It’s a cold fall day in Montreal, but Channing Tatum is heating things up at an estate just outside the city, where he’s been filming the action flick White House Down. The 32-year-old actor sat down with PEOPLE’s Antoinette Coulton and Julie Jordan and quickly proved how much substance there is behind his piercing green eyes and beyond that chiseled body he bared as a stripper in Magic Mike (inspired by experiences in his younger days). The Alabama-bred star reveals he’s a sculptor and a romantic who loves giving massages to his wife, actress Jenna Dewan-Tatum (he gets foot rubs in return). Although Jenna has adjusted to being married to 2012’s Sexiest Man Alive, the actor still can’t fathom it. “She calls me that now,” he says. “But I can’t even say the words!” No worries, Channing. Allow us to do the honors.
THAT INCREDIBLE BODY
I’m training to play an Olympic wrestler [in Foxcatcher], so I’m on the Paleo diet-a vegetables-and-meat-type thing. I’ll cheat on weekends and have some wine or vodka. And I’ll have one big meal like breaded rock shrimp. I love comfort food.
Right now I’m trying to get in three-a-days of cross-fit, cardio and working specific body parts. I like to be lean. I’m around 195 lbs. right now, and that’s bigger than I’ve been. In Magic Mike I was, like, 175 lbs. When I’m not training, I get really round and soft. My wife likes to smoosh her face into my gut. [laughs]
I use an electric razor, but I like a little stubble. I’m 32 and I cannot grow a full beard. I can grow a pretty healthy goatee, but that’s not that cool.
I’ll use whatever Jenna uses. She doesn’t give me much space in our bathroom. I even try to put my shaver out, but it gets thrown underneath.
I try to get a massage every three weeks. I’m good at giving massages, but Jenna prefers for me to play with her hair in a specific way: Pick a lock, twirl and drop. Pick a lock, twirl and drop.
Back when I was 18 years old, I had an eyebrow ring. Maybe more than a little alcohol was involved. I had it in for, like, a year.
I have an “IH” right here. [reveals his biceps] It stands for Iron Horse, my family’s ranch in Alabama. And Jenna and I have twin tattoos we got on our honeymoon in Bali. It says, “Side by side.” Mine is here [touches his rib cage], but hers is on her foot.
THE EARLY YEARS
1. At 3, the toddler often slept in his sleeping bag rather than his bed.
2. A 4-year-old Channing loved wearing any kind of hat, even while swimming.
3. Cooling off in his grandma’s tub in Wetumpka, Ala.
4. The 12-year-old displays the victory sign during his last year of Pop Warner football in Tampa.
5. The future football star poses for one of his first photo shoots.
6. Senior year photo at Tampa Catholic High School in 1998.
His FIRST TIME …
Oh, man, I don’t know. Probably “Mommy.”
Sara Cook in kindergarten, I believe. I remember getting that song “Sara Smile” on one of the little tiny records.
I was at Busch Gardens in an elevator with Danica [in fifth grade]. I can’t remember her last name. It was a good one.
A car. I got a pearl Cadillac DeVille. Her name was Luscious.
First pickup line
Oh, God. “Do you want to dance?” That was my only one-I was a one-trick pony. In high school in Florida, it was all about grinding. You had to have a good grind.
First time you were recognized
I had a Gap ad in Times Square, and I didn’t think I was famous because I wasn’t acting; I was modeling. I don’t really think that was when I looked my best. I think you look the best when you feel the best. And I’ve felt the best just lately.
GETTING TO KNOW CHANNING
What did you think when you heard you were Sexiest Man Alive?
I play a lot of practical jokes, so my first thought was, “Y’all are messing with me.” I told Jenna after we’d been in the bathtub washing our dogs because they’d gotten skunked. She was like, “What?!”
Speaking of Jenna, how do you handle being apart?
We’ve both been working a lot [his next film, Side Effects, opens Feb. 8], which is awesome, but we have a two-week rule, three max. I have a hard time actually seeing her on, like, FaceTime-it makes me miss her more and I start pouting.
Are you guys getting close to starting a family?
I’m ready. I think she’s ready; it’s more about trying to find the right time. We talk about it a lot, so I don’t think it will be too far away.
So what do you wear around the house?
I don’t know, a version of naked. Not like bits out or anything. I just like being in my underwear on the couch. I’m not a morning person, and I’m really good at sleeping. Sometimes I don’t even shower; I just jump off our balcony into our pool. [laughs]
How high is that?! Does Jenna worry?
