Over the years, Channing Tatum (“Dear John,” “G.I. Joe”) has turned into Hollywood’s go-to for troubled-but-hunky soldiers. His newest film,“The Eagle,” isn’t much different — albeit a period drama, it features Tatum in his fourth combat role, once again playing a soldier on a mission.
Though Tatum is no stranger to tough roles, he said his turn as Marcus Aquila brought new challenges.
“[Dear John] is more of a love story, more about love, not just soldiering,” Tatum said. “It’s just more about a love story, unrequited love, regret. G.I. Joe, he’s not even really a soldier; it’s like a super- hero, like X-Men or something. It was more sci-fi and creepy, lasers and crap. And now [“The Eagle”], fighting with swords and stuff.”
Before “The Eagle” even began shooting, Tatum took a crash course on all things Roman, spanning everything from chariot races to hand-to-hand combat — not that he’s new to fighting.
“I did martial arts when I was young,” Tatum said. “I practiced when I was nine to 13, but then I took a break, because I moved into sports. But I have picked up martial arts in the last couple ofyears. So I had messed around with swords a little bit — that wasn’t too new for me. Horseback riding wasn’t too new for me either. I’ve been around horses pretty much my entire life.”
The actor was originally drawn to the project because of director Kevin MacDonald’s (“Last King of Scotland,” “State of Play”) involvement. Once locked in, he discovered that MacDonald keeps his cast’s nose to the grindstone — for Tatum, a typical day on set could last 13 hours. Because the film was shot in Europe (mostly in Scotland and Bulgaria), the cast and crew followed the European custom of a “running lunch”— meaning no lunch breaks.
“Sometimes, you’re tired in the morning,” Tatum said, “and you have to be up and awake, and ready to rock, so you start a battle scene at 6 a.m. in the morning, tired and kind of sleepy, and someone comes swinging an axe at your head, and you’re kind of like, ‘Wake up, black coffee, a lot of green tea.’”
Though “The Eagle” is based on a novel of the same name by Rosemary Sutcliff, Tatum said MacDonald didn’t want the cast to read it.
“They had changed it pretty significantly,” Tatum said. “I think they are known to be more young adult-type novels and not so historically based in fact or written for older people.”
Instead, MacDonald urged the cast to read a journal kept by an emperor during one of his war campaigns. This first-hand account provided insight into how taxing such a journey was. It also inspired a heated argument on a very important topic: how to pronounce Tatum’s character’s name.
“Marcus Aquila — we had a whole day of conversation about how would you say his name: Ack-qui-la or Ack-quila,” Tatum said. “We settled on Marcus Ack-quila, because depending on where you were from, you would pronounce it differently.”
Now that filming’s done, Tatum said he misses the on-set bromance with co-star Jamie Bell.
“In our business, you see each other so intensely for that long of a time, over three months,” Tatum said. “Every single day — and then you just leave. You leave each other, and you go through withdrawals for a little while. It’s hard to keep in touch with people, but he will always be one of my dearest friends. I’m going to see him soon, so I’m pretty excited. Kind of like seeing an old girlfriend or something.”