Dear John - Channing Tatum
John Tyree (Channing Tatum) © Screen Gems

In Channing Tatum eclectic career he has portrayed a street fighter in Fighting, a dancer in Step Up and a soldier in GI Joe.

In his new romantic drama Dear John, based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks and directed by Lasse Hallström, he stars as John Tyree, a Special Forces soldier visiting his father in South Carolina, who has a chance encounter with Savannah Curtis (Amanda Seyfried) on the beach, and they begin an affair that is interrupted by his constant deployments overseas.

Torn between his dedication to his work and his desire for a life at home with Savannah, their romance becomes more and more difficult to keep together.

What’s the challenge doing a movie like this?

Dear John - Channing Tatum
John Tyree (Channing Tatum) © Screen Gems

The challenge is really to get people to care. In my head this was always about that very first love. Whether you had the relationship and saw it to the end or if you never got to have it, you can’t get that first one right. It’s impossible. You don’t know what love is and you have no idea how to be in a relationship or how to even start the relationship. Usually it ends without you having much say in it, because you end up blaming somebody else for something that you’re probably responsible for. That was my plan at least. I think Lasse’s as well.

Dear John - Channing Tatum and Richard Jenkins
John Tyree (Channing Tatum) and Mr Tyree (Richard Jenkins) © Screen Gems

Was Lasse helpful in terms of your character?

Yes, acting-wise he really gives you freedom, and that’s freeing and nerve- racking  and it makes you work harder because he says, ‘I’m going to give you the same freedom  that I gave Leo [DiCaprio] in Gilbert Grape?, and I had no idea what that meant. So I was like, ‘You want me to be mentally challenged? Is that a hint? I don’t have any idea what you mean by that.’

Then you go back and you just start the work. You come in and rehearse it and you just run the scenes and he starts to nudge you in the direction that he wants you to go for emotion or how you might be feeling. John just wants to make it all work. He wants to be able to stay in the military and be with her and then he blames her for leaving him. That’s not right either. He made the decision to go back in because it was something that he had to do.

Dear John - Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried
John Tyree (Channing Tatum) and Savannah Curtis (Amanda Seyfried) © Screen Gems

What was Amanda Seyfried like to work with?

She’s a riot, man. I don’t know how we got any work done. It was a lot of looking up Abba videos on YouTube at video village and just kind of hanging out and her clowning around. I wasn’t involved in any of that, by the way. I’m a serious actor.

You just got married, how do you know when it’s true love?

I knew because she just makes me better all the time and I want to grow and I want to challenge myself to be happier and make her happier. I just always pay attention to her. I’ll know before she gets up if she’s going to be in a good mood, weirdly. I have no idea why. I know if she had good dreams or bad dreams. I just pay attention.

Dear John - Channing Tatum
John Tyree (Channing Tatum) © Screen Gems

Do you like blowing up stuff like in GI Joe more than you like the stuff that you did in Dear John?

The blowing up stuff is great. It’s fun. They never let the actors be around that stuff. That’s the stunt guys. The one stunt that I haven’t done in my career was the one in GI Joe where my character runs into the building. I fought tooth and nail to do it but they wouldn’t let me. They never let you do the fun stuff.

So doing the emotional side is a more extreme way to experience a film, to experience a character. It’s raw and naked at times. It’s kind of scary because acting is one of the few jobs that you never really know if you got it right and it’s all subjective. Someone can say that they loved your character. Someone else could come in and be like, ‘I didn’t get it, man.’ You just want people to like what you do.

How did you decide to do Eagle of the Ninth in London?

My favorite movies are Braveheart and Gladiator so I’ve been looking for one of these movies for a long time. It is a first century sword and sandals movie. I don’t think it’s in the general sense an epic. Yes there is huge battles and whatnot, but I kind of like to compare it to The Searchers.

It’s about two guys that go over Hadrian’s Wall to find the lost Eagle. There was a lost legion, the ninth legion that marched into the North of Britain to finish off taming the northern tribes, and just disappeared. My father was the commander of that legion and our family’s name has been a laughing stock and pretty much the disgrace of Rome.

I become a great soldier but I break my leg. I don’t have a purpose left anymore, so the only thing left for me to do is just go on a death march to figure out what happened, or die.

Who’s directing?

Kevin Macdonald. It’s by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done, not physically because Fighting almost broke me, but climate-wise; don’t ever go and film a movie in Scotland ever, ever. The people are amazing. It’s beautiful but for the most part you’re going to be soaking wet all the way through.

Did you get sick?

No. Actually, I didn’t get sick. Jamie Bell got deathly sick. He’s such a great actor. You’re just soaked through and you’re freezing and you can’t wear anything under these little thin pieces of cheap leather!

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.