In December 2009, a Florida strip club owner named London Steele sold a grainy video to Us Weekly. The clip, from 1999, showed a then-teenage Channing Tatum dancing on stage at a bar called Male Encounter, slowly peeling off a boy band outfit of baggy layers to reveal a thong and white ankle socks. It’s the kind of clip that Hollywood publicists have nightmares about getting leaked. “Right when I first started out acting,” says Tatum. “I remember telling my publicist about stripping and she was like, ‘OK, well we’re not going to talk about that.’” But after the video leaked, Tatum didn’t try to stifle conversations about his past. Instead, he turned it into a movie.
Magic Mike—a fictional reimagining of Tatum’s eight months as a stripper—was supposed to be a self-funded exposé of the male dancer industry. Written by Tatum’s friend Reid Carolin and directed by the legendary Steven Soderbergh, the plan was to uncover a shady underworld of drug dealing and exploitation, and tell a story about a male stripper turning 30 and wanting to be taken seriously. “When we went to make the movie we were making Boogie Nights or Saturday Night Fever,” says Carolin. “We didn’t really understand that we were making a movie for women.”
When the film was released in June 2012, all hell broke loose. Groups of female friends and gay men packed cinemas to see the likes of Matthew McConaughey, Matt Bomer, CSI: Miami’s Adam Rodriguez, and True Blood’s Joe Manganiello sport nothing but fake tans and G strings. Journalists reported on women yelling, “I got my dollar bills ready!” on their way into theaters. Google searches for “male strippers” reached an all-time high. Ginuwine’s “Pony”—the 1996 track Tatum dances to in the film—had its best digital sales week ever.
Carolin, Soderbergh, and Tatum had inadvertently tapped into a new movement of unabashed desire. “I don’t think it was ever in our heads that that was where it was going to end up,” says Tatum. For decades, Hollywood had focused on making movies that objectified women. Now, finally, the thirst of straight women (and gay men, and anyone else who had ever lusted after Matthew McConaughey) was being quenched. And while what happened after Magic Mike’s release was wild, the making of it was wilder still: a year of happy coincidences, uncontrollable extras, waxing, tanning, and, quite possibly, the most unusual studio pitch in the history of Hollywood.
Part I: “The Worst Idea in the History of Ideas”
Channing Tatum and documentary maker Reid Carolin were both frustrated with the film industry when they started working together in 2010. Tatum had gone from Ricky Martin’s backing dancer to “that heartthrob in the Step Up teen movie series” and had just landed his first blockbuster, G.I. Joe. Still, he was feeling unsatisfied.
Reid Carolin (writer, producer): I was satisfied with the kind of art I was making, but wasn’t able to make a living—it was the reverse for Channing. And so we said, “Let’s make a company together.” The first idea we had was to tell Channing’s stripper story. Everyone on his team thought it was the worst idea in the history of ideas.
Peter Kiernan (Tatum’s former manager and current business partner): It felt very risky to me. It had been a little bit paint-by-numbers for him: you know, get a franchise, and so on. He wasn’t really known. There was G.I. Joe and maybe a few other roles, but nothing iconic yet. Those types of movies have a chance of taking you out—like you’re “that guy who flopped in the stripper movie,” and then it’s over.
Channing Tatum (producer, Magic Mike): I knew it was a weird little world that I had never seen in the movies before. I’d met some pretty big characters along the way. Some great people and some evil people—all the darkness and all the light that makes a good story. And we’d be in control of telling it.
Carolin: We considered telling the story as a big Broadway spectacle movie with [Hairspray writer] Leslie Dixon. Another version was a very dark exposé.
Kiernan: Channing had some other movie that he was pretty committed to—then Haywire came up.
