The Secret to Making 'Magic Mike XXL''s Channing Tatum Strip

Choreographer Alison Faulk dishes on staging hit movie's hot strip-hop dance scenes

Adam Rodriguez, Channing Tatum, Joe Mangeniello, Kevin Nash and Matt Bomer in 'Magic Mike XXL.' Credit: Warner Bros.

By her own admission, Alison Faulk has never had a problem "dancing like a dude." When she took on the assignment of staging the routines in Magic Mike XXL, however, the 38-year-old choreographer had to dial her inner oversexed guy up to 11. "We wanted those scenes to feel daring and dirty," she says. "We wanted it to be really sexy — the sort of stuff where you you watch the actors do the moves and then ask yourself, 'Um, have we just crossed a line? Is this too much?'"

Judging from the ecstatic faces of the women in the abs-fabulous sequences featuring Channing Tatum, Joe Manganiello and various others' gymnastically gyrating groins, we're apt to say they were juuuust right — as well as "Mission Accomplished." Like the original Magic Mike, this sequel to the 2012 male-stripper melodrama is full of Faulk's athletic set pieces featuring exotic "entertainers" plying their trade. But this time out, the dance sequences are not just hot and heavy but even more heavily influenced by Faulk's theatrical work choreographing for artists like Pink and Madonna, as well as the chops she's honed hoofing in movies like Step Up and the all-female breaking crew called the Beat Freaks. Thanks to her, XXL may be the first great strip-hop movie of our time.

Faulk walked us through five of the film's best bump-and-grind sequences, with an eye towards collaborating with the performers. "I can't tell you how much I love these actors," she says. "Their dedication and commitment to these dances was just unreal." 

The Workshop
"It was written that he just kind of messes around a little bit; we knew it'd be set to Ginuwine's 'Pony,' from the first movie, but that was all that was in the script. Chan's strength is his freestyle ability. So basically what happened was, we got in there, [fellow choreographer ]Teresa [Espinosa] and myself, and kind of messed around with a few ideas. Then when Channing got in there, we basically put the music on and we let him freestyle. And then we would record what he was doing and we came up with the best things that he did — like the stuff with the drill — and structured them into a routine. We built the routine from what he did. You've seen the movie. He knows what he's doing [laughs]." 

The Convenience Store
"That was actually very detailed, very planned out in the actual script — like [screenwriter] Reid Carolin and Channing wrote that sequence out from start to finish. They painted a really clear picture in my brain of what it needed to be from the moment Joe walks in that door to when the clerk smiles. And, of course, they wrote it specifically with Joe in mind.

"So you know, when we read it, it immediately gave us this clear direction of where to go; we knew exactly the moves that we wanted to do. Also, knowing Joe and his athleticism and his full-out dance abilities, we could picture what would happen here, what would happen there, when to grab the water bottle. And then Joe told us he wanted to add this move called the dolphin dive, so we kind of worked on those moves and added that in. [Pause] You really have not seen a dolphin dive until you've seen Joe Manganiello do one [laughs]." 

When in Rome…
"Who was first in the Rome house? Oh, right, Michael Strahan! So Chan advised me: watch his highlight reel from the NFL and you'll see how athletic Michael is. From there, we could kind of plan what direction to go with when we were preparing his massage. And it was interesting because, we really only got to rehearse with him one day for half an hour and so we were just really…it was tight, timewise. Really tight.

"But we were just super impressed with his ability. Because it could have gone the other way: He could have gotten in and been like, not good at all. [Laughs] But thank god, he just killed it. And then, when it came to Twitch [Stephen Boss], he did his own routine. We essentially didn't need to do anything with him; we kind of helped him structure some stuff and gave him a couple little side moments, but everything from the clapping to floor moves…that was really him.

"And then Chan's supersexy lap dance, you know, that was us experimenting — him just flipping me around and trying different things. We researched stuff online, because it's a club in the south, we just wanted it to feel urban, daring and dirty. We really wanted to utilize the entire room, props and all. And all the girls in the mansion, the ones he heavily interacted with — they were just girls that were cast right before we shot. We practiced with them one time so that nobody got injured, 'cause all the stuff we do is stuff that could happen at a strip club. A lot of times the actually got more involved in the scene than we thought they were gonna. [Pause] I have to say, I'm not short on volunteers. I've become really popular amongst my female friends in the last year. They're like, 'If you need anything for those sequences, anything at all…' [laughs]." 

