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MAGIC MIKE XXL

Domina: Redefining Possibility
If it's change they're looking for, Mike, Ken, BDR, Tito and Tarzan are headed in the right direction with an unscheduled stop at Domina, Mike's pre-Tampa stomping grounds, though it's nothing like he remembers. A private club in a gated Victorian mansion with a hint of classical Greek, it bears an elegantly rendered "R" for its proprietor, Rome. Inside is another realm, at once dazzling and sensual, earthy and refined.

The sprawling compound is composed of two buildings that appear side-by-side but were actually found eight blocks apart in different Savannah neighborhoods: one an occupied family home from which production borrowed the first floor, and the other an empty house on the market, which required completion of renovations and landscaping. A restaurant adjoining the empty house, Elizabeth on 37th, allowed them to break through a wall to create an impressive archway through which Rome escorts her guests. Its interior decor is eclectic and sumptuous, with patterned wall coverings, rich draperies, glittering drapes and interesting details like a panther statue that figures in one of the dances, while the exterior offers sensual play of light and shadow under a canopy of trees.

"This is Rome's interpretation of what she believes the world should look like - an equal playing field of feminine and masculine energies and a place where men and women can explore and enjoy those energies together," offers Pinkett Smith. "She's not selling sex; she's celebrating beauty. It's a place where women have the opportunity to enjoy their fantasies in the way they choose, rather than the way in which people tell them they should. It brings what's in the dark into the light. Nobody's getting hurt. Nobody's getting exploited. We're able to come together as adults and bask in this energy and have a good time. That was my foundation for this character and what she does."

Rome's attitude encompasses one of the film's main themes. Tatum explains, "It's about these five guys not doing what so many others are doing in the world of male stripping. The idea with 'Magic Mike XXL' was to have them discover for themselves what's hot and fun and sexy, and a huge part of that is by asking women what they want, instead of telling them it's a cowboy in ass-less chaps. The beauty of Rome's domain is that it's designed to be a unique experience. You walk from room to room in this traditional southern house and you don't know what you're going to find."

It's a concept all the more spot-on considering the evolution of the part. As Pinkett Smith recalls, "When I first got a call from my agents, they said, 'Just listen. There's a role in "Magic Mike XXL" that's written for a man but Greg and Channing would like to talk to you about it.' In that first script, Rome was a guy. And an interesting guy, at that. But I loved the possibility I saw with the character and the opportunity to work with Reid and Greg to figure out who this woman was who would have this club. That was really intriguing for me."

"Jada was a revelation," says Jacobs. "We introduced that character but she made it special. And because her Rome is so strong, feminine and smart, you buy the backstory of her with Mike in a huge way. She's a jolt of electricity when she enters the story in the second act."

Rome also brings her headliners to the party: Andre, Augustus and Malik, played, respectively, by Donald Glover, Michael Strahan and Stephen 'tWitch' Boss.

Not a traditional strip-club act, Andre, in an open jacket over his bare chest, gets hearts racing by greeting fans with a romantic song they know, followed by a piece he composes on the spot for whichever lucky woman Rome has singled out for some special attention. Getting inside the character, Glover says, "He's a guy who sees himself as a healer. Not that he doesn't want to meet some ladies and 'get down,' but I think he really sees himself as providing a service for women. It's not really about the sex as much as it is the fantasy."

Glover was cast after Tatum heard him perform a freestyle rap on a radio show and brought him to the attention of "Magic Mike XXL" casting director Carmen Cuba. He wrote the piece his character sings as an impromptu tribute to a shy club patron.

Andre also motivates Ken, who has been privately nurturing his own vocal aspirations. Says Glover, "Andre opens him to the possibility of working song into his act since it's one of his strongest talents, in keeping with another of the movie's themes, which is recognizing what you're good at and what you really want to bring."

Strahan's casting had a similar spontaneity, harking back to an appearance Tatum made to promote "Magic Mike" on Strahan's first day hosting ABC's "Live with Kelly and Michael." Says Carolin, "They got to talking about stripping and Michael said he'd do it if he had the chance. Channing said if there's a second movie he should be in it, and Michael agreed. Three years later, he was as good as his word. He did it, and he was fearless."

"I didn't know what to expect," says Strahan, making his feature film debut. "When I looked in the mirror, I didn't even know myself anymore. There were a whole bunch of hot women there, but the guys were stealing the show."