Steven Soderbergh (director): The funny thing is that if I hadn’t been fired off of Moneyball none of this would have happened. I wouldn’t have made Haywire, I wouldn’t have met Channing … We’re in the middle of shooting this sequence at a house in Los Alamos in April 2010. Between setups we were talking and I started asking him what kind of stuff he was working on. He went down the list and then kind of threw this one away: “And then I’ve got this thing about when I was 19, living in Tampa and was a stripper.” It isn’t often that somebody gives you a one-sentence idea that you just know immediately is huge. I was like: “That’s a monster idea, what’s going on with it?” and he goes, “Well, we have a director. We’re developing it but we don’t have a script.” I said, “Look, that’s too good of an idea to let sit for very long.” We left it at that.
Tatum: I was hoping that he’d be like, “I’ll make that movie,” but he didn’t say that.
Carolin: A year later, Channing sends me an article that says Steven Soderbergh was at a screening in, I think, Nebraska, joking with the audience. And someone said, “What could get you to unretire?” and he said, “Channing Tatum’s stripper story.” The audience laughed because they thought it was a joke.
Soderbergh: I was praying that I would get the opportunity to work on it.
Carolin: I said, “You should just send him an email.” Two minutes later he gets an email back: “Let’s get together for a hot dog.”
Soderbergh: If I’m in Los Angeles, every weekend I go to Carney’s on Sunset. So, when people are like, “Hey, let’s hook up,” I go, “If you meet me at Carney’s on Saturday, we can have a meeting.” I remember exactly where we were sitting, and we laid out the road map for the first movie. I said, “You and I are going to pay for it. We’re gonna shoot a teaser for me to take to Cannes next month so that we can make enough deals to cover what it’s going to cost. And then we’re going to shoot in September.”
Tatum: He said, “It won’t be that expensive.” I wasn’t sure what that meant. I didn’t know if I had the money to do that, but I knew I had to say yes.
Carolin: It was about something that was very risqué, and so we didn’t sell domestic rights until we were a week or two into shooting. We had the head of Warner Bros. marketing come over to set while we were doing the dance sequences.
Sue Kroll (former head of marketing, Warner Bros.): They had packed a warehouse full of women. I had never participated in these strip shows. I always thought it was goofy. And suddenly the lights went down and I was sitting right in the middle of the scene—in the middle of all these tables with all these women screaming. I was filled with a complete sense of dread. And Channing is up on stage, and he looks down the long runway and points at me, and I thought, “Oh my God.”
Carolin: He jumped off stage and gave her a lap dance.
Kroll: I was wildly embarrassed, you know? But it was not quite the experience that I had imagined it might be. It felt safe, friendly, not even remotely salacious. I found it all quite irresistible. When I went back to the studio, I recommended that we pick the movie up.
Carolin: The deal was done the next day.
Part II: “An Alpha Gorilla on the Set”
Carolin and Tatum had a month to write the script. Meanwhile, the team started reaching out to talent to get them on board. Soderbergh and Carolin needed someone with “name value” to cast in the role of Dallas, the club’s owner—an actor who could go head-to-head with Tatum in a way that made you wonder who was in charge.
Carolin: I wasn’t sleeping, just churning out scenes …
Kiernan: Full transparency: Reid had never written a screenplay that had actually been made before.
Soderbergh: That was a process of he and I, and [producers] Nick Wechsler and Greg Jacobs, sitting in a room and really pumping Chan for everything he could remember from that period. Then we sort of split Channing into two different characters: his 19-year-old self and his 30-year-old self.
Carolin: He goes, “Let’s make it about Chan and someone younger than him, who is kind of training into the business.” And then he goes, “In the end I think we should kill that younger character.”
Soderbergh: I don’t remember that! But, you know, the trick was trying to come up with some sort of stakes in a world that wouldn’t inherently seem to have a lot of stakes. I wanted to make it in the vein of a ’70s movie, let it get dark for a period of time.
Carolin: Things changed quite a bit. Channing and Cody [Horn] were originally just going to have this friendship—this woman taking him seriously as more than a stripper—and people really didn’t like it. They wanted to see romance.
Kroll: I think all the guys thought that men would want to go because they would aspire to be these male strippers. But from the moment I was in that room, I saw it as a completely female play …
Carmen Cuba (casting director): My main concern with casting was finding guys who could act and had great abs.
