'I can't edit myself': Channing Tatum on directing 'Dog,' 'Magic Mike 3' and Zoë Kravitz

Brian Truitt
USA TODAY

One scene in Channing Tatum’s new movie “Dog” immediately makes him think of his beloved pup Lulu.

In the buddy dramedy (in theaters Friday), Tatum co-directs and stars as Briggs, an Army Ranger taking a canine war-hero Belgian Malinois (also named Lulu), on an eventful road trip to the funeral of her handler. Briggs stops to pee on a “Thou shalt not kill” sign on the side of the road, Lulu bolts from the truck and chickens squawk in the background. Cut to Briggs driving and looking at the dog in the back seat with a mess of feathers in her mouth.

“That was my dog through and through,” Tatum, 41, says of the real Lulu, his pitbull Catahoula mix who died of cancer in 2018. “She was a hunting dog and I don't hunt, so she never really got to exercise that part of her instincts. And so (any animal) that wasn't a dog or a horse she would try to murder."

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Channing Tatum stars in and makes his directorial debut with "Dog."

Briggs and Lulu growing close on their misadventures in the film – from them visiting a pet psychic to Lulu chewing up a car – felt real to Tatum, who went on “countless trips” with his dog: "I didn't really do anything without her," he admits.

“Dog” writer/co-director Reid Carolin, Tatum’s longtime friend and collaborator, says the actor's “instincts” being around pooches allowed him to “deliver the performance that we needed to carry a movie that is just about a guy and a dog. It's not something that every actor could do.”

Tatum – who adopted a Dutch Shepherd named Cutie as a protection dog for his 8-year-old daughter Everly – talks with USA TODAY about his busy slate coming up: starring alongside Sandra Bullock in the action comedy “The Lost City” (out March 25), beginning a third “Magic Mike” in London next month and preparing to film the psychological thriller “Pussy Island” with first-time director Zoë Kravitz (whom he’s currently dating). After that, Tatum says, “I’m gonna not do anything for the rest of the year and just chill and spend time with my kid.”

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Briggs (Channing Tatum) and Lulu the Belgian Malinois go on a heartwarming road trip full of hijinks in "Dog."

Question: What's the key to acting in a scene with a dog?

Channing Tatum: They don't care what the story is. They just want to do their job and get their treat. In the scene, if she's not looking at me, I have to play off of that and be like, “Really, you're just not gonna look me in the eye when I'm talking to you? OK, I see how it is.” And you put little things in like that to make the scene feel like it's connected and real.

Q: What did you learn about yourself directing your first movie?

Tatum: That I can't edit myself. Watching myself is really unhealthy for my mind. (Laughs) If I would've cut all the scenes that I wanted to cut, we'd have a short film. That was a big discovery for me, personally. It was just like, “Oooh, this is uncomfortable. I'm watching myself and getting too in my head about things.”

Channing Tatum dances in a scene from 2015's "Magic Mike XXL."

Q: What's the difference between getting into “Dog” shape versus “Magic Mike” form?

Tatum: “Dog” shape was running like 10 miles every other day. I just really wanted to be able to physically know that I could do some of the things that I would need to do if I was doing road marches. It puts you in a different head space, constantly trudging forward in this really slow but yet long pace.

“Magic Mike” shape, it's all for looks. You need to be able to do the dancing, but it's more an aesthetic than it is physically able to do something.

Q: Are you feeling the training more now as you get older?

Tatum: I can't do long runs anymore. I played 10 years of football, I've done extensive training now just through all the movies I've done (and) my cartilage in my knees is gone. They're not happy. It's just kind of the nature of the beast: The machine slows down. I actually think I'm close to being healthier now than I've ever been, even though I might have looked better before. But I can lose being in shape in like four days where it took like two months to get there. So you have to just stay more diligent. 

Q: Do all the “Magic Mike” moves still come naturally?

Tatum: I can still dance, but you know, I don't dance really anymore. It's not like I go to the club or anything. It's definitely a perishable skill, but it comes back. I've got too many injuries and ailments to name, but you definitely feel them all when you start dancing again. 

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Co-directors Channing Tatum (far left) and Reid Carolin go over a scene on the set of their film "Dog."

Q: What have you told Zoë about directing a film for the first time?

Tatum: Endless things. You need time. Time's like the only irreplaceable thing. You can solve problems every single way but you need time to be able to solve the problems. She's an incredible artist. She's one of the most intentional people that I've ever met in my life, and that goes with art (and) with the way she just moves through the world. She's gonna be a great director. And she's got a really cool script that she's worked on for a long time and she has something very important to say with it, so I'm looking forward to it.

Q: You were about to make a Marvel movie starring as X-Men superhero Gambit before it became a casualty of Disney’s 2019 purchase of Fox. After all that drama, are you at least looking forward to seeing “The Batman” because you know Catwoman? 

Tatum: It was hard, man. I grew up with Gambit. That was my guy. I'm glad that we didn't do it now because I don't think we would've been able to do it as well as it deserved to be done. I hope that if they put Gambit in a movie, they'll give me a shot at it.

But yeah, I'm definitely gonna see Batman. You kidding? Without question. I'll be the first in the theater.