"Want to see dirty dancing?" Tatum asks. Lulu trots over to the far side of the patio. When Tatum snaps his fingers and commands "Dirty dancing," the muscled pooch—in her rhinestone-studded pink leather collar—charges toward him. She leaps high into his arms, and he thrusts her upward until she's suspended over his head in a balletic lift. Then the two twirl around, poolside, illuminated by twinkle lights. "You jumped the gun," Tatum says to the dog. "We'll do it over." Which they do, again and again.

And then we're back in the Town Car, Collins taking us over to Iron Horse Entertainment—adjacent to one of Hollywood's seediest hotels. It has a great American literary name but looks like something off the streets of Baghdad. The light pouring from its window is a diseased, piss-colored shade of yellow. "This is the kind of place," Tatum says, "where you'd walk in and AIDS would just jump all over you. It's mostly transients and addicts in there." But, still, he's more comfortable in its shadows than at the Chateau Marmont or the Sunset Tower.

Tatum's office has 25-foot-high ceilings, a desk made from the wing of an old airplane, and an enormous chalkboard with ideas and stories blocked out all over it. A couple of leather saddles sit on sawhorses near the door. Tatum says he's often there until 4 a.m., brainstorming or writing snippets of scenes or making clay torsos. "Jenna's not always happy when I come home that late," he says, "but I've just got to get it out."

Reid Carolin, Tatum's partner in the endeavor—the two met while shooting Kimberly Peirce's Stop-Loss—is sitting at the airplane desk, where he worked on Magic Mike. Tatum provided the context and many of the stories, but the script is Carolin's. "To clarify," Tatum says, "it's not really my story. It's really about that world: the people and the decisions you have to make. It's not as dark as you might think. Soderbergh really had a clear vision as far as not making it overly sexual, overly dark." The director predicts the name Channing Tatum is about to become an indelible one. "He has a lot of the qualities I associate with people like George and Matt and Brad in terms of being clear-eyed, hardworking, and masculine. He's a man. I wish there was a better word, but in movie terms, he's a man, he comes across on the screen as a man," Soderbergh says. While Magic Mike isn't exactly Boogie Nights, it figures to launch Tatum on a very Wahlberg-esque trajectory: picking choice roles while amassing cred as a producer. He's already shown some savvy, landing Soderbergh and assembling the ensemble cast that includes Alex Pettyfer, Matt Bomer, and Matthew McConaughey.

"This is where people smoke crack," says Tatum, walking me out the back door. "This is where people do heroin. Reid walked out here once and there was this guy with a spike in his arm." Tatum shrugs and adjusts his Houston Astros cap, backward and low on his forehead. "Whatever," he says, grinning. "I like it here. Should we go get more drinks?"

Two Woodford Reserve bourbons go down fast at the Blue Boar bar around the corner, where the bartender greets Tatum with a fist bump. Half an hour later, Tatum orders two shots of Bulleit whiskey to cap our bullet-filled day. "What are we toasting?" I ask. He looks up and meets me dead in the eye. "Isn't it obvious?" he says. "We're just getting started with our lives, just figuring out the rest of it. The creativity is in place, the sex is good. There's really only one toast to make." Tatum lifts the glass as high as he lifted his dog. "Live forever," he says. "Just live like this forever."

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