Adam Rodriguez (Tito): I got a call from Chan. We’d worked together years before. He mentioned he had this movie about male strippers. The idea of having to dance with virtually no clothes on scared the shit out of me. But anytime I get butterflies about something, I have to act on it.
Matt Bomer (Ken): I thought it would be like The Girlfriend Experience—an indie in that vein. It never crossed my mind that it might be a studio release. I just thought the world was so interesting to me. I was honestly pretty terrified before we started.
Joe Manganiello (Big Dick Richie): My agent called me while I was in Atlanta on the set of What to Expect When You’re Expecting. She said that a script just came in for me about male strippers, to which I replied: “No way, absolutely not.” I was a classically trained stage actor who was rapidly becoming marginalized as the “guy who always has his shirt off” because of True Blood. The prospect of doing the male version of Showgirls was a nonstarter for me.
Kiernan: Showgirls was my fear. It was not well received.
Manganiello: I hung up and sat down in my cast chair next to Chris Rock. I said, “I got sent this script about male strippers.” Chris scrunched his face up and said, “Ugh … ” I said “Yeah, I know.” Then he asked, “Who’s directing?”
Soderbergh: It’s good to have a ticking clock, conversations happening in the context of: “This train is leaving. You either get on it or not, but it’s not going to wait for you.”
Manganiello: [Chris said] “Oh man, you’ve got to do it. It’s Soderbergh!” I read the script and agreed to meet Carmen when I got back to L.A. … which was maybe the funniest meeting I’ve ever had in 22 years in the business.
Cuba: He told me about his teenage Captain Morgan job, dressing up in costume and giving shots at bars in his hometown. It was hilarious and felt very “Richie” to me.
Carolin: [The Dallas role] was written for Matthew. He was in on the idea alone because of how crazy it was. In fact, I remember him saying: “The only note I want to give you guys is Dallas talks to the aliens.” You know, he just really wanted his character to be as out there as possible.
Soderbergh: I got one of the best phone messages of all time. He was supposed to call me on the phone on a certain day at a certain time. I never heard from him. The following day, I got a message saying, “Hey, it’s Matthew. I knew I was supposed to call you at 11 a.m., I just didn’t know what day.”
Tatum: We happened to both be working in New Orleans at the time. He’d talked to Soderbergh but hadn’t made a deal yet. I took him and his wife to a male strip club outside the city. I remember him going, “This is like a circus.”
Soderbergh: Matthew took that role really seriously, interrogating the character: how he treats people, how he thinks about his business …
Alison Faulk (choreographer): He came up with the whole concept for his big dance.
Soderbergh: He was fearless. I remember seeing “spitting fire” in the script and being like, “I don’t know, isn’t that dangerous?” and he was just super excited about it.
Christopher Peterson (costume design): I got this call from him like, “Christopher? Matthew. I’m thinking: leather pants. I’m thinking: Jim Morrison.” And he went on this kind of beautiful riff for about 15 minutes about Sid Vicious and Jim Morrison and said, “I’ll see you in a week.” I had a clock ticking in my head trying to figure out where is all of this going to come from.
Carolin: Whenever he was on set you’d know instantly because he just let out this primal roar. He was like an alpha gorilla … One of my favorite scenes is in the gym, when he’s teaching Alex Pettyfer how to dance. He did that in one take.
Faulk: That was awesome. Those little shorts and jazz shoes. I remember having to physically hold my mouth shut so I wouldn’t laugh.
Peterson: That baby T-shirt and dance shorts combination—I mean, it was an insane idea but Matthew kept saying, “What about Baryshnikov?” And I’d be like, “What are you talking about?” And he said, “What if Dallas thinks he’s Baryshnikov? But let’s do it like it’s Fire Island 1974.”
Gabriel Iglesias (DJ Tobias): He was always in freakin’ character. We’d be at craft services and he would walk up to me like, “How’s the sound system for tonight? Is it good?” I’d go: “I don’t know what production decided to do.” Then it dawned on me: “Oh my God, we’re playing this game.”
