Channing Tatum is trying his hand at the period–piece in his new film, The Eagle. Street spoke with Tatum about the unique challenges of playing a legendary warrior, hide–and–seek and filming in the cold.
Street: What did you do to get ready for the movie?
Channing Tatum: I was obviously going to have to ride horses and fight with swords and stuff, but I had at least a little experience in both of those areas. I grew up in Alabama, so I’ve been around horses. I had some sort of experience but nowhere near as much as I needed for the film. We had to work pretty hard at it — for six or seven hours a day for about three weeks. But as far as preparation for the character, Kevin [MacDonald] comes from a documentary world and is obsessed with reality and accuracy, and he would inundate us with all kinds of literature, like journals of Caesar’s military. We just talked about it, read as much as we could and then we rehearsed.
Street: This movie was completely different from your past work. Was there anything that made you take this role over a modern or futuristic role?
CT: For myself as an actor, I really do want to do as many different things as I can. I think that helps you stretch and grow. Being a young actor and not having a lot of experience when I started, I have had to do a lot of my learning on set. But just to be really plain, my two favorite movies are Braveheart and Gladiator. They’re sort of my Star Wars in a way, so I’ve always dreamed of doing something in this realm. The themes of honor, duty, faith and responsibility to one’s country are always themes that I have enjoyed, and I definitely wanted to step out and do a period piece.
Street: What were some of the challenges filming in Scotland and Hungary?
CT: Hungary was fairly simple. We were there for about five weeks. We shot the first part of the movie with the fort and Uncle Aquila’s villa — hah, it rhymed! — and then certain other parts. […] After that we went to Scotland and everything got infinitely harder. Our crew got smaller, and we were in the highlands. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Scotland, but whoever has, you know you don’t go in the winter and you don’t go to the highlands. It’s colder and more wet than I can ever try to explain to you. It was pretty grueling. I’ve never been through something so intense.
Street: What was your greatest challenge, and how did you overcome it?
CT: Every actor had challenges trying to find the right tone and the right voice for their character. Kevin wanted all the Romans to be American, but we didn’t want it to be too contemporary, even though Kevin did want to make the film feel a little more contemporary in terms of the way he shot it, and some of the stylistic choices camera–wise. […] Jamie [Bell] didn’t speak in a Scottish accent because he was from right around where Hadrian’s Wall would have been, and he didn’t want to use a constructed Scottish accent. But he had to speak Gaelic in the film, so that was his version of using his accent. […] Otherwise, the sheer brutality of every day knowing that we would be wet and cold — that was the worst part. Just the dread of that every single day, just being cold.
Street: How much do you draw on your own experiences when acting?
CT: As much as I can. Obviously, I don’t know what it’s like to be a Roman, or any soldier for that matter, but I know what it’s like to fear, and to understand pain and to feel a need for something that is eating you from the inside. […] I think these are things that some people know more than others, but you just try to pull from everything you possibly can when doing a role like this. I had a father, so I just want to make him proud, and I know that he was a good soldier as well. I don’t know if girls can understand it, but I know that most guys can understand.
Street: How intensive was your sword training, what were the sword masters like and how authentic was that experience?
CT: It’s a funny line to try walk — to make things accurate, and to make things entertaining. […] The sword of the Roman was designed for straight stabbing — not slashing — straight from the middle of the sternum up. That’s how they would stab, and it was really efficient and brutal and effective. Sometimes they would fight for months at a time, even years. They had very unique systems time–wise in the phalanx, and there are different theories about how long they would fight. They would have whistles to exchange positions in the phalanx so that they could take breaks […] They were so efficient in so many things, especially in war.
Street: How it was working with Kevin McDonald, Donald Sutherland and Mark Strong?
CT: Kevin is the reason why I was drawn into the project. I thought Touching the Void, The Last King of Scotland and State of Play were some of the best movies I’d seen in a long time, and him doing a Roman epic — I really sought out the project. […] As far as Donald Sutherland goes, that guy is like a legend, and the most beautiful thing about Donald and some of the other older actors that I’ve gotten to work with is that they still really love it. He has been acting longer than I’ve been alive. […]
Mark Strong, unless you’re a really big movie buff, you might not even know who he is, or what he looks like, because he changes his look every movie so drastically it’s incomprehensible. He morphs into these different people all the time, but he’s so smart about it. He’s very classically trained, he really cares and he is so sincere and quietly reserved. But [off–screen] he’s such a crack—up, such a kid, that by the end of the night we were running around the streets playing hide–and–seek. You think Donald Sutherland, and that he’s so serious, but he was telling more jokes than anyone on set, and then he would drop right into character […] I won the lottery in my career and the people I’ve gotten to work with.