I am waiting with four other journalists in one of those conference rooms in San Francisco’s Four Seasons. It’s a mid-size room with template hotel carpet, refreshments fancily bolted down in the corner of the room, and despite its size, the room is cavernous seeing as though there is one single table right smack dab in the middle.
It’s hardly the greatest use of space.
We sat there chatting about what we were going to ask Channing. We mentioned the whole “burned hot dog incident” and although we heard he is pretty open about the ordeal, we thought it would be better not to mention it.
John (Channing Tatum) reads a letter from his boo in ‘Dear John’
As I sat there, I couldn’t help but think of how hungry I was. I am always hungry before these roundtable interviews. The Fiji Water from the refreshment table wasn’t cutting it. Why couldn’t they have some cookies or croissants on the table? Or maybe even an entire breakfast buffet?
I was also thinking, “Why couldn’t we do this interview some where more casual? Like a Starbucks? Borders? Somewhere out in public where people could see me chatting with Mr. Tatum.
As I was contemplating where I was going to eat after the interview, Channing Tatum walked in. He was looking casually sharp in a vest/button-down/tie/jeans combo. His hair was longer than it was in the movie Dear John and it was effortlessly combed with a hint of disheveled charm.
His latest film, Dear John is cut from the same cloth as The Notebook. Maybe because it was based on the book written by the same author: Nicholas Sparks. Channing plays John, a rough-around-the-edges sun-kissed dude in the Army Special Forces. His relationship with his father (Richard Jenkins) isn’t the greatest and he has gotten into his fair share of trouble. While home on leave, he falls for Savannah (Amanda Seyfried) and – well – you can guess what happens from here.
“The weather here is crazy,” he says as he approaches the table. By “crazy” he means it’s a little chilly. He should be lucky it wasn’t raining.
He looks just like he did onscreen: handsome with a kick of Southern edge. We all start chatting casually as he makes the effort to go around the table and shake all of our hands. It was very Southern of him.
We get down to it and start asking him questions – a lot of them had to do with being a fictitious military character in three movies.
“G.I. Joe wasn’t a real soldier to me – it was like X-men,” he says. “It’s not like we were trying to depict what a real soldier was like and what he has to go through. In Stop-Loss, we went through pretty intense training.”
He says that no matter how much training he has done, he – or anyone else for that matter – will never know what it’s like to be a soldier.
Channing isn’t necessarily new when it comes to the military. His grandfather was a soldier in the Korean War – but he didn’t have the opportunity to talk with him about it because he lost the ability to speak before he could ask him. This is explains Channing’s fascination with the military. He has always wondered if he had what it takes to be in the military. He even thinks he may have enlisted if it weren’t for his football scholarship to Glenville State College in West Virginia.
By observation, he has learned a couple of things about being in the military – and it doesn’t necessarily involve basic training or guns.
“I have a lot of friends that are soldiers after doing some of these movies – they tend to surround you with them,” he says. “All the guys in Dear John were really (Army Special Forces) guys except for four of them. You talk them all the time and some of them have family. It’s mind-boggling in what they have to go through. I just can’t imagine being away from my wife or my family for 10 months at a time – sometimes more – being in harm’s way and not knowing what’s going to happen. Everyone deals with it different – some people don’t deal with it.”
Channing points out that these soldiers are just normal, everyday girls and guys. “They are just trying to figure out what’s going on in their lives,” he says. “They are just in extraordinary circumstances.”
From this, he figures that Dear John goes beyond war.
At this point of the interview, we are in really deep. Frankly, I wasn’t expecting the thoughtfulness of Channing’s answers. I underestimated him because I was expecting something along the lines of his character from Step Up – which, by the way, I loved.
He proved me wrong and thensome.
The relationship with Savannah isn’t the only thing John has to deal with in the movie. Channing points out that the development of John and his father is just as important – and it reflects that of today’s children. It just so happens that the father-son relationship in the movie is a heightened experience of that.
John and Savannah have some good ol’ fashioned summer lovin’
“Everyone can understand where there is a misunderstanding between parents and children – I definitely do,” he admits. “ John’s father has no social skills so he never taught him social tact. I think that’s why John joined the military – so he can learn to be a man and have skills to deal with the world.”
Then Savannah comes along to change all that:
As we talk about the emotional heft of the movie, I, being the unemotional robot I am, break the flow with the question, “Why should single guys see this movie?”
He continues, “I think if you do have a father, brother, sister – it’s a good family movie. I think kids could see the movie – I don’t think it’s too bad. There is one racy scene, but I think it’s done tastefully.”
We have seen Channing in a multitude of roles, most of them being dramatic, but can we expect anything else?
Channing is just full of surprises. I wouldn’t have expected him to be such a character-driven kinda guy. That’s very un-jockish of him.
With his career in full stride and with comparisons to Marlon Brando under his belt (which Channing laughs and says “That is ridiculous!”), could it be possible that this Southern boy has lost a sense of humility? Has Hollywood corrupted him?
“I have friends at home who will never let me forget who I am,” he adds with a smile. “They smack me in the face with it everyday. I’m just normal, idiot Chan!”
You can also take a gander at my interview with Amanda Seyfried. ‘Dear John’ is in theaters February 5, 2010