In Magic Mike XXL, Mike (Channing Tatum) reunites with the Kings of Tampa for a final show at the stripper convention, where each character performs for a screaming crowd of women. The final act features Mike and Malik (Stephen “tWitch” Boss) in a memorable three-part mirror dance. We talked to actor/dancer Boss and choreographers Alison Faulk and Teresa Espinosa to break down the scene.
Magic Mike could have easily become a mockery. After all, a film about male strippers released at the height of the Fifty Shades of Grey frenzy is hard to take seriously. But it premiered as both a commercial and critical success, escaping the worst of the “mommy porn” ridicule and cementing Channing Tatum’s status as a bona fide Hollywood star.
The sequel was released three years later, and while Magic Mike felt like it had something to prove, Magic Mike XXL only really cared about supersizing the production to include more stripping, more dancing, and more unabashed ridiculousness (see Joe Manganiello’s convenience store striptease to the Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way”). The result was pure entertainment.
In the film, Mike (Tatum) goes on a road trip with the remaining Kings of Tampa to Myrtle Beach for one last hurrah at the stripper convention, where each member takes a turn onstage to show off his personality and talents with a raunchy performance. It all culminates in a choreographed mirror dance by Mike and Malik (Boss). They stand on opposite sides of the stage facing the lucky lap dance recipients (Amber Heard and choreographer Teresa Espinosa), and the audience is treated to two 6-feet-tall, muscled men in synchronized dancing, thrusting, and grinding.
The dance sequence was a collaboration between choreographers Alison Faulk, Teresa Espinosa, Luke Broadlick, and Tatum. Faulk and Espinosa traveled to Vancouver last summer to meet with the actor for a three-day brainstorming session. After choosing songs, researching stripping videos, and experimenting with different moves, they came up with the foundation of the film’s choreography. They — along with Boss and Broadlick — later fine-tuned the routine while rehearsing in the studio.
From the beginning, Tatum was vocal about his desire to steer the film away from simply using cheesy props and costumes. “His main goal was to take it to another level and change the dynamic of what male stripping looks like,” Espinosa said. After setting up the male entertainment world in the first film — which had the characters in some clichéd costumes — Tatum wanted to now “revolutionize” it. “He kept saying, ‘After this movie, nobody’s ever gonna put a fireman costume on,’” said Boss of So You Think You Can Dance fame.
Tatum’s final number is an example of that shift. Whereas the other convention routines included glitter, lollipops, and even a sex swing, the mirror sequence is a gimmick-free, stripped-down (no pun intended) performance that showcases both characters’ skills. “It was a rare moment in the franchise where you actually had two dancers, not necessarily actors that were working on a prop, but people that could handle intricate choreography,” Boss said.
The choreography is broken up into three parts, the first being “Anywhere” by 112. It seems fairly simple, but performing it was harder than it looked. In addition to perfecting the moves, Tatum and Boss had to match each other while still keeping the focus on the women for which they were dancing. “We wanted to find a good blend of hot and sexy stripper, but also showcase real dance ability,” Faulk said of the choreo-heavy intro, which was created to suit Tatum’s fluid freestyle movements.
The mood shifts as the lights dim and the music transitions into Jeremih’s “All the Time.” It’s trippy and dark and more artistic (or, as artistic as stripping can get, the choreographers concede). It’s also another example of the athletic maneuvers Tatum demonstrates throughout the film. “One of my most favorite shots is this crane shot when Chan picks up Amber and he’s spinning her around,” Faulk said. “Chan did it so seamlessly that you don’t realize how hard it is what they’re doing.”
As they’re filming all of this, 900 female extras are screaming and waving dollar bills like crazy. Tatum and Boss’ routine was filmed last, and because of the precise choreography and camera angles needed to produce the mirror effect, the sequence was shot in bits and pieces instead of whole run-throughs. Despite the long process, the extras never got tired of seeing shirtless Hollywood men strip, which meant that the atmosphere remained electric.
And then comes “Cookie,” the most scream-inducing part of the sequence. The performance, which had started relatively tame, escalates to what you’d expect to see from a filthy R. Kelly song. “We kept listening to ‘Cookie’ and we were like, ‘Oh my God, it’s so nasty, it’s so dirty. We have to use this song!’ It’s perfect for this movie,” Espinosa said.
“Cookie” was the first dance Tatum, Faulk, and Espinosa choreographed during their initial brainstorming session, and the outrageous process carried over to rehearsals months later. “A lot of that was formulated from jokes, us messing around in the studio,” Boss said.
A part where he and Tatum crabwalk across the stage with the women on their laps came from an ongoing gag about what a team exercise category in a fictional “Stripper Olympics” would look like. As ludicrous as some of the ideas were, Faulk and Espinosa managed to work it into the choreography. If the performance was going to end with the two men being stripped down to gold thongs, they might as well go all out.
Of course there were times — especially during the making of “Cookie” — that they wondered if they were going too far. Faulk even experienced a moment of doubt after they presented the number to director Gregory Jacobs, executive producer Steven Soderbergh, and writer Reid Carolin and were met with a five-second silence. Luckily for us, they loved it, and what we see on the screen is the uncut, original version.
“It’s called XXL. I think it’s kind of what you have to do in that situation,” Faulk said. “You can’t halfway do it. Otherwise why do a part two?”