Channing Tatum and Matthew McConaughey in Magic Mike

Matthew McConaughey and Channing Tatum in Magic Mike (Warner Bros.)

Yes, it's true: Channing Tatum used to work as a stripper.

US Magazine reported that potentially embarrassing fact back in 2009. But instead of trying to bury his past -- difficult to do once video hit the Internet of him performing in an Orlando, Florida nightclub under the stage name Chan Crawford -- Tatum teamed up with his screenwriter buddy Reid Carolin to turn his notoriety into art.

The result is Magic Mike, a comedy-drama directed by Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Contagion), starring Tatum as Mike, a busy young hustler whose dreams of designing custom furniture are continually sidetracked by the party lifestyle afforded by his weekend job as the lead dancer in an all-male revue.

Cast and crew gathered recently for a press conference at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, where one reporter asked Tatum, somewhat jokingly, why he stopped stripping.

"Look, I was 18-years old," he says. "I worked three jobs; this was just one of them. And I really enjoyed performing; it was probably my first performing job. I really like to dance, obviously. But then I didn't really like taking the clothes off at the end.

"But the [stripping] world in itself was just a very dark world in a way," he adds. "I don't think we even scratched the surface of really how dark that world can get and how slippery of a slope it can actually be. This was probably the most palatable version of this movie. Otherwise you wouldn't want to see it twice. You'd be like 'okay, I feel dirty now.'"

Not surprisingly, perhaps, Tatum didn't have much fear of shedding his clothes on stage during production. The same, however, could not be said of his colleagues.

"I was nervous, very nervous," admits Matthew McConaughey who plays the club's owner/MC and occasional dancer Dallas. "Before going out on a stage to dance, even if you're not taking your clothes off, is kind of nerve-wracking. But after doing it once, [I] kind of wanted to get up and do it again!"

Tatum was also the clear winner amongst his castmates when it came to who was the best dancer, a skill he showcased in the 2006 film Step Up.

Says McConaughey: "We all got to see Channing dance for the first time. So it became obvious. I was like 'the best I can do is get second place.'"

"A very, very, very distant second place," adds Joe Manganiello (TV's True Blood) who plays the appropriately-named Big Dick Richie. "Chan's in a dancing movie; we're in a dry humping movie!"

Several questions are asked about the cast's wardrobe, specifically their reliance on a certain skimpy piece of apparel.

"As far as trusting wardrobe, it's one of the larger leaps of faith to trust a thong," says McConaughey.

"And sometimes they completely betray you," adds Tatum, giggling.

"And it weighs what a dollar bill weighs," McConaughey says, incredulous. "It weighs nothing! At the end of this performance, this is the only protection I have. So the first time putting it on, you're thinking, 'What's every possible angle I could be in? I need to check to see if everything's covered.' And you don't understand how it is. And for the most part it is."

Matt Bomer (TV's White Collar), who plays Ken, attributes the cast's ability to get over their fear of exposing themselves -- both literally and figuratively -- to their director.

"It was an exercise in complete commitment," he says. "Steven said to us early on: 'Jump off the cliff and I'll catch you.' And he's the kind of director you believe when he says something like that. And we were all completely terrified. But it's not the kind of movie you can only commit 75 per cent to. You have to go all the way."

One of Magic Mike's prominent themes is what it means to be a man. Each stripper in the film embodies masculine archetypes in their performances -- the fireman, the cowboy, Tarzan, the Ken Doll -- but each is stuck in a perpetual adolescence of sex and drugs. Only Cody Horn's character, Brooke, calls Mike on the facileness of his lifestyle.

"So much of what the story is about is getting out of this way station that we're all in that has become our life," says Adam Rodriguez (TV's CSI: Miami) who plays Latin dancer Tito. "We thought it was a pit stop on the way to achieving some bigger dreams, because all the guys in the movie have bigger dreams."

"Big Dick Richie don't have bigger dreams," says Manganiello to big laughs. "This is it for him. This is the best place for him; the safest place for the rest of the world.

"It's about club life," Manganiello adds. "And it's about being trapped in this life. It's a very shiny, attractive place to be, and I think that people get stuck in it and years go by."

"I think everybody knows somebody who has experienced it themselves, whether they did or didn't graduate college," says Tatum. "Afterwards, you're like 'okay, what I do now?'

"And then you have dreams that you want to do. And then you kind of have to do other jobs until you can get to that dream. And Mike -- and I think a lot of these other guys -- just kind of fell into this thing because it was fun, and years just sort of ticked on as the party was happening. And all of a sudden it's seven years later, and you're like 'wow, I really haven't much to show for it. I'm no closer to my dream.' And at some point the party just got in the way, and you can't get out. I think that's happened to a lot of people; they just get sidetracked."