One of Hollywood’s most sought after young actors today and has established himself among the next generation of leading men. Best known for action thrillers (“G.I. Joe”) and romantic dramas (“The Vow,” “Dear John”), Channing Tatum now stars in his first comedy film ever, Columbia Pictures' hilarious high school send-off, “21 Jump Street.”
In the film, Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) were enemies in high school who became unlikely friends in Police Academy. While they may not be the best cops on the beat, they have a chance to turn it around when they join the police department's secret Jump Street unit, run by Captain Dickson (Ice Cube). They trade in their guns and badges for backpacks and use their youthful appearances to go undercover...in high school!
Looking for a foil for Jonah Hill's nerdy character, the filmmakers searched for an actor to play Jenko – a guy for whom everything went right during high school who discovers that things aren’t so easy the second time around. Who could be handsome and an alpha male, but funny, too?
“When we met Channing Tatum, we realized he’s perfect for the role because he’s naturally funny and sincere,” says co-director Christopher Miller.
“Channing Tatum hits all the right notes,” co-director Phil Lord shares. “Everyone knows he can pull off the heroic stuff, but there’s an underlying kindness to him that makes a nice contrast to his performance. And he’s so much funnier than people expect. We knew that the actor who plays Jenko had to be somebody who could be comedic and have a twinkle in his eye, and Channing has that.”
Tatum, who also signed on as an executive producer, says, modestly, “I’m the biggest fan of comedies, but I’m terrified of them. I’m so envious of guys like Jonah – so when he called and he said, ‘We’re doing 21 Jump Street, and we want you to be in it,’ I really thought I got the wrong call. Comedy is just so different – not only do you have to worry about being honest in the scene, but you also have to figure out where the funny beats are and punch them, then drop and stop talking. It’s a fine art. Fortunately, I was surrounded by comedy writers and stand-up comics who really knew what they were doing – I learned an enormous amount.”
Tatum’s character, Jenko, is the living opposite of Hill’s Schmidt. “They went to high school together, and the first time around, Jenko was the popular kid, the jock who got the girls,” says Tatum. “When they go back, they find that everything has changed in 10 years. It used to be all about picking on kids, being a bully, sleeping through class. Now everyone’s a vegan, running their cars on vegetable oil… they’re into everything that Jenko thinks is BS. Jenko ends up hanging around with the nerds, and for the first time, sees that all the stuff that nerds do – learning – is actually cool.”
The fact that they are opposites is one of the reasons they work so well together, according to Hill. “Even a two-shot of us is funny, because we’re such different types – you wonder how we even met each other, let alone became best friends. It was clear right from the table read that the two of us would work well together – Channing surpassed all of my expectations of how cool and talented he is.”
“One of the things about Jenko – I think if you asked him why he wanted to be a cop, he wouldn’t have an answer. I’m guessing he just watched a lot of cop movies and thought it would be really cool,” says Tatum. In a way, Tatum and his character had similar childhoods. “My friends and I would get an old Civic, one guy would drive it and the other would roll across the hood, to see who could do the fastest one. I don’t think Jonah did that kind of stupid stuff.”
“Channing told this crazy story about hanging with his buddies from childhood – they partied really hard, then went out to the desert and shot guns, and then they all got tattoos, and then they went over to another friend’s house and scared him, and then they all got crazy together,” says Lord. “I said, ‘Wow, when did this happen?’ and he said, ‘Saturday.’ I love this guy – he is Jenko.”