan Ellison adorably dropped it like it was hot almost all night on the beach in Cannes. They also seemed to inspire Jane Campion, who — who knew? — has a lot of moves of her own. Imagine Tatum letting loose in party after party. He could be the best dance floor fireplug on the Oscar campaign trail.