THE BOOK OF LIFE's Channing Tatum Talks Portraying a Latino Character, Wooing his Wife and Magic Mike XXL


Channing Tatum may be earning Oscar buzz for his stunning turn in Foxcatcher but before audiences get to see the brilliantly acted drama - they can catch the actor in lighter fare. In the wonderfully entertaining animated flick THE BOOK OF LIFE, the versatile star voices the role of Joaquin - alongside Zoe Saldana and Diego Luna.

Directed by Jorge Gutierrez and produced by Guillermo del Toro, the comedy follows Manolo (Luna) - who struggles to fulfill the expectations of his parents and following his heart. His love for Maria (Saldana) is complicated by the fact that the dashing Joaquin is determined to win her over.

During the New York press conference for the film, Tatum spoke about being immersed in Latin culture, fatherhood and what his wife thinks about reprising his role as a stripper in Magic Mike XXL.

Q: What are the challenges of bringing a character to life with just your voice?

Channing Tatum: I guess just the letting go of the responsibility of all of him. It’s freeing at the end of the day. You just let go and just trust the director (Jorge Gutierrez). The whole reason why I signed onto this was… usually you read the script first - that’s generally how it works. Instead, he told me two stories. One personal - that I won’t share here - but it moved me almost to tears and I knew that if this movie had any amount of that in - it was truly going to be alive, emotional and real and beautiful. Then he told me the story of the Book of Life and I thought ‘Wow, this is really punk rock and cool.’


Q: How was it immersing yourself in Mexican culture?  

I really relied heavily on my own Mexican culture and heritage. I’m kidding … I'm just an American kid from the South, so I didn't really know anything about the Mexican culture. This was an education. [The Day of the Dead] is something I’m going to adopt. I’m not a religious person but I am a very spiritual person and I think the idea of life and whatever comes after - the idea of when someone moves on to whatever’s after - if the people that are still in this world treat them as though they’re there - cook them their favorite meal, serve them their favorite drinks - or tell their stories or their jokes. I think it's such a beautiful way of looking at it. It doesn't deal with it as death as in they're gone, and that's why it's literally the land of the remembered.


Q: Manolo and Joaquin go through so much to show Maria how much they care about her. Have you ever done anything like that?

I’m married, so I try to do as much as I can of that stuff. I danced with my wife for an entire three months before we actually started to date. We’ve been together nine and a half years so I’ve done a lot of that stuff. I haven’t fought monsters, but singing and dancing.


I thought it was so beautiful how the movie captured death in a way that children could understand it. Being a father, how important was that storyline to you?
I think it's a really safe and beautiful way to talk about it. I think some people will be afraid to breach this with their children. It's going to happen eventually, it's better to learn about it in a beautiful fiction world than in real life first.

Q: Before you started doing the voice of the character, were you able to see how the animation was going to look?

There was nothing animated yet but there were a lot of character art and world art. Jorge’s wife does a lot of the art. It looked like a magical piñata burst open and the Mexican culture fell out. The first character picture I saw, he had a way bigger mustache. I’m upset they didn’t keep it - but in Joaquin’s mind - his mustache is way bigger than it is.


Q: In the movie, Joaquin learns to be selfless. Has there been a time in your career where you were selfish and had to learn to be selfless?

Actually, when I was going to do Jump Street, I had just worked with Chris Pratt, and I looked at him when I was about to go do Jump Street. I looked at Chris Pratt and I go, Man, I don’t know how to tell you this, but I’m about to go do a movie I think you’d be way better for. I guess that was my selfish, because I went and did the movie.


In the selfless side of it, when you’re on the movie - one of the things I learned in the past four years is that you are not the story. The story is the story. The movie is the story. I think a lot of young actors and actors in general only worry about their characters instead of trying to understand why and how their character is fits and services and is a part of the larger story. You're just a small part of a larger tapestry.

Q: Parents sometimes try to push their children to do things that are in the parent’s best interests and not the child’s. From both the perspective of the parent and child - how should that be navigated?

Communication is probably the greatest tool that you can use there. That’s a hard thing. I’m a parent now and she’s still pretty young - I haven’t quite made it to that part of my parenting yet. I think as a human you want to make sure that the person you're responsible for doesn’t make the same mistakes as you or to be better or greater than you are. I think it’s going to be an interesting walk for me. I’m a very competitive person, and I have to take myself out of her life in that matter and try to let her find her own way.


I remember as a kid, my dad played football and I played football - I wanted to be good because he was good. Kids shouldn’t want or not want to do something because their parents did it. I remember I was in martial arts and there was a time that I wanted to quit and I didn’t want to go to my class that night and my mom said, ‘You can quit if you want but you said you were going to go to the class and you have to honor what you said. If that’s your choice later than you can withdraw.”


I needed up staying [in the class] it was just that I didn’t want to come in from playing and go to a class. It was really smart of my mom to give me a choice but make sure I honored what I said.



Q: When you’re making a movie, how much are thinking about making films like this one that your little girl can watch before she’s 18?

There’s almost nothing of mine that she can watch. Step Up is something that she’s going to be watching a lot. That’s going to be her punishment. It’s really about things that I think I can service better than anything else that’s going on. I think there’s things in life that persuade you. I can feel the sway that it’s had… it definitely changes you - having a child. If some great stories come along that are appropriate — I’m not going and looking for that type of thing — it’s really whatever that comes across that is a great story. But it definitely changes you, having a child.


Q: How was it playing a Latino character?

That was a conversation I had with Jorge probably too late. I loved the story and then it dawned on me, I was like, ‘I don’t think he wants me to have a Spanish accent - does he?’ And he was like, “no!” [ laughs ]. Thank God!


I don’t really know if I can speak to what it was like to play a Latin character. I didn’t really try to portray that because not every character had a Spanish sort of feeling, persona or voice. It gives it more accessibility. So you don’t feel like you can only connect it if you're Latin. I still don’t know Spanish but it’s cool that doing what I do, you get to drop into all these different worlds. Hopefully, I’ll get to do another one and speak more Spanish.

 Magic Mike movie

Q: You’re currently filming Magic Mike XXL. What does your wife think about your role in the film?

She actually loves Magic Mike, believe it or not. It’s weird because my job in that is to do things that wives probably wouldn’t want their husbands doing. Our two choreographers on the movie, they're really, really good friends with Jenna. So I work it out with them and then I go show Jenna for approval.


She’s loves stories and movies too. She goes and does things that probably other husbands wouldn’t want their wives to do. It’s a nice trade off. It's an interesting thing that actors have to deal with. We're 10 years into it now, so it's kind of old hat – we've moved past it. I still don’t like seeing her kiss other people. But she just wants me to be happy. Same with her. If she had to do some part that is going to be hard for me to watch - I don’t want to tell her that she can’t do it.


If I was just doing some movie about strippers, then she'd probably be like, 'Why do you want to do that?’ But it started off as a story that I really love, and it's grown into something that I love even more because it's a weird world that I experienced in my real life. It's just a part of me telling some part of my life. And she understands that.

THE BOOK OF LIFE opens October 17.

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