Faulk initially envisioned a lower-impact, sensual massage sequence for Augustus but, after viewing Strahan's Hall of Fame highlight reel, her choreography escalated to an athletic exhibition that made full use of his killer physique. "Nobody came in here half-stepping," attests Kevin Nash, another actor who made the successful transition from the sports world. "Michael looked like he was ready for training camp. He was in good shape and he gave it everything he had. There's a scene where he leaps over a table and I'm thinking, 'That dude could still play in the NFL.'"

The filmmakers knew from the start there would be a role for tWitch. Once again, Tatum had a hand in bringing him aboard, as an admirer of his hip-hop and "popping and ticking" technique. A fan of the first film, tWitch had been looking forward to a sequel and perhaps a chance to participate, saying, "'Magic Mike' was close to my heart. When they asked if I'd be interested, I said 'Absolutely!'" It's a comedy about male exotic dancers, but what people are also going to witness is art. We really infuse the art in there. It's a lot more than taking your shirt off. Learning choreography reprograms your body to move in different ways and it's incredibly difficult. I've been doing it for 16 years and my hat is off to every actor in this movie."

Though he and Tatum worked with Faulk for their grand finale, tWitch's solo at Rome's was entirely his own, delivered with a passion and inventiveness designed to put the fear into Mike. Says Tatum, "Watching Malik makes Mike realize that as much as he might have thought of himself back in the day, if this is the competition, he'll have to prove himself again. When Rome calls him out, in a room full of women who have a strong opinion of whether or not you can actually dance, he finds himself on that terrifying precipice. He either has to jump and go through the fire or back out and fade into the background."

Of course, Mike chooses the fire.

As Rodriguez observes, "The last time you do something ends up being the first time you start moving in another direction, and that's the way this odyssey is heading."

Similarly, for each one of the former Kings of Tampa, Jacobs notes, "Rome's club and the performances they see there really inspire them and make them realize what is possible, and what they need to bring to their own routines and to the convention."

Be Careful What you Ask For

Another unscheduled but equally inspiring detour takes them to a formal-looking plantation house owned by a very informal woman: Nancy, played with authentic southern charm by the South Carolina-born Andie MacDowell, whose breakout role was in Steven Soderbergh's now-classic "sex, lies and videotape." Says Jacobs, "She was the first person I thought of when this character was written."

Recently divorced, unabashedly flirtatious and a mite inebriated, Nancy is toasting her newfound freedom with some girlfriends, and they couldn't be more delighted when these five handsome hunks in shorts and sleeveless shirts enter the floral-wallpapered parlor like gladiators taking the arena. For MacDowell, "It was a totally different experience than I've ever had in my entire career; a lot of big, crazy, talented male energy."

Pressed to introduce themselves to these fine ladies, the guys go surprisingly deep, revealing information they didn't even know about each other, and which will ultimately figure into their stage personas in ways they don't yet fully realize. Mike makes another serendipitous connection with Zoe, but the evening's real winner might be BDR.

Playing at being mysterious, Manganiello offers, "My character has had some difficulty romantically, that has become a source of concern for him. Let's say it takes the right kind of woman to handle a guy like Big Dick Richie."

"And Nancy says, 'Bring it on,'" MacDowell counters enthusiastically. "She's primed for a good time and she may have finally found the right man."

Burning Down the House

Everything comes to a climax at the stripper convention.

In a venue where many roads will meet, Mike and Zoe reconnect again in a potential "third time's the charm" scenario, and Mike encounters an old friend in the form of the show's self-assured master of ceremonies, Paris, played by Elizabeth Banks, the convention gatekeeper who has her doubts about whether or not Mike still has the magic. Paris also proves she can still surprise him when Mike discovers they aren't the only attendees with an interesting past.

But what the convention really offers is the opportunity to spotlight each member of the talented ensemble with thrilling individual routines on multiple platforms, leading up to a spectacular number everyone has been waiting for: Channing Tatum and tWitch, matching their combustible energies in a dance duet, on opposing sides of a giant picture frame bisecting the main stage.

Costume designer Christopher Peterson says, "We wanted a graphic look so when you saw the mirroring movement it was very clear, so we went with black, white and silver. Nike came up with a sneaker for us made of Scotchlite, a reflective fabric made by 3M that's used in road signs. We embellished their jeans with strips of the same material so that when the strobe lights hit, they flash, and when they move their legs in a particular way, you really catch that movement, not only because of the stripe defining the leg but also the light it's kicking back at the camera."

The number was Tatum's idea, based partly on the fact that he and tWitch are good physical counterparts and that it would be strikingly different. For their characters, Mike and Malik, it's a suitable melding of partnership and competition.

