Nearly 10 years after its, ahem, wide release, Magic Mike is a bona fide franchise. That surprisingly melancholic 2012 film, directed by Steven Soderbergh, was loosely based on the life of its star, Channing Tatum, who worked as a stripper in Tampa when he was 18. So it was fitting that Tatum took over for Soderbergh as the keeper of the Magic Mike flame with the 2015 sequel, Magic Mike XXL, which he co-produced. Tatum designed Magic Mike Live in Las Vegas (which is still running) as an ersatz sequel to XXL, and there were even plans for a Broadway show that would focus on a young, pre-Xquisite Mike.
With each new offering, Tatum has tried to open up the experience, at one point asking audiences for input on what they find “sexy.” The latest chapter in the story goes a step further, inviting people to take on the mantle of Magic Mike. Back in April, HBO Max announced The Real Magic Mike, a makeover competition series for dudes who’ve lost their “magic” and want to find it while learning choreography and, if they win, performing as part of the Vegas show. The Real Magic Mike will embody the spirit of XXL, with its focus on brotherhood and getting out of a rut (which even someone like Big Dick Richie can fall into).
But what makes one potential Magic Mike more “real” than another? Is the casting really open to any guy looking to recover their spark, or should hard bodies only apply? The A.V. Club spoke with Creative Content Group founder Goloka Bolte, who’s in charge of putting together this group of dancers in the making, to find out more about the process. Bolte, whose work on RuPaul’s Drag Race won the 2020 Emmy for Outstanding Casting for a Reality Program, says her job is more like investigative journalism, as she digs into the lives of people who send her an audition video. The casting director shared what her team looks for in contenders, what most people don’t understand about her work, and how her friends offered to help her screen the would-be Magic Mikes.
The A.V. Club: Something a lot of people may be wondering is, how do you hold auditions during a pandemic?
Goloka Bolte: Unscripted TV casting was sort of already headed in the direction of being done virtually. I’ve been in this business 18, 19 years, and I started out in the OG where we had to do big open casting calls, and have recruiters go out and find people on the street or the mall or the county fair. But with the internet and social media becoming more prevalent, we started to be able to find people and cast around the country a lot more. We used to do these kinds of casting tours where we’d go to each city and we’d set up an interview space and hold auditions and ship the tapes back, and it naturally shifted into this. We realized that ultimately it works better for our budget and for our reach to actually just stay and do all of our auditions via Skype and FaceTime.
For the last five years, I would say the majority of my auditions have actually been virtual already. Unless it was a game show that we’re casting locally in Southern California or kind of a local casting where we would have people come in and audition. Then it’s like the pandemic sort of just turned the screws all the way and we realized that we not only can cast virtually, we’re recording Zooms like crazy now. It’s so much easier. We can interview so many more people. We can reach out to so many different communities, and my team is all around the country, so we can interview people in different time zones, which is really fun. Basically right now, everyone either applies or we find them and then we start with a Zoom interview and that’s sort of phase one of the process and it works really, really well.
AVC: What’s the most misunderstood part of your job?
GB: There’s two things: the first is that people often lump in all casting directors together. They think a scripted casting director and an unscripted casting director’s jobs are similar. In the sense that we are finding people to put on TV and movies, yes, they are similar, but that’s kind of where it ends because what we do is we’re looking for people who aren’t on a breakdown service, or we’re not necessarily calling their agent. We’re looking for real people in the real world. I always feel like it’s more like investigative journalism. We’ll get a list of requests from our client and a lot of times they’re very obscure. It could be like, “Can you find a family where the wife is having trouble with her mother-in-law and it’s causing tension and they need to go to relationship therapy, and they’re a family of five?” You have to actually be really creative in how you’re going to dig into different communities. It’s tricky because you could look everywhere. There’s no one place to look for it. It’s quite challenging at times to find these very obscure stories. We’re looking for personalities and real people that aren’t just on one website or in one place. Whereas a scripted casting director is looking for people who are professionals in the industry. There are multiple breakdown services, it’s a much different process. They’re casting within the industry and we’re casting everywhere.