Marie Larkin (hair department head): I remember the first time he came in and he had to do a photo shoot. They posed him with this hideous big snake draped all over him. He’s shirtless. And he’s got the cowboy hat on and he’s totally become this character already. And, all of a sudden, the snake shits all over him. It was slimy and white. And he was just Mr. Cool about it. I thought, “What a pro.”
Part III: “OK, Everybody, Take Off Your Pants”
As the project developed, the Magic Mike cast had six weeks to learn how to dance—a skill that was totally new to some. Choreographer Alison Faulk and costume designer Christopher Peterson were brought on board to tackle teaching steps and develop tear-away mechanisms.
Peterson: I went to strip clubs in New York, Houston, and L.A. to get a sense of the language of the clothing. Men don’t necessarily patronize those evenings, so I was greeted with quite a bit of suspicion, like I was a weird stalker or something. But slowly all the runners figured me out. I began to work out the outfit tropes—fireman, cop, Marine—and the tear-away mechanisms. It’s a combination of snaps, Velcro, and magnets at tension points.
Faulk: Chan, [my choreography partner] Teresa Espinosa, and I sat at a table with the music supervisor and came up with a bunch of concepts.
Tatum: I would explain to them how we did it back in the day. I’d give them lap dances and be like, “This is what a lap dance is,” and we’d laugh.
Faulk: Then we presented them in this little conference room, which was bizarre.
Tatum: Soderbergh’s face was so funny, he was just grinning ear-to-ear like a little kid.
Soderbergh: My concern at that point was: How do I keep those sequences from feeling repetitive?
Carolin: You have songs that you want to dance to, and you go out and you find what people are willing to sell you those songs for. For Chan, we wanted to give him something cooler, as an anthem—and we found a lot of things that we loved but they were just too expensive.
Faulk: “Anywhere” by 112 was an option.
Tatum: “Pony” was the only song I really considered because I actually danced to that back in the day. I danced to other songs too, but none were as good as “Pony.”
Carolin: And, oh my God, now it’s in everything we do.
Faulk: It’s strange if you’ve never danced before and all of a sudden, you’re just dancing on a stage. Like, Matthew had never performed on a stage before.
Tatum: Big old Nash, at the time, could barely bend his knees. His knee caps had calcified! That man is almost 7 foot tall and had put a real beating on his body.
Rodriguez: The first dance rehearsal was awkward. We immediately had to allow ourselves to look foolish in front of each other. Alison jumped right in like, “OK, everybody, take off your pants” so that we could get it over with and start feeling comfortable with what was going to be our reality.
Faulk: We just did steps at first—just get used to the choreo. Then: “Get your shirts off.” Then: “Go to your trailer and get comfortable walking around [in a thong].”
Bomer: My rehearsal started as Channing’s was ending. I just remember thinking, “How can a guy that tall move so well?” He kind of defies the laws of physics.
Manganiello: Nothing could have prepared me for how funny the routines were. I’d never laughed harder in my life watching Alison and Teresa do the routines for us to show us what they had in mind. I couldn’t breathe.
Tatum: I do remember Joe being like, “Everything kind of becomes a dance, man! I was pumping gas the other day and I felt like I was in the middle of a dance!” Everybody’s discovery of their inner stripper was hilarious.
Bomer: Honestly, once you have a shared experience like that—so vulnerable and thrilling and surreal—you become a band of brothers. We had each other’s back, and I know, for me at least, that will never change. There’s no faster way to build an ensemble.
Rodriguez: Everybody’s still got a body roll down.
Part IV: “My Hands Were Bright Orange for Two Whole Months”
The actors playing the strippers also had to undergo massive image transformations. That meant getting bulkier, smoother, and very, very tanned.
Bomer: It was more grooming than any of us were used to. And a lot less carbohydrates.
Rodriguez: When I got the call, I was certainly not in camera-ready shape to play a male stripper. I was soft and happy, eating and drinking to my heart’s content.
Peterson: The dance sequences were saved for the end of the schedule. By the time we got to them they were all so hangry.
