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“Wearing a thong is a pain in the ass” escapes Joe Manganiello’s mouth with complete disregard to the glaring innuendo. “Oh god. I can’t believe I just said that.” Who can blame him? Avoiding double entendres about Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh’s unexpected – but completely acceptable – foray into the male-stripper world is hard (see?).
“Magic Mike,” opening June 29, stars Manganiello of “True Blood,” homo heartthrob Matt Bomer, Matthew McConaughey and Channing Tatum, the latter being the movie’s muse after it was revealed that the gay-loved dreamboat wasn’t just busting a move in 2006’s breakout role “Step Up” – before acting, he was pocketing dollar bills for his dance moves, too. One of Hollywood’s hottest actors, known for melting hearts in “Dear John” and “The Vow,” was suddenly faced with a pole-dancing past. His stripper alias? Chan Crawford.
“That’s so lame,” Tatum says in our recent interview. “I didn’t choose it. But Crawford? What am I: Cindy Crawford’s brother?”
In his late teens, the stint lasted a mere half-year – and though it’s all “pretty foggy,” he also remembers it being a “weird world” – but it was enough for Soderbergh to get behind the idea of turning Tatum’s dollar days into a big-screen event with salacious stripteases, a penis pump and a military fantasy come to life.
“I just hope it’s fun for everybody: gay, straight, male, female … animal,” Tatum says. “I just want people to go and get a picture into this world, because I don’t think it’s ever been done on screen – never like this.”
Never so hot, anyway. G-strings and rip-away costumes aside, there’s enough titillation in the names themselves to get the hormones doing their own little dance: Dallas (McConaughey), Ken (Bomer) and, perhaps the most stimulating besides Tatum’s titular character, Manganiello’s Big Dick Richie.
“Apparently they said they wrote the script with me in mind. I don’t know who they talked to,” Manganiello says, as if to suggest that his pseudonym isn’t necessarily a sham. But is it? “You know, it’s interesting because people say, ‘Aren’t you worried about the expectation of playing this character and what’s going to be expected from you the rest of your dating life?’ And I say, ‘I’m just gonna revel in the curiosity.'”
And so will we.
‘Magic Mike’: almost gay?
What if the strippers in “Magic Mike” were all gay? Expect a totally different – probably X-rated – movie, agree Manganiello and Tatum. But for bros who are all hetero to hang in … thongs?
“It’s pretty hilarious, to be honest,” Tatum says. “You just accept it and forget that you’re hanging out in these banana hammocks.”
Manganiello, who plays a hunky werewolf on “True Blood,” couldn’t forget – that thing was a constant reminder of how much he hates stuff in his butt. “Werewolves don’t wear underwear because they’re just gonna lose them anyway, so there’s that,” he says, “but prior to that, no – I’ve never had a thong on, ever. So this was my inaugural voyage.”
And not just with thongs (to which he notes, now, “I’ve officially hung the thong up”). The boys went to L.A.’s Hollywood Men, a self-proclaimed man “buffet” in Southern California, to check out the scene. The clientele was mixed: Tatum observed lots of women – but also gay men.
“It wasn’t just straight or gay,” Tatum recalls. “Females and males could go. The only reason in the movie it’s just women is because that was my experience.” Mostly, anyway. He did reveal to us that, once, he danced fully clothed on a platform at a gay bar.
“We talked about making it more of a diverse crowd (for ‘Magic Mike’), but it just always felt contrived. I never knew how to do it correctly.”
Do what you know, they say, and this is what Tatum, 32, knew: that he was 18 and living in Florida (the film takes place in Tampa, where it was also shot) when he decided to drop out of college football – and strip. The rest, though, isn’t at all real.
“Magic Mike is a completely fictitious character,” he says, “but there was a Magic Mike in my group. He was a fantastic dancer and performer, but this has nothing to do with his actual life.”
For the other actors, that it’s so far removed from reality – shocking for the level of hotness in the movie – was part of the allure.
“It’s just male wish fulfillment,” says Manganiello. “You hang out, get drunk, do a bunch of drugs with your buddies all day, and then you get out there on stage and grind on a bunch of women and have them grope you and stuff money down your pants. Then you take them all home, or into the parking lot or backstage or wherever, and you sleep it off, wake up, lift some weights and go back. It’s good work we’re being given.”
And it’s good eye candy we’re being given. Is Manganiello clued into just how good? “I have a NewNowNext Award from the Logo channel,” he says, “and I spoke at the Human Rights Campaign as a straight man in favor of gay marriage. I’m well aware of the gay fan base.”
As Alcide on the Alan Ball juggernaut, he really got our blood flowing – though, he says, the gay community first latched onto him during VH1’s “So NoTORIous,” because Tori Spelling “is somewhat of a gay icon.”
“But definitely ‘True Blood'” he continues. “That’s when I really felt it.”
Tatum has done some pretty gay stuff in his career, too. Besides a goof-off scene in “Magic Mike” where, in Marilyn Monroe drag, he tries charming the sister of his new stripper-in-training (played by Alex Pettyfer of “I Am Number Four”), he also simulated butt sex on Jonah Hill in his big-screen comedy reboot of “21 Jump Street.” The hard question comes: Which is gayer?
He silently deliberates, and then makes his decision: “Humping Jonah, probably.”
As for the Marilyn scene, of all the things in the movie that weren’t make-believe, one of Tatum’s best roles might be as the blonde bombshell … because this wasn’t his first time doing her. “I actually did that in my real life to a buddy of mine. It was his birthday and he was at Denny’s and I totally bum-rushed the table and embarrassed the hell out of him in public.”
And his reason for dressing as Marilyn should be obvious, but we ask anyway. “Because she sang ‘happy birthday’ to the president. Come on.” Channing, you’re so gay. “Damn right – and proud of it!” he kids.
Drag queen, stripper, lovebird – no wonder these ladies at the revue, and the gay men watching them, want to put a few bucks in his thong. There’s no alpha male in him.
“I don’t think you need to act tough, and I don’t think you need to cry to show you’re emotional and have feelings; that’s not the case either,” he says. “I love my life and I’m about as happy as I could ever be, and so I’m bringing that to my characters.”
Coming up is a movie with Mark Ruffalo about Olympic wrestlers called “Foxcatcher.” Tatum teases, “That gets pretty dirty.”
Two words: damn right.