Cover Story

'Magic Mike''s Men at Work

Channing Tatum is Hollywood's hottest new star, but he used to strip to pay the bills. His experiences have sparked Steven Soderbergh's upcoming film ''Magic Mike.'' Over drinks, Tatum and his magnetic costars — Matthew McConaughey, Matt Bomer, and Joe Manganiello — talk about finding their characters and losing their pants

Channing Tatum digs in to a meal of pizza, steak salad, and spaghetti at a restaurant in New York's West Village. ''This is the post-photo-shoot diet,'' he says with a smile. (His drink of choice: a plastic cup of Jack Daniel's that he brought from the shoot across the street.) The feast is a mini-reunion for Tatum and his Magic Mike costars Matthew McConaughey, Matt Bomer, and Joe Manganiello, who settle into backslapping like old pals. ''Sorry, we'll get around to actually answering questions in a minute,'' says Tatum, 32. ''We're just catching up.''

They cover a lot of ground — Johnny Cash, college football, celebrity chefs. It takes a while before anyone even brings up how Tatum's career has changed since shooting wrapped on Steven Soderbergh's Magic Mike last fall. The actor, who's married to his Step Up costar Jenna Dewan-Tatum, has officially landed on the A list thanks to a pair of hits: the romantic drama The Vow, which opened to $41.2 million in February, and the March action comedy 21 Jump Street. Even McConaughey is impressed. ''The $41 Million Man,'' he says, pointing at Tatum. ''I've never been that.'' The praise rolls right off Tatum. ''You go at it just as hard on every film,'' he says. ''Some of them work, and some of them don't.''

Hoping to nudge Magic Mike (out June 29) into the former category, the guys want to make one thing very clear: Their movie is not a male Showgirls. Yes, it's an R-rated story about a handsome kid (Alex Pettyfer) who gets recruited by a stripper (Tatum) to join an all-male revue comprising dancers with names like Dallas (McConaughey), Ken (Bomer), and Big D--- Richie (Manganiello). And yes, it has some of the wildest, campiest stripping scenes ever seen in a studio film, making good use of body paint, rip-away policeman uniforms, and skimpy thongs. But Tatum, who worked as a stripper in his teens and pitched his story to Soderbergh, says the movie is less about naked ambition than about ''that feeling of 'I had a plan, the plan went to s---, now I don't know what to do.''' Besides, unlike Showgirls, ''this movie is intentionally funny,'' says Manganiello with a laugh. ''In one scene, I'm painted gold with a fig leaf over my d---, dry-humping 200 women.'' And on that note...

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