The other thing is just about unscripted TV in general. A lot of times people just assume that everything is fake. And as somebody who puts real people on TV every single day and has been doing it for 18 plus years, these are real people. Look, you can dramatize something with editing, that’s sort of part of making something exciting and fun to watch. But for the most part, on these shows, these are real people having real experiences; real reactions, real joy, real fights, real laughter. It’s all about finding people who will have those reactions on TV. That’s what we spend our days trying to do well.
AVC: You mentioned that with some of these projects, you’ll get a list of what producers looking for. For The Real Magic Mike, did you get that kind of guidance early on?
GB: What’s really funny is that, the show is so fun to cast but it’s not what everyone thinks it is when they first hear The Real Magic Mike. Everyone just thinks it’s a dance competition and that I am looking at half-naked men all day and… I am looking at some half-naked men, I’m not going to lie. [Laughs.] I’ve had tons of offers to help. I’ve never had so many friends offer to help me screen people.
But the show is actually more of a makeover show. We’re looking for people who’ve lost their “magic” and they’re going to go through a process and they’re going to learn to become the real Magic Mike. We’re not looking in any one specific place. We’re looking everywhere. We’re asking people to nominate someone in their life that they love, if they have a best friend or a coworker. Someone who has amazing potential and doesn’t see it in themselves, or is sort of not feeling a great sense of confidence or happy with where they are in their life, and they really want to do something to break out of their shell and find this incredible inner confidence and find their sex appeal.
We’re looking for people from all walks of life. We want it to be a very diverse cast in every way, and so we are looking a little bit of everywhere. The perfect guy for the show could be anywhere. He could be someone who plays fantasy football or he just started taking a dance class, and somebody noticed that he did it. It could be someone who’s had that sort of secret dream to be a performer and just never kind of acted on it. It’s all about really casting a wide net and looking everywhere. So, it’s tricky. But it’s a really fun process, and we get to meet a lot of really interesting people along the way and hear about their stories, and hopefully get them all the way to the finish and see them have a great transformation on the show.
AVC: So is it like a competition series where somebody’s crowned Magic Mike at the end?
GB: It is definitely a competition series. There is one person who will become the Real Magic Mike, but it’s also being done with the idea that everyone is a winner. We hope that everyone who is a part of it really finds a way to kind of connect back to that part of themselves and really find their self-confidence, find their mojo, their magic, and they all leave the show better than when they came in.
AVC: The flyer for the casting call says experience isn’t required, so will the contestants be taught how to dance during the course of the show?
GB: It is not required. Yes, they are going to learn. They are going to work with an incredible team, learning choreography and how to take better care of themselves. They’re going to be learning how to find that inner self-confidence, hopefully shed some emotional baggage. There will be a whole team of people working with them and guiding them through the process and helping them become the best versions of themselves.
AVC: When you say you want the cast to be diverse, does that include body diversity? And how does that jibe with the fact that this is a makeover show, where we typically see people’s bodies change over time?
GB: Well, first of all, I would like to say, send me all your dad bods. We will work with you. We’re looking for people of all shapes and sizes. There are some people that I think this is going to be a bit of an internal journey for them. For others, it’s more of an external journey, and kind of everything in between. There will definitely be physical transformations on the show. It’s going to be pretty rigorous training, learning to really dance with our amazing choreography team. They’re going to be really challenged and it will definitely transform their bodies. Not that somebody who is really fit and already has shredded abs can’t apply, but we’re looking for each person to have a story and a transformation and a journey to go on, whether it’s more physical or whether it’s more emotional.
AVC: When the Broadway show was first announced, Channing Tatum said he wanted the next chapter of Magic Mike to be a “conversation between a man and a woman” about their desires. Which was a bit heteronormative, but it does seem like this show is an opportunity to look beyond that and consider different genders and sexual orientations. Is that part of the goal in casting?
