Over the last decade and a half, Channing Tatum and Joseph Gordon-Levitt have worked together a number of times, but their latest effort, Amazon’s Comrade Detective, marks a new frontier for both of them: dubbing. The series, which was created by Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka and produced by Tatum, went to the trouble of writing, casting, shooting, and editing a full-on, six-part cop show in Romanian, in the style of a forgotten ’80s Cold War series, then had a group of actors dub it in English. Tatum and Gordon-Levitt voice the two lead detectives, and they’re joined by talent like Jenny Slate, Jake Johnson, Nick Offerman, and Chloë Sevigny. Vulture caught up with Tatum and Gordon-Levitt to talk dubbing, how they first met, and how nervous they are to meet their Romanian counterparts.
As far as having to do a million interviews for a project, Comrade Detective must be a pretty fun one to have to talk about.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: And we get to do it together. Press days are, I’ll be perfectly honest, not my favorite part of this job, but getting to spend some time with my buddy — we’re both busy, we don’t get to see each other as often as we used to, so it’s fun to just hang out and [laughs] talk about the ’80s in Romania.
What it is about dubbing that’s so funny? Watching the show, I realized I hadn’t seen something that was dubbed in a while, and it’s a really interesting experience.
Channing Tatum: There’s something innately funny about [moves his mouth silently for a few seconds] “I’ll kill you.” That’s funny. Even the length of what they’re saying, somebody’s going off and going crazy. They make a joke about it in Lost in Translation, the director’s like [speaks a torrent of fake Japanese] — “more intense.” It’s this long, five-minute thing. “That’s all he said? I feel like there was more to it!”
Are the translations close to what the Romanian actors are saying?
JGL: It’s the same.
CT: It’s the exact same, as much as we possibly could.
JGL: It’s funny, actually, a lot of people have been asking us that today. It seems like that’s not clear, like it’s giving off the impression somehow that we’re just goofing off and not saying what they’re saying, but actually, it was a very well-written, six-episode-arc cop show. They wrote it really well, they performed it in Romanian, and then we did it in English.
CT: If you’ve only seen the first episode, I can see how it would feel that way. But when you see all of them together, there’s no way we could just be making it up on the spot. It’s pretty complicated.
JGL: It’s a well-plotted-out detective story.
You could watch this in Romanian and it would be pretty good, right?
CT: I think they’re going to. I think they’re going to release it in Romanian.
Did you two record your dialogue together?
CT: Most of ours was together. We got Jenny Slate for a little bit, too.
How does dubbing compare to doing something like animation?
CT: Joe’s had different experiences with animation, but my two experiences have been like, they give you a script, you do the script, but there’s nothing done already. They’re going to go and finish all of the animatronics later, so you can just make stuff up and if it’s funny or if they liked whatever you were doing, they could animate to it later. This was completely the opposite. They had already made this, there was a standing story — we couldn’t add anything, really.
And the Romanian actors had already given their performances, so you’re watching them and doing the dubbing that way.
CT: Yeah, and even with their inflections and stuff — you can’t hear it exactly, but you try to stay in the same world.
Have you guys met these actors or interacted with them at all?
JGL: I really want to meet him and shake his hand.
CT: I’m going to meet Florin [Piersic Jr.] at some point. They were going to bring him over to do some sort of press thing with me where they were going to age him up and I was going to say I was the little kid. [To Gordon-Levitt] Did you ever hear about this?
JGL: What? No.
CT: Never mind. It would take too long to try to explain the dumb story that I’m about to say. But I was going to meet him, and I was actually really nervous to meet him because he’s such a good actor. He really is. I hope he’s not just like, “What’s up. Good job ruining all my hard work.” [Laughs.]
One of their fathers is a Romanian acting legend, right?
CT: Florin. His dad’s, like, the Tom Cruise of Romania. Even just the little small parts, everyone over there was so good. There’s one guy you’ll see — I’ve got to find him and put him in another movie. He has a headband on. I don’t want to give anything away. He’s a porn producer, and he is amazing. You can’t coach that, whatever that was. He just was that guy.
Have you seen any of the Cold War–era shows that Comrade Detective is based on?
CT: I’ve only seen clips of what’s on YouTube, I’ve never watched an entire season. That’s not how I’m going to spend my time. I’ve already watched one.
It’s such a weird amalgam of styles. Channing, when you heard the pitch, what did you think?
CT: Brian [Gatewood] and Alex [Tanaka] came in and we talked about a lot of different things. I did ask them what was one of their worst ideas, what’s just a bad idea, and this is what they brought up. I think it is so different because of the inherent problems with it. We wanted to just take one of these old TV shows and just dub what we thought they were saying over it and make up our own story, but we weren’t allowed to do that. They actually wouldn’t let us. They wouldn’t let us license it, they wouldn’t let us do anything with it, so we just had to go and make our own. That wasn’t our first idea because it’s a lot more work to go and film something, wondering if it’s going to be good — you’re going to go to Romania and do what? You’re going to make an entirely different TV show? Then they just did, and I didn’t know what they were going to come back with. I had no idea. And when I saw it — it’s so good! It’s really, really, really, really good. I really hope, I pray, that Amazon puts it on in Romanian as well, so people can watch our version, the dubbed version, and then the not-dubbed version, because I think you’ll get two completely different experiences, both of them equally as interesting.
You could have it dubbed in every different country, like with a bunch of French actors.
CT: Yeah, that’s what I think we’re going to do. Like, in France, we’re going to go find whoever the good actors are over there and do the same thing. It’s so crazy.
Joe, what did you think when Channing told you about the show?
CT: I have something over Joe.
CT: I have a secret that he doesn’t want the world to know about.
JGL: It’s making me nervous right now that you’re bringing this up.
CT: So he has to do anything I ask him to do. Forever. For all time.
How long have you guys known each other? You’ve worked together a lot.
JGL: It was 2003, I’m going to say.
How’s Channing different now than he was back then?
JGL: [Laughs.] Fatter, less bald. When I met him, he was, like, Bic’d. When we met, it was the very, very, very first time he had ever set foot on a movie set. Meanwhile, I was the old, jaded dude. I’d been working since I was a kid. So we were a couple of guys in our early [career], he was brand-new on movie sets and I’d been doing it my whole life. We were both sitting around because we both had small parts on this movie.
CT: Actually, what was so inspiring for me, especially at that time, was that I had never done anything before and to meet somebody so creative — he was talking about doing hitRecord then. It was one of our last days of filming, we went and just like hung out at some café or a bar or something, I don’t even remember where —
JGL: Like a Mexican joint.
CT: Yeah, I don’t even know where we were. He was talking about doing — he didn’t know exactly what it was — but he was like, “I want to create a community where everybody’s being creative and doing it together and where it’s not the studios, where you have to own what you’re making, and art should be for everyone — everyone can do it.” It was the coolest thing for me to see him actually go and do it. I was like, “Wow, somebody actually went and did what they wanted to do! [Laughs.] That’s possible! What if other people did that?”
This interview has been edited and condensed.