Tatum's done romantic films before (Step Up, She's the Man) and he's no stranger to playing a soldier having starred in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and 2008's Stop-Loss. But Tatum's soldier in Dear John differs greatly from the hardened character he played in Stop-Loss or the over-the-top action hero of G.I Joe. And his John Tyree is a much more mature romantic lead than either of his previous romantic roles.
Playing SoldierIt's interesting that directors see Tatum, a former model, as the military type. At the LA press day for the Screen Gems movie, Tatum reflected on why he's now been cast as a soldier in three films. "I don't know, I've played football. I have a thick neck and I usually have a shaved head," said Tatum. "But, I don't know. I really respect them. My papa was in the military and before I really got to like grow up and ask him about it, he was gone or he didn't have the ability to speak. And I was always kind of interested, and if I didn't get a football scholarship, I probably would have thought about going into the military. And then I just didn't, you know? Then after college I just didn't really think about it again. And I don't know, I was off on a crazy road. It didn't appeal to me anymore."
Tatum has nothing but respect for the men and women who choose to join the military, and he takes very seriously the job of portraying a soldier onscreen. Still, Tatum sees this as more than a movie about a soldier during war times. "[...] I'm not a solider, never been over there, I haven't even visited. I want to. But I know how to wear the clothes really well. You know, I know how to like sling the gun and walk around. But when it comes to being a soldier, we didn't want to make this about a war movie. We didn't want to make it about 9/11. We just wanted to make it about two kids that were falling in love for the very first time. It's that first love, that one that you cannot get right, no matter how hard you try, because you're just not going to get the first one right. You're going to fall on your face. It's going to be painful and you're going to learn, hopefully. And you're generally going to end up blaming everybody else except yourself until you figure it out. And I think that's exactly what John does. He's got to learn the hard way," explained Tatum.
Life on the Dear John SetDirector Lasse Hallstrom's also no stranger to romantic movies. His filmography includes Something to Talk About, Casanova, Chocolat, and The Cider House Rules. Even his critically acclaimed 1993 film, What's Eating Gilbert Grape, is a love story. Tatum found Hallstrom to be a joy to work with, and admired the fact the former director of Abba music videos knew how to handle romantic scenes - as well as the long-distance relationship aspect of the story - without making it come off as cheesy.
Tatum admitted he was a little worried at first about how the exchange of letters over a period of months would come across as his character is off in some foreign land and Seyfried's is attending college. "A little bit, you know, because they can get so sort of voice-overy and episodic. Once Lasse came on though I wasn't really worried about it anymore. I don't think they reinvented the wheel with it. You know, I think that he just did it really simply well," offered Tatum. "But it just never really was a problem when he came on because he has a sort of an allergic reaction to anything that is really cheesy. And, you know, he hated my beret. Like when I wore the beret or the jacket, he was just like, 'It just seems like the worst movie moment. I can see it in the trailer and I just can't have it.' And so he would always fight with the D.O.D., the army guys, because they're like, 'If you're outside, you've got to have your cover on and your jacket on.' And then he's like, 'Well, he's not outside in public. He's at a private property.' He's like, 'You can't have it all and I'm just not going to have it. It's a movie - stop it.' So that was always kind of interesting to watch. But, I don't know. Lasse, I just kind of have faith in him. He doesn't do things badly."
Tatum added, "He's the funniest guy, and he's really so specifically funny. Like all of his jokes are really like for one person - they're not really for the room. And heâll kind of lean over and whisper something absolutely hilarious to you and then you want to share it. You're like, 'Awww, no one else heard that?' I don't know, he's one of the smartest people I think I've ever met in a lot of different ways because he doesn't sit there and try to impress people with his knowledge. He actually does the opposite. He kind of tailors himself to whoever you are. If you're a very intellectual person, heâll have an intellectual conversation with you. If you're just a kid and you want to joke around and have fun, like that's what he's doing, he really sort of adjusts himself to whoever heâs around. And I think thatâs a really socially genius thing to do."