Iglesias: There was the dancer side of the craft services and the “whatever you want” side of the craft services. There was gym equipment all over the place. Rubber bands …
Rodriguez: The idea that we were going to be dancing with, you know, a G-string on, added to the level of vulnerability.
Peterson: There was a company called Pistol Pete that we sourced fabrics for all the thongs from. In order to, let’s say, “accommodate” all of the men, they had to be custom-made. Although for Alex Pettyfer’s first strip I said, “He’s going to be in his Hanes from Target.” I remember Steven coming up to me like, “Really?” and I said, “Trust me, this is gonna get a laugh.”
Tatum: What girl or guy wants to see their man in a thong? What if you’re on a first date and you decide to go a little further and dude drops his pants and he’s got a thong on—a teddy bear thong or an American flag thong. Like, what are you doing?!
Rodriguez: I don’t think waxing became a consideration until dance rehearsals. And then it was like, “Oh shit.” The gauntlet was thrown down.
Carolin: They were all really nervous. I think there’s a video of Chan that our friend filmed, and it’s like Braveheart: He’s lying on the table as he’s getting waxed and crying “Freedom!”
Tatum: I told my ex: “You don’t ever, ever have to wax because that was the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced.”
Rodriguez: I gotta say, the pain was not as bad as I thought.
Julie Hewett (make-up department head): They were all just mortified.
Tatum: There was someone—I won’t say who—who wouldn’t shave their butt, and one of the makeup artists had to do it.
Hewett: Most of the guys got spray tans. Steven was very much like, “Make them look great, but put it over the edge a little bit.” I would put this really tacky orangey bronzing powder over Matthew McConaughey’s muscles. My hands were bright orange for two months.
Larkin: At one point Channing came into the trailer, Julie had put bronzer all over his body. He was completely naked, except hiding his parts with his hands, and he had to come over to my end to get his hair done with the makeup still wet. I said “Sit down, Chan” and he said, “I can’t, my ass is still wet.” So there I am blow-drying Channing’s butt …
Hewett: Can you imagine us girls in the trailer getting those guys ready? We’d be on all fours trying to do body makeup and the boys would be teasing us and laughing at us. Marie and I were laughing so hard the trailer almost tipped over.
Larkin: It was a movie about giving women pleasure, so we kind of all were living in that world.
Hewett: We’d kind of tease them like, “When are we going to get our dance?”
Larkin: And on the last day Alex and Channing came into the trailer and gave us one.
Hewett: They were goofing around with a boombox. It was really fun.
Larkin: Clothes were left on, just so you know.
Part V: “It Felt Like I Did Something I Should Get Arrested For”
The exterior club scenes were filmed on location in Tampa, Florida, but all the dances were shot over the course of two weeks in a vacant club. Soderbergh’s mandate was for the space to have a colorful sleaziness—to look bad, but not so bad that it looked like it smelled. It was filled with more than 100 female extras, playing the role of club attendees.
Manganiello: No one was ever in their trailer. It’s the only time I’ve ever seen that on a set. Every routine was a party that you didn’t want to miss.
Faulk: It was cute watching the guys do the group numbers on stage, like “It’s Raining Men” with umbrellas. Watching them do formations. I was just like, “Look at the little dance group!”
Bomer: It was really thrilling and scary at the same time—like opening night of a play but you have to be naked most of the time.
Tatum: There was always a moment like, “Why did I write this? Why did I do this to myself?”
Rodriguez: All I remember is going out on stage and then sort of regaining consciousness backstage and immediately wanting to go back out again.
Manganiello: There is a special feature on the DVD with the full “Golden Statue” routine I performed. They had me scheduled for a gladiator routine but I had just screen tested for 300: Rise of an Empire and I didn’t want to get the part and then have this movie come out with me basically parodying my own role. So I envisioned myself painted head-to-toe in gold body paint as if I was a statue that would come to life and reenact all of these classic poses from famous statues and bodybuilding.
Hewett: It took three makeup artists to paint him: two girls on the front and a girl on the back.