The Convention
So Kevin Nash [who plays Tarzan] — he has these incredible facial expressions, so we wanted to make it very theatrical for him. The guy can always sell a performance, he's so funny, so let's use it. We loved the idea of a cape and we knew we wanted to do something to showcase his legs, because he has these super muscular toned legs. Chan suggested doing an opera song, because...I mean, you see it and you're like 'What the fuck am I watching?' He really wanted people to be like, "Wait, what the…?" So I think we accomplished that with that one.

And then for Adam Rodriguez, we knew that we wanted to go urban and a bit more of a b-boy style with him. So we put a chip up in there, we have a corkscrew in there, a little bit of a sweep and a little bit of a swipe type movement. We wanted to give him an authentic feel, 'cause whenever I see him I always think NYC. I know he's meant to be from Florida in the film but I just think, you know, he's the Puerto Rican guy from New York, we kind of had that vibe for him. And he's the hottest guy ever and the fact that he's feeding you food…you know, when you're sitting and it's just like, the feeling of 'Oh my god he's coming over here, oh my god, he's…oh my god!' [Laughs]

"Then for Matt [Bomer], we were just obviously so blown away by his voice. The man is a soul singer; he's the real deal. It's just so awesome. It's funny because we actually talked about using that song before we even knew that he wanted to do it. Then in one of the first meetings we had with him we knew he was gonna sing and he was like D'Angelo's 'How about "How Does It Feel?"' Um, yes?!

"It's so funny: We were in one of our first rehearsals with Chan when Matt sent through his first take on it, and we were running around his house like little kids, freaking out: 'Man, Matt's so good!' He's a perfectionist, so we knew we could push the boundaries with the style of it and give him like more of a challenging number. At first, there's no gimmicks — he's just dancing with a hat. Then you know after that, well you know…[laughs]. When he sings that song and he looks into your eyes with his big blue eyes, it's like you're mesmerized. I was so impressed with what he did with that number he really he took it and ran with it.

"And then we go to Joe… we thought it would be cool to have Donald Glover sing like the intro portion of the whole wedding thing and we wanted to contrast that with what comes later. So that's why in the beginning it's like slightly cheesy with the pink and the white, the hearts and the oversized ring — just being ridiculous. We just thought it would be fun to have Joe come out in this tuxedo and you're just like, what the hell is that? We have to put him in the crowd because like the girls will flip their shit, you know? They're just looking at him like they're gonna die.

"When we were choreographing it, we knew we wanted to like bring the girl on stage and kind of like 'consummate the marriage.' We had already used a bench, we'd used chairs and we didn't wanna use a bed cause we thought that was too straight forward, and kinda like ehhhh. Chan was the one who said: What about a sex swing? And we were like ah, of course a sex swing, because Joe, he's like an animal — he can like climb and jump and like do a number of things on there.  And we were all completely sold on using Nine Inch Nails' 'Closer.' That section is really a strip tease and he sells it in there." 

Mirror, Mirror
"Yeah,  the finale finale, with Chan and Twitch — that was the most fun to put together. I have to say, Channing is an incredible partner. He met his wife, Jenna, on Step Up and they did a lot of partnering — she's taught him well. So, he knows what to do, and he's always looking out for the girls. And when I say this guy is strong, like, he could be a professional athlete. He's huge, he's 6'2, and he's muscular, and he just knows what to do.

"Me, I'm little — but I'm sturdy, so he can work things stuff out with me very easily and kind of throw me around and he gets the idea of what to do. We get really clear on count placement and safety, all that kind of stuff, so when it is time to use the other performers, we can show them what it is and then he's super comfortable. So he was really instrumental in helping put that piece together, especially the last section when they're flipping the girl over on the floor and they're rolling around on the ground.

"You'd laugh if you'd heard us choreographing that scene: 'What if I go do this?' 'Yeah, yeah, can you grab me by the ankles and throw me on top of you?' 'Yeah, yeah!' [Laughs] We'd watch the playback and we're like, gosh, is this too much? Are people going to think we're not, ah, dancing anymore here? And then everyone would be like, nah, this is great. It's just a movie, Alison!'"