GB: I would say from a casting perspective, I am looking for diversity in all ways. I want all different body shapes and sizes. It’s not just all straight men, we’re looking for all different types of men, and we’re open to all different types of stories. We really want to tell a wide range of stories on the program. This is going to be a little bit different than the movie or the live show, because this is the TV show version of it. We are hoping to tell a lot of different kinds of stories with that, and the medium of television gives us the opportunity to do that. It’s going to be really exciting to watch and see all the different types of masculinity shown on it—what that means in today’s age, in 2021.
AVC: How will you know that that these guys have Magic Mike potential?
GB: We’re working together really closely with a whole big team. There will be opportunities to go into next phases and to learn choreography and be tested a little bit more, and to see how they do with it. But right now, our main focus is finding these great characters and relatable stories—really lovable men that just need that little boost to to see themselves as they are inside and to kind of get out of their funk. We’re focusing on those stories right now.
AVC: Have you been in touch with Channing Tatum and Steven Soderbergh about what they might be looking for in casting?
GB: As much as I’d like to say that I’m chilling on Zoom with them, we have a showrunner and executive producers from the production company and network executives at HBO Max that sort of have passed down their directives. It filters down to me and I’m totally okay with that. But if they want to jump on Zoom with me, I’m available. I will make myself available for it.
AVC: We know that you can’t really let on too much about the casting process, but what’s the most heartwarming thing or wildest thing somebody has done on one of these audition videos?
GB: I can’t talk about that right now, for contractual reasons. So, come and check back with me once the show airs and then we can get their approval to talk about it. But I’m a keeper of many secrets. I’ve auditioned people for so many types of shows and they’re like little glimpses into all these different people’s lives and communities around the world. People really open up in these casting tapes. So, I’m keeping all of that close until they’ve kind of given us the approval to release it is really important. What I can say in a more general way though, is that being vulnerable and really talking about things that make you insecure and things that you’re afraid of—really putting yourself out there and not being guarded is one of the ways to really stand out in an interview and really make the casting director, executive producer, or network executives connect with you and your story.
A lot of the real standout auditions we’ve had have been the ones that had those vulnerable moments. I would say that about really any show. It’s true about Drag Race, it’s true about Haute Dog, it’s true about Million Dollar Listing. It’s true about anything. You really want to get to know who that person is at their core, and it’s not about bravado and being like, “Everything’s perfect. Everything’s wonderful. I’m not afraid of anything.” It’s really getting to know the human that is what makes any audition stand out.
AVC: After you’ve cast someone in a project, do you ever keep track of how they did on the show? Do you follow their story or “career?”
GB: Well, for reality TV casting, we’re always creeping on people’s Facebooks and Instagrams anyway, so I’m not uncomfortable doing it. But yeah, I think that any show that I ever cast, I want to watch it. I want to see how they did. I think it’s part of growing as a casting director as well, to see, “Oh, maybe that person that you thought was going to be this person was actually this.” So you have to know a little bit about human psychology, because there’s a lot of that. You think about a lot of that stuff in unscripted TV.
I always like to keep track of the success stories and people’s businesses doing great afterwards, or them having exciting opportunities come up, because for the most part, they’re really nice people and you get really invested in them and their story throughout the casting process, especially when someone’s worked really hard to get there. Yeah, I always like to keep tabs on people and encourage them to keep in touch and check in if they have any questions or have any exciting news to share and stuff like that.
AVC: When it comes to reality competition series, audiences seem to want the more big-hearted shows like Great British Bake-Off or The Great Pottery Throw Down, where you watch the bonds develop among contestants. Do you feel like the show is going to be more in that vein?
GB: I do. It’s interesting that you said that because I was just speaking with someone about that the other day. The shows that people have a taste for have changed. And I think what we all went through in 2020, with the lockdown and with COVID, I think this actually further crystallizes that. I want to watch things that make me smile, where I’ve seen great things happening to people or see people building each other up. And I want castings like that too. Because after all of us collectively going through a really challenging period, I think we’re all kind of craving feel-good TV and something that’s going to put a smile on all of our faces.