This weekend Channing Tatum will headline his first period piece: The Eagle. The film is directed by Kevin MacDonald and co-stars Jamie Bell and Donald Sutherland. The film is based on the book The Eagle of the Ninth, which was written by Rosemary Sutcliff and takes us into the dangerous world of second-century Britain. The premise of the film centers on a Roman officer, Marcus Flavius Aquila (Tatum), as he tries to discover the truth about the disappearance of his father’s ninth legion in Northern Britain.
We recently spoke to Tatum about his take on the famous tale, and he revealed what drew him to the material, his obsession with playing soldiers, and the on set rivalry that developed between him and Bell. Check out the interview…
Channing Tatum has played more than his fair share of soldiers (G.I.Joe, Stop Loss), and he enters the battlefield once again in The Eagle. We asked the actor what it is that attracts him to those types of characters.
Channing Tatum: I have an affinity for soldiers and what they stand for and what they do. I think it’s because it’s so mind boggling to me. What they would put on the line and what they do put on the line today. Maybe, it’s because I feel like a coward because I didn’t go do it? It’s such a more complicated, but 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 these other politics. It’s very simplistically beautiful.
Speaking of responsibility and honor, during time period the film takes place, people were very protective of their names and reputation. Tatum shared his thoughts on that way of life, and why he thinks it was so important to be respected and accepted by those around you.
CT: I’ve tried to logic out why honor and your name meant more to you back then and the best I can really come up with is just that things mattered more. You couldn’t just get up, get in a car, leave and go to a new place and start over as easy. It took time and a real risk to just up and leave anywhere. Winter hits and you don’t have any food, and you don’t have anymore fire wood, you need to be able to rely on your neighbor. And if you’ve wronged him, or crossed him, or you don’t have a good reputation, you’re not going to get the help.
And when it came to help Tatum needed a lot. He participated in as many stunts the studio would allow. He rode horses, swam in a cold river, and fought off stuntmen with swords and arrows. Even one of the stunt coordinators was weary over the amount of risk the actor was taking.
CT:The horse master looked over at me one time and said, ‘I have never done more dangerous things with actors on horses ever in a movie.’ We were on these slippery cliffs with 10 feet of path, and that’s all rocky, and then it’s just a sheer drop off to more rocks. It was serious. If we messed up or the horse just decided to freak out and take off, it would have been really bad.
He also had his fair share of trouble in the freezing water, where he had to swim against a powerful current.
CT: I did the part where I went halfway and jumped in and we hadn’t done it without life jackets, not even one of the stunt guys had done it without life jackets and they weren’t exactly sure if it wouldn’t just keep you under there. As I’m jumping I’m like ‘This is so stupid. This could be ‘And, on the entertainment news…”. But it was exhilarating and, at the same time, what you do these things for.
Tatum spent the majority of his time on the film alongside Jamie Bell, who played his slave and traveling partner Esca. Both actors have a background in dance so we had to ask if they both bust a move at any point during the shoot.
CT: He [Bell] kind of refused to dance for a little while, and then all of a sudden he would bust something out. He’s kind of shy about it. We did a Caley, which is kind of a more aggressive and violent ring around the rosy [laughs]. It was so much fun.
Bell and Tatum also share a competitive spirit. Everything they did was turned into a game or a race.
CT: We would sprint. Like 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 is. The kid’s fast for one thing; the twitchy, little wiry thing. [laughs].
As for his relationship with director, Kevin Macdonald, the actor admitted that he questioned some of his decisions early on but in the end he learned that they were for the best.
CT: Kevin, I think made some real smart decisions, and really strong decisions because I was doubting them in the beginning. He’s like ‘I want the Romans to be American.’ I’m like OK, but if I’m saying ‘dog’ and ‘son’ and speaking like we speak today… America’s such a young country that I thought it would be weird. So we kind of met in the middle with the Mid-Atlantic accent, which isn’t a real accent, it’s just a fake, made up accent that lives in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s really just good speech for the stage. I just took that, watered it down, and kind of Americanized it a little bit.
Obviously, this isn’t your grandfather’s Roman war epic. Tatum knows that The Eagle isn’t on the same level as some other major period pieces out there, but it does deliver.
CT: It doesn’t try to succumb to the Bravehearts and the Gladiators, which are such epics. We weren’t trying to hit that golden ring. We were trying to do something a little different. A little more intimate, maybe a even a little more realistic.
The Eagle opens in theaters everywhere on February 11.