October 23, 2006 12:00 PM

Channing Tatum is the thinking girl’s hunk. The 26-year-old played a sweaty but soulful street dancer in August’s surprise hit Step Up, left Amanda Bynes swooning in She’s the Man and now smolders as a troubled teen in A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints. Although the Cullman, Ala., native has been linked to Step Up costar Jenna Dewan, 25 (“She’s so incredibly sweet,” is all he’ll divulge), PEOPLE’s Natasha Stoynoff discovers he’s got southern charm to spare.

• What, no drawl?

When I cross the border to Alabama, everahthang comes rahht baaack.

• Bet you’ve got a nice mama back home cooking for you.

Yup. She makes me fried chicken, which is my favorite. She calls me “Chan-Man.”

• Did you hear? People are calling you the next big thing.

That’s kinda nerve-racking. [Saints] Chazz Palminteri’s advice to me was “Don’t believe the heat!”

• Hard to do when a critic has compared you to Brando.

Man, when I read that, I couldn’t speak. My dad called me up like a giddy schoolgirl when he saw that.

• You’re sweaty and shirtless in most of your movies. Maybe that did it.

Yeah, and I recently had my first Elvis moment. A gang of young girls was jumping all over me. It was kinda scary. And totally flattering.

• Like the tights you wore in Step Up.

My football buddies clowned me for that.

• Let ’em laugh, you’re a sex symbol now. What do you look for in a girl?

Someone who doesn’t take herself too seriously and can be a goofball. Because everyone’s a nerd inside, I don’t care how cool you are.

• Case in point: Your favorite movie is The Goonies.

I can recite every line. “Down here, it’s our time!”

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