Just one story. Nah, she knows who she married. That’s how I wake up some mornings-just cannonball into the pool.
What makes you cry?
I cry every time I watch The Biggest Loser. I don’t know why. I think it’s the inner fat kid in me. You see these people just want it so badly. Certainly always when they’re, like, hitting the boxing mitts and they all start breaking down and I’m just like, [mimics crying] “Get it, man!”
Do you have a stupid human trick?
I can levitate a Ping-Pong ball above my head by blowing on it with my mouth. I can’t remember what my record is.
What do you wish you were better at?
So many things, I can’t really pick one. Okay, I wish I could read my wife’s mind all the time.
His SECRET TALENTS
I’d taken a pottery class in high school, but just, like, making pots and crap. But in the past three years, I’ve found I have a pretty good knack for it. The first thing I ever made was a woman’s torso. Jenna made me an art studio in the back of our house for my birthday; it’s really cool.
He can order a beer in Spanish
I can say what I need and what I want and where I need to get to. But I can’t conjugate-that’s really hard.
He gives great massages
I could have been a professional masseur. The only class I really liked in school was anatomy. [laughs]
He can cook
I learned from living out on my own. You know, just the staples-chicken, spaghetti, steak, taco night or whatever.
THE WEIRD WORLD OF STRIPPING
Why he did it
I wanted the crazy. I was at a point in my life where I was like, “Yeah, why not? There’s money, and I get to have a blast and have women all around me.” That sounds amazing to an 18-year-old. Then you go through it. Thank God I weathered the storm. I don’t have a drug habit, I don’t have an STD, [laughs] I don’t have a kid, so I dodged all those bullets. And all those are really real in that world.
His signature song
Usher’s “You Make Me Wanna.” [sings] “You make me wanna leave the one I’m with.” I still love that song.
I really enjoyed dancing, but I didn’t really like being naked. That wasn’t my thing. Some guys loved it. They would take off their clothes immediately, and I would just sort of dance around and then go, [motions taking off his shirt] “Whoop whoop,” and then get offstage. Not that I was modest or anything; it just wasn’t the part I enjoyed. I just wanted to dance.
Moment of truth
Right before you go onstage, you’re like, “Oh my God, I’m going out there to get naked in front of everybody.” There’s not that much left to the imagination in those outfits, so you are basically naked. You just hope everything looks right and the room’s not too cold.
Channing FILLS IN THE BLANKS
I never leave home without my …
Phone. I completely hate my phone, but I’m not allowed to leave home without it.
When I want to sound smart, I quote …
Edgar Allan Poe.
My mother taught me how to …
Love. My mom is the most loving person I know.
I have an irrational fear of …
Hmm. Oh—porcelain dolls. I hate them, and they should not exist. My wife’s mom has a whole room full of them, and it is not natural.
I’m self-conscious about …
My reading. I don’t read out loud very well.
ONE SEXY MAN TO ANOTHER BY Matthew McConaughey
The rookie faux pas is not reading the fine print…. Sexiest Man Alive is not merely an annual crown; it’s a lifetime achievement-that is, unless you’re not among the living this time next year. It’s not in Channing’s DNA to fall prey to the irrepressible pressures inherent in such a prominent honor as this. He’s a real gamer, and he’s got the endurance to avoid a sophomore slump. Plus, he’s adept at applying eyeliner and greasing his abs-and he travels with a photographer who lights him for maximum sexiness. It’s a good thing Channing has street smarts, because he’ll be looking over his shoulder for the rest of his post-award life. The haters come out of the woodwork and into the dark alleys of the night wearing ski masks with nunchakus and bad intentions. It’s a cruel existence, but there’s no going back. It’s probable he won’t return my calls after he wins this award. His ego is going to detonate to mythic proportions. He will be so innerly satisfied that I suspect he will be whistling Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U,” applauding himself while he walks down the street. After this, you just pray in vain that you haven’t peaked early in life, but in the depths of your soul, you know you have.
A FEW WORDS FROM HIS WIFE
They met filming 2006’s Step Up and wed three years later. Jenna Dewan-Tatum dishes on her Sexiest Man Alive: “He’s super romantic: Once, he planned this secret trip to Hawaii for my birthday. People know him to be fun and sexy, but they don’t know how emotionally deep and spiritually open he is. I think Chan would be the best father. He has a special gift with kids. He is such an openhearted person; what you see is what you get. He’s pretty amazing.”
See the Sexiest Man Alive uncensored in his behind-the-scenes videos on people.com/sma