From nowhere he came to steal every scene as a taciturn yet charismatic tough guy, coiled like a watchspring and ready to erupt into violence, in 2006’s A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints.
Suddenly Channing Tatum was being shoehorned into comic-book action flicks like GI Joe, weepies such as Dear John and, most recently, high-octane thrillers like White House Down in which his buddy in the shoot-outs and gunplay was Jamie Foxx as the US President.
But who could have known that Tatum could dance? A gig at the Oscars, with Tatum whirling Charlize Theron across the stage to an old-style tune, solved any doubts about his ability as a mover.
Or that he could really act? Check out the broad range of films since 2006. Or be funny? Comic timing is a gift. You either have it or you don’t. And in 21 Jump Street – and, now, its sequel 22 Jump Street – Tatum is partnered with Jonah Hill who knows a thing or two about comedy.
If Lethal Weapon, with Riggs/Murtaugh, was action and stunts laced with comedy then 22 Jump Street, with Schmidt/Jenko (aka Hill and Tatum) is comedy laced with action and stunts.
This second outing sees our ill-matched pair going undercover in a college. But their friendship is tested when Schmidt immerses himself in the arts and Jenko finds a new buddy on the football team.
“I’d never been in a comedy before,” reveals Tatum. “I learned to trust the process. I mean, Jonah is so good, he can throw out four or five different ways of saying a line, one right after another. ”
In real life Tatum is a 6ft Adonis who crashed out of football in high school at the age of 19. In the film he finds himself revisiting his teenage years courtesy of a “bromance” with Zook (Wyatt Russell), the team’s quarterback.
“Zook is kind of Jenko’s man-crush,” says Tatum. “There are jealousy issues immediately and those issues get in the way of the case that Schmidt and Jenko are supposed to be working. They end up investigating separately.”
Part of the success of the Jump Street series – another film must be on the cards – is that it both pays tribute to and subverts the traditional buddy movie and the double acts of Mel Gibson/Danny Glover or Will Smith/Martin Lawrence.
In fact it maybe owes more to Freebie and the Bean and other off-kilter action comedies. “When I watch an action-comedy – like 48 Hours or Bad Boys – I want to believe that those guys hang out after the movie, chilling at the bar,” says Tatum. “That’s how Jonah and I are for the most part.”
And how is the body holding up? Running, shooting and doing stunts is one thing, playing football is another rumble altogether. Tatum smiles a wistful smile.
“I ended up going to a small school in West Virginia, played for a year, and it wasn’t what I wanted to do. So I came home and wrapped it up.”
“I hadn’t played football in 14 years,” he explains. “I’ve got a torn ligament in my right foot that has become a chronic thing. And I rolled my ankle two weeks into the football scenes. Even so, I loved it. It was nostalgic for me to get out there and bang heads again. It was interesting and weird to relive that time in my life, but also fun. If I’d ended up going to that school, my parents would have been able to see me play. But who knows if I would be acting today?”
22 Jump Street (15) is on saturation release.