Manganiello: There were about 100 women there that day and I can say in full confidence that I got to each and every one of them. I went from table to table trying to top what I did at the previous one.
Faulk: I found him afterward sitting backstage doubled over. This giant man in a thong, painted gold. Like, “What the fuck?”
Manganiello: I mean, it felt like I did something I should get arrested for. How could I have been allowed to do that? But the women went crazy. They loved it. I sat there frozen in the dark as my consciousness came back and just shook my head, half expecting someone in production to escort me off of the set.
Bomer: I remember just being so proud of all of the guys. We aren’t exotic dancers, we’re actors. It took some guts to get up there and do that in front of a rowdy audience like that.
Manganiello: I remember the door bursting open and McConaughey walking in saying: “Brother, I fucking saw it man. There was this island of all women, like the Lysistrata, and under the island was this 1,000-year-old tomb with the only man in their history locked inside of it. And then that tomb just burst open and that man just ran wild over all those women.”
Part VI: “How Would You Like a Lap Dance From Channing Tatum?”
On the first day of shooting the club scenes, none of the extras knew what they were in for at all. They turned up expecting a normal workday and by lunchtime were embroiled in wild decadence. It was genuinely like being at a strip club, except the strippers were movie stars. That meant that things could sometimes get out of control.
Carolin: Normally when you’re around extras, they’re sitting kind of numb. But this was not a workday for an extra. We’d have to do crowd control because it would get rowdy.
Soderbergh: I think Chan had let everybody know, you know, “There’s gonna be some inappropriate touching and behavior—just get ready.”
Manganiello: It was wild. The women turned savage as soon as they realized that they were allowed to interact with us—and by “interact” I mean try to rip our thongs off and grab anything they could. It’s hard to explain the level of energy and the decibel level in the room.
Nicole Shipley (extra): My mom dropped me off. I had no clue what I was showing up for. I had just moved to L.A. and got booked through an extras agency. I was miserable and poor and I didn’t want to go. I honestly thought it was going to be a late-night porno movie or something. I start walking by the trailers and out walks Matthew …
Hewett: When Matthew did his big strip—the scene where he’s crawling down the runway—they went wild. They rushed the stage.
Tatum: He went last. I think the women had really been waiting for him, and he has this magic—he brings the crazy out of people.
Shipley: Girls rushed him to tuck money in his thong.
Tatum: I think somebody ripped his G-string off.
Shipley: I accidentally ripped it.
Tatum: It was absolute and utter chaos.
Larkin: He had to do this quick jump, with his hands covering his package to make sure nothing fell out.
Matthew McConaughey (Dallas, to The Hollywood Reporter): It’s a huge leap of faith to trust a thong. It’s your only protection up on stage. When I first tried it on, my body contorted. And I tried to get myself into every position to see what angles I was covered.
Faulk: I was like, “Are you OK?” He was like, “That was crazy. I’ve never had that before.”
Soderbergh: He laughed about it. He just felt it was proof that he was doing his job.
Fielding Edlow (Club Girl): There was a bond between all of us doing bit parts. People were shouting. It was like Woodstock or Burning Man.
Soderbergh: Normally, by the fifth day of a shoot the number of extras who are turning up on set is half what it was on day one. We had something like a 98 percent retention rate.
Kate Easton (Liz): It was just funny to see these men, who are so talented and have such charisma, be nervous about their dances.
Kiernan: Men being vulnerable—as I’ve learned, women very, very much respond to that.
Tatum: Soderbergh had a genius point of view on the first movie: that the club scenes weren’t about the stripping. It was the face of the girl sitting next to the girl getting the lap dance that was the moment. You saw on their face: “Oh shit, this is real!” You couldn’t fake that.
Soderbergh: There’s something infectious about watching somebody when you feel like they really haven’t seen this before, so we spent a lot of time reverse engineering how we covered things so we were always getting those first reactions—putting what’s going to work for the audience ahead of what necessarily might work for me as a director.