"It's something I've never done before, performing with another person as their reflection, not to mention dancing with Channing Tatum, which, in itself, is pretty crazy," says tWitch. "While your partner is moving to the right, you move to the left, and you have to match each other's speed and other nuances." The dancer concedes it also marked another passage in that "it's the first time I've danced in such little attire. So, not only was I worried about getting the steps and the timing right, and making sure the angles were good for the camera, but I knew that by the end I'd be standing there with my butt showing. Solidarity was the only thing that helped. I'd look to my right and left and there were my brothers standing there the same way."

At least he knows it will be appreciated. "I think we could have charged admission for people to just to watch Channing and tWitch rehearse," relates Jacobs, who staged the number before a room full of enthusiastic extras. "They're both such incredible dancers, the performance was amazing and the response was thunderous. When the dance finished and the pants came off, and they were standing there in thongs, it was the loudest roar I've ever heard."

All the characters hit that venue with newfound confidence and fervor, because they're doing it their way. The old routines are gone - out the window in more ways than one - and each man brings to the stage a personalized performance mixed from his own style, experience and imagination, and served up hot.

Even their clothing reflects a new individuality, though Peterson remarks, "These guys are so good-looking, I could put them in trash bags with belts and look like a genius." Gone is the standard stripper fare and in its place are costumes the group had to put together themselves, while creating their routines. For example, artistic Tarzan uses a tablecloth from the hotel to fashion a dashing cape for a fantasy bit Peterson calls "Elizabethan filtered through International Male"; budding Fro-Yo entrepreneur Tito launches a flavor-themed routine with a twist on an ice cream vendor's uniform; and the romantic BDR makes an elegant entrance in a groom's tuxedo that tears away to reveal his untamed alter-ego in a segue to the wedding night, fueled by Nine Inch Nails' pulsing "Closer."

The convention is also where Ken stakes a claim on his singing career with a soulful rendition of D'Angelo's "Untitled (How Does it Feel)," a moment that similarly marks Matt Bomer's movie singing debut. "It was a crazy dream come true," he says, before describing the idea's inception. "Between shots on the first movie, we'd go out and entertain the extras. One day, Channing handed me a microphone and asked, 'What do you do?' and Joe, who I've known since I was 18, said 'Sing something,' so I did it. Channing remembered that, and when we started on the sequel, he felt I should sing. It was an unforgettable experience, and I'm so grateful that Greg let everyone bring something to the table from their own bag of tricks."

"It was a blast, watching these guys perform. We were all rooting for them," says Jacobs, who captured the finale footage in approximately four days and admits, "I loved filming those dance sequences. We didn't need to do a lot of editing because they were all so good, it was often more about trying to cover the space and not get in the way."

Though Tatum's original experience of a stripper convention was more of a day-and-night dance marathon in a very large strip club, the director opened it up by selecting a convention center in Savannah. Seeking a more environmental, theater-in-the-round approach to sync with the idea of everyone supporting each other, production designer Cummings constructed multiple stages around a central stage, through which their MC would transition from one spotlight to another.

The space's seating capacity allowed for a host of approximately 900 extras which, cast and crew agreed, "raised the energy level in a very positive way. They made us feel like rock stars," Rodriquez proclaims.

"It was electrifying, deafening, it made the hair stand up on the back of my neck," says Manganiello. "I have never witnessed anything like it. It was amazing to see all those women cheering each routine. I have to give credit to the choreographers who came up with routines so good that audiences couldn't help but react. And it's a real tribute to Greg, who put the whole package together in such a dynamic way that makes you feel like you're at a live show."

The cast's genuine, supportive and playful camaraderie absolutely shone on screen. The hours they logged together working, training, rehearsing and just hanging out became an accurate reflection of the bonds of friendship depicted in "Magic Mike XXL."

For Tatum, the core of the film is "about guys, doing guy stuff, and trying to figure out what women want. This time, you get into them a little more as people and understand who they are. Yeah, they're all a little crazy. They're just trying to get on with life and have a blast, and a lot of it is hilarious and ridiculous, but that's how a lot of friendships are.

"They're going out on this one last night and you know it will end with everybody on stage in thongs," he continues. "These guys like walking on the edge and knowing it's there. But they all love each other and no one will let any of the others completely fall off, and you end up loving them for that."

"I hope audiences will feel as if they went on a ride with these guys, and that it was a fun, funny and wild road trip with good friends," Jacobs concludes. "Most of all, I hope they find it as joyous an experience to watch it as we did to make it."

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