If you woke up without your memory and a guy who looked like Channing Tatum told you he was your husband, would you argue the point? Everybody loves a good romance, but “The Vow” is a love story that offers an unusual twist. Paige (Rachel McAdams) and Leo (Channing Tatum) are a young married couple, madly in love and living fulfilling lives as artists in Chicago. One snowy night, the two fall victim to a car accident. Leo survives intact, but a head trauma erases Paige’s entire memory of her relationship with her husband. Now Leo must figure out how to win his soul mate’s heart all over again.
MoviesOnline sat down with Tatum and McAdams to talk about the challenges of telling a story of a relationship inspired by true events and striking the right balance. They told us what drew them to the project, how they went about researching their characters, what it was like shooting on location in Chicago, and what they discovered about each other while making the film. Tatum also discussed his starring role in the upcoming “21 Jump Street” and why he thinks it’d be cool if there was a Year of the Chan.
Q: Rachel, what was the biggest challenge for you playing Paige?
RM: Well, because Paige becomes so disconnected from Leo, it was a challenge to keep things hopeful not knowing what’s coming around the next corner, and also being true to the experiences and the emotions that she would be going through which are quite erratic. She’s quite frustrated and anxious.
Q: What was it like to film in Chicago?
CT: I love Chicago. All the exteriors were in Chicago, at the Bean, and then we got to go to Kingston Mines and then the Underground Wonder Bar. We loved Chicago.
RM: It was awesome. It was really great. Remember there was that crazy windstorm and people were holding onto the trailers. I literally thought my trailer was going to topple over.
CT: I think one of the windows flew off one of the buildings close to us. It was one of the outside windows that they had propped open.
Q: Both of you have had big hits before which were very romantic like “Dear John” and “The Notebook.” Do you see this film playing to your fan base?
RM: It was never that intentional for me personally. I was excited to work with Chan. I really liked Michael’s vision because he seemed to have a new take on the classical love story, and this was one I had never seen before inspired by true events. It seemed like a really worthwhile story to tell. I liked the challenge of not making it so predictable and working against that a little bit. It seemed quite unique to me from the get go and certainly a character I hadn’t played. We’re seeing things through the guy’s eyes which is a little different as well.
CT: We’ve talked about it. Personally, I don’t make any decisions on the movies I take for anyone else but myself, and do I think I can do it and am I interested in it.
RM: You’re so selfish.
CT: I’m sorry, I’m sorry. It’s all about me this morning, so shush. No. I don’t feel like if I do something for someone else that I’ll be able to do it well. If I just take it because it’s smart like “I’ve done a big action movie this year. I should probably do something that’s smaller and more intimate.” I don’t think you can make movies like that. I think if you do, it feels like movies like that. You’ll be like “Oh, that’s his big action movie for the year.” You can get too redundant if you only are interested in one thing. I just loved the idea of Leo in an extraordinary circumstance with his lover, Paige, and then, it doesn’t take a stereotypical Nicholas Sparks way to get back around to love. I don’t want to give the movie away, but there’s no page turner where there’s an ‘ah ha’ moment when everything sort of falls back into place. It’s a realistic, real life way to get back into things. Rachel did an interesting study on brain trauma. The people that lose their memories eventually fall back into who they really were which I thought was a very interesting topic.
Q: Did you have a chance to talk to the real life couple that this film was based on?
CT: Michael shied me a little bit away from reading their book or trying to get any amount of detail of who they were because we took some pretty different liberties with their story. They were, I think, more extraordinary than our characters, personally, because they stayed together. I don’t know how you do that in reality. I don’t know if I’d have been able to do that. She just woke up. I think it had a lot to do with their faith. They’re very religious and I think they were like “Okay. It’s fine.” They just stuck it out and they’re extraordinary people. They’re so positive and they have two beautiful kids that are running around and being hilarious and it was amazing. It was great. I was nervous to meet the guy. I was really nervous. He was an extraordinary person.
Q: What about you, Rachel?
RM: It’s the same. I think Channing said it best. This story was really inspired by their story, and our characters were very different people and had very different jobs. I think they’d only been married for two months before this happened.
Q: Did you meet her?
RM: Yes. She’s amazing. She really did wake up and say “Okay, you’re telling me this is my husband?” And, she hadn’t lost her faith. That hadn’t gone away. She hadn’t lost so much of her memory that she didn’t remember her faith in God and how she felt about what vows are and her commitment to that. I think she really hung onto that.
Q: The two of you haven’t worked together before. What surprised you about her and what surprised you about him?
CT: To be totally honest, I think that so much of Rachel comes out in her characters and in her films of herself. She really does beautifully imbue different things into each character that are so her. I think if you watch somebody enough, you hope that you can get some sort of barometer of where they’re going to be as far as when you meet them. Some people are totally different. Some people are like “Oh my God! You’re just nothing like I thought you were going to be.” Look, she’s lovely and I think you can tell that. She’s just a sweetie and I think that sweetness is in a lot of her characters.
Q: Rachel, what about Channing?
CT: Be nice!
RM: I’d always heard lovely things about Channing, but it’s one thing to hear that and another thing to experience it, and he went above and beyond all expectations. (to Channing) I’ve never met anyone like you. I mean that in the very best way. He’s the most open hearted, generous, open spirited person that I know. He doesn’t do anything half way either. I mean, even at our meeting, he came bounding into the room. He almost knocked me down. He had three dogs following behind him. He came in and shook my hand, spun around, tried on a dress, threw it back on the floor, and ran out of the room.
Q: He threw on a dress?
CT: It’s just what I do when I’m inspired. (to Rachel) Just so you know, I look better in it than you do. Did you try it on afterward?
RM: He was going to help me. I was in a fitting. He was trying to help. He’s always trying to help.