Camryn Grimes (Birthday Girl): Everything was sort of improvised, we didn’t really know what was going to happen. Alex Pettyfer was stripping for me and my hands were on his butt and his cotton briefs were drenched with sweat. The worst swamp ass ever.
Monica Garcia (Dr. Love Girl): I did a scene with Matt Bomer. I was laid on a gurney. He was a gentleman and apologized for his junk hitting my face. But I remember one day my wife was watching TV and she called me into the room saying, “Honey … I think they’re talking about you on Cinemax.” They were talking about how this “enthusiastic extra” licked Matt’s balls. I worked with Matt again in another film and I said, “I don’t know if I’m more upset that you called me an ‘extra’ or that you said I licked your balls.”
Edlow: I remember I got the call from the casting director and she was just like, “I’m about to make your day, Fielding. How would you like a lap dance from Channing Tatum?” It was the best phone call of my life. But I was a little bit pregnant. And by the time I got to set I was eight or nine weeks pregnant and someone noticed and asked about it. It was almost like a Sophie’s Choice moment—I really wanted to be thrown around. But I told the truth and they swapped in another girl and I was moved to just being in the crowd.
Faulk: He didn’t want to rehearse it at all, so [the girl] was surprised. Her reaction on set was hilarious.
Edlow: I was seething with jealousy and resentment.
Part VII: “We Really Didn’t Understand That We Were Making a Movie for Women”
Sue Kroll tried to convince the men behind the film that they’d made a film that women were going to connect with most strongly, but it was only when they saw it become a phenomenon that they believed it.
Soderbergh: The movie didn’t test well. It played great in the room and then the scores came back and everybody was baffled.
Kroll: We discovered through focus groups that most women felt that they were not really “allowed” to enjoy a movie like this and that they were embarrassed to say they wanted to see this film. So it became really clear that our marketing efforts had to dispel the notion that this was something untoward or inappropriate. In our marketing we leaned into abandon: the fun, the crazy, aspirational ride. We had to make women feel it was OK to talk about it with their friends.
Carolin: Sue was like, “Let’s put TV spots on shows women watch and have a slogan like, ‘Tell your boyfriend you went to book club,’ and let’s use a Rihanna song.” The film wasn’t designed to be candy for women but that’s how she sold it.
Tatum: We caught the Fifty Shades wave.
Carolin: We took a party bus to the premiere. It had a stripper pole and music blaring. A bunch of us who made the movie—Adam, Joe—picked up Channing at the airport in it and we started driving around the theaters and getting out and going in and seeing what the audience really liked. We went to ArcLight Cinerama Dome and introduced the movie—it was like being at a football stadium.
Kiernan: There were people up in the aisles, dancing. It was bananas.
Carolin: That was the first time where I went, “Oh my God, this is a thing.”
Kroll: More than 70 percent of opening weekend were women with their friends. They came in groups, as we wanted them to.
Kiernan: Channing says it best: “You know, I made a film about this experience in my life, which really, ostensibly is about men. And women really kind of said, ‘Hey, we like this. This is ours.’” That was just really cool, because at its core it’s just a small personal film.
Manganiello: It had the power to make people scream at the screen in the theater, fully knowing that the actors weren’t there to hear it.
Carolin: We all went to the Chateau Marmont and had a party with Warner Bros. as the results rolled in, and I’ll never forget when somebody walked over to me at the party and said you guys might crack $40 million for this weekend. People just lost their minds. I don’t think that people at Warners saw that coming at all. And we didn’t either.
Bomer: It was no longer the little indie that I had envisioned. I was excited for Channing and Reid and Steven, but I also remember thinking “Oh shit. A lot of people are going to see this movie, and a lot of people are going to see my waxed self in it. What am I going to tell my mom?”
Rodriguez: My grandmother went to it with a bunch of girls from her senior home. I don’t think she expected so much disrobing. Her friends didn’t mind, though …
Manganiello: The press tour was crazy. Take the MTV Movie Awards, when I came out in the fireman suit. At one point backstage I looked around and everyone else was in their best suits and evening dresses and I’m there getting oiled up, taking a couple of deep breaths before I go out and quite possibly make such a fool of myself that I could feasibly never work again. I remember Charlize Theron standing there in this cocktail dress looking at me and breaking the semi-awkward silence by saying, “We hired a fireman stripper for my mom’s birthday one year.”
