The Eagle - Channing Tatum
Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum) © 2011 Focus Features

Channing Tatum’s began his career as a fashion model, being featured in high-profile campaigns for Abercrombie & Fitch, Armani and Pepsi. He made his feature debut in Coach Carter and has had roles in A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, Stop-Loss, Step Up, Public Enemies, Dear John, Fighting and GI Joe: The Rise of the Cobra. He’s about to start filming the movie version of the old Johnny Depp TV series, >21 Jump Street.

In The Eagle he portrays Marcus, who is on a quest to find out what happened to his father, Flavius, and his company of men, the Ninth Legion, who disappeared while fighting the Britons twenty years before in the upper regions of Caledonia. Along with Marcus on this journey is his British slave, Esca (Jamie Bell), who hates him but had vowed to protect him.

You’re playing a soldier again, obviously in a different century, but do you feel an affinity toward playing that type of man?

Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum, right) and Lutorius (Denis O’Hare, center) © 2011 Focus Features

I have an affinity for soldiers and what they stand for and what they do for sure. I think just because it’s so mind-boggling to me what they put on the line, and what they do put on the line today. Maybe it’s because I feel like a coward, that I couldn’t go do it, but I just respect it so much.

It’s a more complicated yet simpler way of life. They have a responsibility to the person next to them and for themselves and that’s it. You don’t have to figure out all the politics, it’s just simplistically beautiful, yet dangerous and crazy.

You and Jamie have a great relationship in this. Did it stem from your dancing backgrounds? He said that you both were very competitive about everything.

That kid made everything a competition. If we rode the horses somewhere, we would get off of them and let their backs’ rest because we didn’t want to torture them all day, and we would race back to where the first mark was. The kid’s fast; the twitchy, little wiry thing. (he laughs)

Did you guys ever get to dance at all?

He refused to dance for a while and then he’d bust something out. He’s kind of shy about it. But everyone in the entire village [where we shoot] comes to this hall and sings and brings their instruments and gets up and dances. It was so much fun.

You got badly injured on this when a production assistant, trying to keep you warm in the freezing river, poured boiling hot water down your pants – did they have to shut down the production?

Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum, right) © 2011 Focus Features

No. I had the day off and they went and shot everything around that last battle scene at the river. They just turned the cameras and didn’t get around the center. Then I came back the next day and, sorry to be vulgar, but wrapped it up and kept going. But, it kind of helped because I was supposed to be hurt anyway so any amount of gingerly walking kind of worked with the character.

Did the assistant get fired?

No, I would not let him get fired. This shoot was the hardest thing that I think anyone has ever done. Not only the hardest but the most dangerous and the most grueling, that poor kid had to run ten or thirteen minutes up to the truck all day for thirteen hours for weeks. He was so good at his job, and he brought me a bottle of whiskey too, and that always helps – it helped with the pain.

You did a lot of your own stunts in this movie. What was the most dangerous or risky for you?

Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum, right) © 2011 Focus Features

Oh God, every one of them. At a certain point, the stunt guy would come up and he’s like, ‘Okay, don’t screw this up, seriously.’ The horse master looked over at me one time and said, ‘I’ve never done more dangerous things with actors on horses ever in a movie.’

We were on these slippery cliffs with ten feet of path and that’s all rocky and it’s just a sheer droop off to more rocks and a loch down there about a hundred yards. It was serious. If we messed up or the horse just decided to freak out or take off, it would have been really bad.

Were you disappointed that there wasn’t a romantic element to the movie?

You didn’t see it with me and Jamie? That was the tension between us! It was all underneath the skin. We were wearing skirts!

Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum, right) © 2011 Focus Features

I talked with Kevin [Macdonald, the director] about that in the beginning but I agreed with him, it’s what makes the movie different. It doesn’t try to succumb to Braveheart or Gladiator, which are such epics and we weren’t trying to hit that golden ring. We were trying to do something different, more intimate, maybe a little more realistic.

What are you looking forward to about bringing 21 Jump Street to the screen?

I promise you it will be the most insane ride that you will ever go on. It’s the most ridiculous script I’ve ever read in my entire life. The stuff that we’re going to get to do, you’re going to say, ‘I can’t believe they’re getting to do this.’

Is Johnny Depp doing a cameo in it?

I’m praying. We’re beating on his door so hard. I hope he answers. We would freak out, I think. We send him something every single day.

It’s reported that he says he wants to do it, so what would that scene be?

I can’t tell you that. We have an idea. It would be a surprise. If and when it does happen, it’ll be crazy as brilliant as he is, it’ll be true to form for him.

Judy Sloane

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