Q: This meeting wasn’t dependent on whether you both do the movie?
RM: We were already cast.
CT: No, I’ll be honest, the movie came around my way and they hadn’t found Rachel yet or Rachel hadn’t found it yet. And then, basically, I wasn’t sure about it because I love Michael and I really did love his movie, “Grey Gardens,” and I thought this is a hard movie and it’s not just on the filmmaker’s ability to portray her. It’s a hard character, and to play it honestly, it’s a very tight rope to walk. I didn’t know who could play it. I really didn’t know who could play it and keep the audience’s sympathy because it’s so hard to lose the frame of reference. She’s not just waking up and seeing some guy that’s saying that he’s her husband. At the point where she lost her memory and gets reset to, she was an entirely different person, and she wakes up to this whole different life and a whole different style of living. The way she looks is different from the last time she remembers. She’s a sculptor. What is that? She’s never done that in her life. And hearing she likes Obama. She’s like “What?” She was a lawyer and going down an entirely different path and her family was around her. It was more of a shock than just waking up and not knowing one person. It was an entirely world changing event, and I think that can be hard for an audience to keep remembering when they’ve just been told about the love story. They’re just being shown that.
Q: Rachel, Channing said you’d done research into brain trauma. Did that help you understand your character and her jumbled emotions?
RM: It did, but it did present a challenge of making her sympathetic too. These reactions are all completely understandable but you’re also rooting for them. You want them to get back together. Michael and I had to talk a lot about finessing that and how irritable she could be and distanced and how far away we could get from each other and still be able to come back and still leave a shred of hope. Again, not in that way where you’re like “I know where this is going. Oh, it’s so cliché. They’re just setting us up for the big ‘Oh my God, I remember!’” The floodbacks.
Q: Channing, this is a huge year for you. Does it feel like The Year of the Chan?
CT: I would love to have my own animal. That would be so cool. Like the Monkey, the Rat, and the Chan. Oh my God, I’m going to propose that in China. It’s so cool. I had no intention of five movies coming out. Two of the movies were supposed to come out last year so it really was not supposed to happen like this. But look, that’s high class problems. It’s all happening. I’m very proud of all the films. They’re all very different. If they were all sort of the same, I’d be freaking out. They’re all very, very different from each other.
Q: Can you talk about “21 Jump Street”?
CT: It’s kind of a leap, like this. When I heard Rachel came on, I was just like “I’m in!” And then when Jonah called, I was like “Okay, man, I don’t do this. You’re going to have to take care of me on this.” And he was like “I’ve got you!” “Alright! I’m in!” I really do put my faith in people that I admire and that I love and that I want to learn from, and I tell you it’s one of the most fun things I’ve ever done, as far as it’s an entirely different style of acting for me. Even the first week, I was like I don’t know if I can even do this. This is so weird. This is so strange. Jonah will stop in the middle of a take and just take one line a bunch of different ways and they’re funny every time. I’ve never done that. That’d be so weird to do. But it works with comedy. Sometimes you do it entirely different. Sometimes you just vomit out some sort of nonsensical thing that doesn’t even make sense but it’s hilarious. It’s such a weird hodge podge way to make a movie and it was so much fun. Jonah is a genius.
Q: Did you go home every night after shooting this. Was it a nice perk that it was shot mostly in Toronto?
RM: Yeah, it was really nice. It’s always great because you get to know your own city in a different way through other people’s eyes.
Q: Did you show Channing?
RM: Yeah, a little bit. We shot on one of the beaches and saw the sunrise come up. I think we made the most of the city.
CT: She took me ice skating. I’d never been ice skating before. It was at the Markham Civic Centre.
Q: Did you fall down?
CT: Let’s just call it break dancing on ice. There were a lot of hands on the ground and I couldn’t stop so…
Q: Rachel, why do you still live in Toronto?
RM: The answer is pretty easy. It’s still home. Movies shoot all over the place now. I’m amazed. You get these scripts and say “Why is everyone shooting in Oklahoma all of a sudden? Why is everything on a prairie?” It’s so bizarre. And then you go, “Oh, there’s tax breaks there.” I can still live at home which is great and still get to work wherever. Not having a car, LA is tough.
Q: Channing, how’d you like Toronto?
CT: I loved Toronto. I mean, I’ve never been on a set before… Actually, after we did that, I did “Jump Street” and I went and bought a bike, because I bought a bike when I was in Toronto and I’ve never done that on a set before.
Q: So she rubbed off on you?
CT: Totally rubbed off on me. I was like “I’m going to get a bike.”
RM: Except you made fun of my helmet.
CT: I totally made fun of your helmet.
RM: He said “Whose Starship Trooper outfit is that?”
CT: It’s so big that literally the first time I ever saw her get on it and ride, we had a cast there and it was all of us, and then it was me and Michael and her, we were the last people. We see her ride away and the helmet is like [huge] and she’s wobbling off balance. “It’s your helmet making you unbalanced!” It was so funny.
Q: Can you talk about going into the lake? What was it like and did you have any concerns about getting down to your underwear and jumping in the water?
CT: I didn’t care. I do that all the time. That’s my thing. I go to every city and get down to my underwear and go to the nearest body of water.
RM: I think we were more concerned about getting a staph infection than taking our clothes off. That was the least of our concerns. They tested the water. It’s a blue flag beach. It was a lovely day. The water was so warm.
CT: The water wasn’t cold actually. It was the first time in my career that that’s happened.
Q: Channing, what do you do to have such great skin?
CT: My momma’s got awesome genes. I exfoliate. I use a sea sponge from the Dead Sea. (laughs) I literally use whatever my wife has in the shower. I’m like “Oh, that looks good!”
“The Vow” opens in theaters on February 10th.