Magic Mike XXL: Dances and Choreography

Production began in Savannah, Georgia, and included locations in and around Savannah and Tybee Island, Georgia, as well as Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, for a taut 30-day schedule of principal photography.  But preparation began months prior to that, as the principals worked on their stamina, strength, timing and dance moves, whipping already toned bodies into possibly the best shape of their lives.

It was vital that the dance routines were not only original, sexy and breathtakingly intense, but integral to the story and the characters.  Jacobs affirms, “We wanted the dances to connect thematically to each of the guys and reflect some kind of character development with a big payoff at the end; they couldn’t just be spectacular moments that didn’t relate to anything.”

Alison Faulk and assistant choreographer Teresa Espinosa factored in thoughts from the director, Tatum, Carolin and the cast, as well as music coordinator Season Kent, to tailor every sequence, beat by beat, to each actor’s role and skill-set.  “Channing, honestly, has the most incredible ideas; he’s so instinctual and a lot of it comes from him,” Faulk says.  Offering a couple of examples, “Adam plays on the machismo element and he’s athletic, so we challenged him with some hip-hop moves and a kip-up, which is a kind of full-body rising movement from the floor that requires a lot of abdominal strength.  Kevin’s strength is his theatrics so we showed that off – along with his legs.  His muscle definition goes all the way up his thighs so our costume designer, Chris, put him in a cape and really short shorts.”

Faulk’s scripted direction was often quite specific.  But not always, as she laughingly recounts, “Reid would sometimes write a description of what a dance entailed, for example, Joe’s scene in the mini-mart would read, ‘Then he pours water on himself and rips his shirt off.’  But for Channing’s big number, it was more like, ‘And then the most insane routine in the history of cinema occurs.’”

Carolin responds, “We’d all go over the broad strokes together, and then, when we went into the dance studio later, 90 percent of what we saw would be exactly the fantasy of what we had hoped it would be.  The other 10 percent would present possibilities of another way to go, and that might send me back to retool a scene.  It was a collaborative process because these routines are such an important part of the story.”

Tatum lent his expertise, working closely with Faulk and Jacobs to craft the most powerful dance performances, not only for himself but for all the roles – a process that could have been far more awkward if not for the fact that he and the choreographer share a longtime association.  “We spent hours in a room, trying to figure out the right dance moves,” he says.  “We were saying things like, ‘Don’t put your crotch here; put it more over here.’  It was ridiculous.”

Their dedication was evident throughout, starting with the first beats of Tatum’s opening number, a stirring freestyle solo that Mike executes in the garage where he makes furniture, triggered by Ginuwine’s “Pony” on the radio.  As Magic Mike, it was his signature song, and hearing it still sets his body irresistibly in motion.  Alone, he moves seemingly for the pure pleasure of it, ingeniously incorporating the drills and sanders of his trade while gliding across workbenches and spinning off chairs as the music guides him – perhaps reminding himself that dancing is still a part of who he is.

Not that there was any doubt. “Channing’s performance is unbelievable,” Jacobs states.  “It’s really impossible to take your eyes off him when he starts to move.  And it’s there, in that first dance, when he hears that song and the call of this trip is so strong that he can’t pass it up.”

The guys then officially kick things off with a visit to drag-queen night at the fictional Mad Mary’s in Jacksonville, featuring real-life drag performer Vicky Vox as Miss Tori Snatch.  It’s a riotous free-for-all that sweeps everyone onto the stage in a voguing wave – including Tobias, in platform heels, ruffled sleeves and a fruit-laden headdress that would have done Carmen Miranda proud.  “The deal is, they’re going to dish out some money to the winner, so Tobias gets inspired,” comedian Gabriel Iglesias sets the scene.  “After the first film, I told them, ‘Hey, whatever you want me to do in this one, just let me know…as long as I can have a fig leaf or something.’  We need to keep certain things a secret.”

Production designer Howard Cummings used an existing strip club whose owner didn’t want to close during peak hours.  So they converted it into the anything-goes Mad Mary’s during the day for rehearsals and shooting, and relinquished it to the locals at night.

As the festivities spill over into a beach party, illuminated mainly by car headlights, Mike has his first of several chance meetings with Amber Heard’s Zoe. An intriguing young woman with a flair for candid photography, Zoe is someone he’d like to learn more about, but, for the moment, she gives him only a smile and something to think about.  “What I like about the way these two interact is that they don’t follow a traditional trajectory of ‘boy meets girl, boy chases girl,’” Heard observes of their keep-‘em-guessing interplay.  “It’s not about that.  We get the impression that they have something to impart to each other which is not possible in their first meeting, though they’re drawn to each other.”

The night also brings an unspoken friction between Mike and the usually laid-back Ken to a flashpoint, prompting Kevin Nash to quip on screen, “It’s always the pretty ones” – one of many ad-libs the actor deftly landed, to the delight of his comrades.  “I couldn’t stand next to him because he’d chime in with something like that off the top of his head and make me laugh,” Bomer admits.  “It was the combination of the Tarzan character with Kevin’s deadpan delivery and his sheer size that just cracked us up.”

The cast credits director Jacobs for fostering an atmosphere that encouraged banter, as well as allowing them to help develop characters who were introduced in the first film, and who we are getting to know a little better this time.  “Looking back, you can see the growth of the group,” says Nash. “At the same time, when we’re in our comfort zone, it’s like we’re back at camp and everyone wants to party with their buddies for as long as possible.”

But as much as they have changed, Mike points out that those changes have not found their way into the act, which, as good as it is, features choreography imposed on them years ago by their former manager.  Why not create something new?  If this is their blow-out performance, why not embrace the risk and the adrenalin and do it on their own terms?

It’s Big Dick Richie who takes the plunge first, with a dance that will likely impact how audiences feel about gas station mini-marts forever, not to mention chips and water bottles.

Making use of the non-traditional setting and props for an immediate, organic feel, Faulk focused on Joe Manganiello’s many strengths. “Joe is full-out,” she remarks.  “No matter what he’s doing, he’s doing it completely, and he moves fast.  He’s all about power and strength and precision, and striking beautiful shapes with his body, and he got really good at sliding and body rolls.  He came to us during rehearsal and said he’d been practicing a dolphin dive, and wanted to work it into the act.”

Manganiello also injected a fair amount of humor into the playful scene.  The way Jacobs staged the sequence, BDR’s buddies eagerly follow the action from outside the store windows while he puts on a one-man show for perhaps the luckiest clerk who ever stepped behind a counter, a decision that reaped rewards beyond what the director expected. “I knew I wanted to have the guys outside cheering him on but didn’t realize how important it was going to be to cut to their reactions as he got into it, and how much it would come alive in the moment, because they were genuinely overjoyed watching him do that,” he says.