Carolin: Mike Bloomberg was running for president and was referring to himself as Magic Mike. I just remember thinking, “This is so weird.”
Part VIII: “There Are No Thongs in the Third Film”
In 2022, Magic Mike has grown into more than just a movie. Magic Mike Live—a stage show run by Carolin and Tatum’s production company Free Association—is now in four countries. A third movie is in the works. Things have changed a lot since that first shoot though.
Iglesias: I remember Channing making comments when we were shooting certain scenes in Magic Mike like, “Oh man, if this doesn’t happen, we’ve got to save it for part two.” And everybody was joking around like, “Ha! Yeah, Magic Mike Two? Hahaha.”
Kroll: It feels so ridiculous that it’s only 10 years ago that women were not exactly comfortable talking openly about anything sexual in nature. It’s so interesting how that gap has closed up in such a short period of time.
Tatum: In the postmortem of Magic Mike, we all got to really hear what people liked and didn’t respond to. “Less story, more dancing” was the joke.
Peterson: I remember talking to Matt Bomer in the car before the first and saying “You know you’re going to have to wax and get a spray tan, right?” and him being like “Really?!” Whereas before the second film I started getting calls from the cast like, “So, I’m an ice cream man but my logo looks like a penis and then I rip off … ”
Carolin: The second film was a total departure from the first. The first one was exposing an underworld, the second one was a road-trip comedy and now the third one, which we just shot in London, is really like a rom-com.
Peterson: They’re much less about, you know, cops and firemen and it’s much more about these incredible dance sequences that Alison Faulk has crafted. There are no thongs in the third film. There are 12 dance numbers—one sequence where men are dancing as swans down Carnaby Street—and its narrative is constructed around the Magic Mike Live show.
Faulk: We’ve got live shows in Vegas, London, Berlin, and in Australia now. It’s not like a strip show. It’s like, maybe the dancers happen to take their shirts off.
Carolin: It came about because a friend of mine had gone to some Chippendales show in Vegas and said it was sold out on a Tuesday. I went and looked and there were two shows every night and they were all sold out and they’d been going for 25 years. I talked to Channing about it and he was like, “I hate that whole world.”
Tatum: For the larger part, the male strippers [I experienced] in real life don’t care about women at all. They want women’s money but they don’t care about women. A lot of the times the shows I was involved with were kind of about making fun of the women. You brought your girlfriend there to take her on stage and get embarrassed. They were like clown shows.
Carolin: But then he went, “What if we could make a show that kind of takes down the ones that I was in and creates something totally new that makes me feel good about being a dancer?”
Soderbergh: When I saw the finished version I was completely floored. I got on the phone that night like, “We need to make a movie about how this show got created.” Part of the reason for me wanting to make the third film was to acquire some ownership of somebody else’s great idea.
Kroll: Magic Mike really is a seminal film, one that people will be talking about 50 years from now.
Soderbergh: It’s a really good example of the benefits that can occur when creative people get in a room without any other sort of buffers or interference.
Bomer: It felt rewarding to be a part of a film that hopefully humanized a world I really knew nothing about.
Kiernan: It was a lived experience. And what I’ve learned since then, is that when you come from a place of real truth and authenticity, your chances of making something that will resonate with people are just that much greater.
Tatum: I knew I had an insight into that world that no one else did.
Kiernan: [When the video of Channing leaked] he said this one line that I’ve never forgotten. He just said, “I’ve never done anything that I’m ashamed of and if I’m not ashamed of it, I’m not afraid of people knowing it. Let it fly.”
Tatum: That world can be a pretty sketchy place and I got out and did something with my life. I flipped the script.
Interviews have been edited and condensed.
Kate Lloyd is an award-winning journalist from London who writes about both pop culture and real life—often at the same time.