How Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan found love on the set of 'Step Up'

Suzy Byrne
Editor, Yahoo Entertainment
It was a case of reel love turned real love for Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan, who fell in love making the 2006 movie Step Up. (Image: YouTube)

In a peculiar but definitive statement, Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan announced that they’re “lovingly” ending their marriage of nearly nine years. While they reportedly split months ago, if you followed them on social media, you probably wouldn’t have suspected it, because they were both still present in each other’s lives — well, feeds.

Although Channing, 37, had likely moved out of their home by then, on Jan. 31, Jenna, also 37, was happy to reminisce about the first time they met, which was at the audition for 2006’s Step Up, the dance franchise that helped launch their careers and relationship. “It’s really cute — and also embarrassing and crazy,” she said of the audition video from their very early days of fame. “Please watch how many times I giggle and laugh.” She added, “It’s very sentimental and amazing for me to watch.”

Their Step Up audition:

Yes, their first ever interaction — in 2005 — is documented forever. They were awkward, but cute, and dancing around the room to show off their chemistry — and footwork — to producers. At one point, Jenna, who has said she sounded like Minnie Mouse in that tape, joked that their pose made them look like they were going to the prom. But that was the right vibe to play bad boy Tyler, who wins the heart of ballerina Nora in Baltimore-based dance flick.

While Step Up producer Adam Shankman later said, “I knew that they were going to be together forever. There was never a question,” Jenna, who grew up a dance kid in real life, has said that she wasn’t at her best the day of the audition.

“I went in to read for the part with Channing, but showed up late with the wrong scenes,” she recalled to Cosmopolitan. “Then I opened the door on the poor girl who was auditioning before me right as they were leaning in for a kiss. I was horrified. But he was so sweet. He came out and worked the scenes with me.” She said that right away she thought he was “super hot.”

Here’s the Step Up trailer:

They had their first kiss in the film. “It’s interesting now, because we can watch it and see; we can go, ‘Oh, wow, that was actually our first real kiss,’” she told Redbook in 2014.

But, as relationships are, it was complicated at first. He told Elle in 2013 that he had just “gotten out of a pretty long relationship, so I was in no way ready for another.” That didn’t stop him from flirting with his co-star while they made the movie. “We went out one night and danced at a club, and there was that feeling,” she told Cosmo. “Then we started hanging out.”

Their hangouts were initially PG — no kissing — watching movies and stuff. She described it as “two nights of being weird,” and she had enough of it. So she gave him an ultimatum, which was basically to, um, step up.

Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan flew into each other’s arms in 2006’s Step Up. “Catch me,” her character memorably told his as she ran to him. (Image: YouTube)

“I said, ‘You know what? You are probably not ready to jump into another [relationship],” she recalled to Cosmo. “‘Why don’t you take time and figure out what you want?’ I told him, ‘I always know what I want. I’m more of a monogamous relationship person. So that’s where I would go with this, but I totally understand.’ I was smart enough not to get my feelings wrapped up in it. I figured we might just be into each other because we’re shooting a movie. I said, ‘While you’re figuring that out, I’m not just going to hang out and watch movies and flirt. I’ll see you on set.”

Three days later, after a boozy night out with some of the the film’s dancers, Channing came knocking on the door of Jenna’s hotel room. “He said he had the chance to be free and he couldn’t stop thinking about me,” she said on the Ellen DeGeneres Show in 2017. “He’s in a sombrero, underwear, and Ugg boots, and said, ‘Let’s do this.’”

A sombrero? Yep, he explained its origins to Elle, saying that the night he showed up at her hotel room, he was drinking at a Mexican restaurant. “One of my buddies was like, ‘What are you doing, man? She’s dope.’” So he “stole” the hat “off the wall” and went to go see about a girl.

Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2006. This was the “sugar mama” phase. He said that he was broke after they filmed, and Jenna, whom he moved in with immediately after filming, paid the bills. (Photo: Jesse Grant/WireImage)

As with many set romances, it wasn’t a secret to the crew. “The next morning he was in my room, and I go to set because I had an earlier call time,” she said on Ellen. “I’m getting hair and makeup done, and an hour goes by and the production assistants go, ‘We can’t find Channing. We don’t know where he is. He’s not in his room. We’ve banged on his door and called his room.’ And I called a PA over and said, ‘He’s in my room.’” When Channing arrived to set, he was greeted by applause.

Channing has said that he opened up to Jenna about his stripper past during one of the “very first dinners we ever had together. “I don’t know. I’m not shy about it. She was just like, ‘What?’ She needed to know just like everybody,” he told Entertainment Tonight last year. How did she react? “Weirdly enough, girls ask less questions than guys do. Guys want to know everything about it, like: What? How much? When? Were you naked?”

After Step Up wrapped, “We went back to L.A. and were together, and together ever since — never broken up,” Jenna told Redbook. And while Channing went on to make bank in Magic Mike and 21 Jump Street, he told Elle, “I was broke, and I couldn’t pay my half of the rent when we were first together. She was basically my sugar mama for six months.

By the time the press tour began in 2006, Channing and sugar mama Jenna were a full-on couple. In this interview, she gushes about their “instant bond.”

Jenna doing press for Step Up and talking Chan in 2006:

He was all in too. Listen to him talk about her dancing skills — and his amazing new life. “I’ve just been so lucky that the right things have come along and the right people have come into my life at the right time,” says young Chan. “I feel like I won the lottery, man.”

Channing doing Step Up press and gushing about Jenna:

At the premiere, which took place in August 2006, they were inseparable. Director Anne Fletcher said they were “very professional” about it though. “They were there to get a job done. I never said anything to them. They just chose on their own to get the movie done first. They took it very seriously.” However, “Once the movie was over,” it was, “Go for it!”  

Plus-ones! Jenna Dewan and Channing Tatum attend the after-party for the premiere of Step Up on Aug. 7, 2006, in Los Angeles. (Photo: Michael Buckner/Getty Images)

By December 2006, they were full-blown in love and didn’t care who knew it. Channing long ago posted this video of them at a press conference in Italy to promote the flick. In it, Jenna describes him as “a very sweet, loving, funny, giving, caring, compassionate … hard worker. He’s very goal-oriented.” As if she’s a walking, talking version of his résumé.

Yes, she was in love, but  was he? “Jenna’s very, she’s obviously beautiful, but she really, really is as beautiful inside as she is out,” he said. “She’s really real too. She loves to teach people how to not come from a place of insecurity, just, you know, come from a place of love, I guess. She’s a big fairy, flower child. [She’s] a beautiful soul, a beautiful soul.”

Jenna and Channing got engaged in 2008 and married in 2009. Their only daughter, Everly, was born in May 2013. Jenna had said she looked forward to showing Everly the audition tape from Step Up so that she could see her parents falling in love. However, Channing talked about showing Evie some of the actual movie, and she wasn’t a huge fan.

Needless to stay, Step Up was a hit. Their film kicked off what was to become a mega-million-dollar franchise, which also included more films and games. Earlier this year, the new YouTube Red show Step Up: High Water debuted — and the now seasoned pros in Hollywood are executive producers on the series.

What happens with their company, 33andOut Productions, is probably being sorted out right now amid their split news. (It has four films in development, including a film about Peter Pan and Captain Hook called Neverland.) There is a lot at stake, mostly from Channing’s side, but Jenna is doing well herself with her TV work. Needless to say, a lot has changed since this bright-eyed and beautiful pair first met a over decade ago.

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