Meet Magic Mike’s Cody Horn: The Actress on Love Scenes, Tattoos, and Growing Up In Hollywood

Cody Horn - Magic Mike, End of Watch

Magic Mike’s Cody Horn probably could have taken a more direct line to acting – her father is former Warner Bros. president Alan Horn, the veteran studio exec who recently took the helm at Disney – but life took her on a more circuitous path. A passion for movies early on (“I read my first script when I was 9”) led to internships and script reading, and she also earned a degree in philosophy at NYU and modeled, but it wasn’t until she met Joel Schumacher that she was cast in her first film, at 22. Now, coming off a turn opposite Channing Tatum as the pragmatic Brooke in Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike, Horn has a host of intriguing roles ahead of her – and she’s determined to avoid being the traditional leading lady.

Horn rang Movieline to discuss the path that brought her to being cast in Magic Mike sans audition, how she and Tatum improvised scenes – and even worked her real life tattoos into her character – and what it was like growing up surrounded by the film business, sharing a passion for film with her film exec father (and giving him notes on a little movie called Harry Potter).

It must have been a fun experience, being one of the only women among this testosterone-packed cast…
I mean, the guys really had this fun camaraderie and they included me in it, and I felt very lucky and happy to be a part of it. They’re all like brothers in many senses.

Your character and Channing’s character are quite opposite in many ways – he’s gregarious and she’s a bit reserved. How much of Brooke’s restrained nature was on the page, and how much did you bring to it?
I think a lot of it was on the page. I was there to play that role, and that’s what I was there to facilitate. I think it helps ground a movie and brings perspective to the movie, and I also think it adds an element of realness – they all kind of love what they do, but not everybody will respond to that industry that way. So I was really glad to be able to bring that perspective in.

When you first met with Steven to discuss the role, it wasn’t so much an audition as it was a conversation.
My first meeting with Steven, I had already booked the role. I had met with the casting director and they weren’t going to see me because they thought I was too young, but then they did see me and my agent fought for it. I went in, and we taped the interview, and then I booked it off that interview.

That seems like an unusual way to go about casting – almost more personality matching than auditioning.
One thing Steven said was one of his favorite things about the film was that he never caught anyone acting. It’s all very natural. I think what he wanted to find was people who were close to what he wanted, and then there we were.

He makes a lot of use out of an observational style, letting scenes unfold – how much did you find yourself spitballing on set as the cameras rolled?
A lot. There was a lot of improv and a lot of being natural. Also, Channing and I have a similar approach to acting, which is to just have a general understanding of the story we’re supposed to be telling, and then how the scene that we’re doing fits into that story, and we kind of just play from there. That’s what we did a lot of.

There’s a scene on the sandbar where Mike breaks through to Brooke for the first time, and she lets down her guard a bit. How did you go about finding that scene?

It’s ironic, because the scene as it was written by Reid [Carolin] was about five and a half pages long. Then we get there and Steven says, “It’s too long, it’s too wordy – let’s try something out.” So he and Channing and I worked for about ten minutes on the scene, and then Steven said, “Okay, I’m going to go set up the shot.” We had about twenty minutes to rewrite this whole scene. Channing and Reid and I wade out into the water about knee deep and we just started saying things. We knew what we had to hit, we knew that we had to get them to connect, we knew that we had to get Mike to say he would take care of The Kid, we knew that we had to get to The Kid’s backstory a little bit and we knew that we had to get that Brooke had gone to see him dance. Other than that it was completely just, like, whatever. All of a sudden Steven says, “I’m ready,” and Channing and I are like, “Uh….” So we just said, okay, I got you – let’s just go for it. It was great, and then Steven said he didn’t like what he did, so we did it again and kept going. As you can see, it’s one take, so to not know exactly what you’re saying the whole time was kind of scary, but we just stuck with it. And it was really fun – it’s actually a really fun way to work.

There’s a moment in that scene that focuses on Brooke’s tattoo – your character acknowledges but shies away from explaining her tattoos, which suggest that Brooke had a much more carefree and hedonistic youth herself, years ago, that she’s since matured out of. Were those your actual tattoos?
For the character, what Steven and I had talked about was that part of the reason Brooke is so protective and hesitant is because she’s been there. She’s never stripped, but she had those years after college, but then she turned her life around. She knows that he’s not necessarily the kind of person that could make it out of it. And yes, those were my tattoos. [Laughs]

Are you shy about your tattoos, or was that just a convenient way to write an existing element into your character’s backstory?
No! I did get them early, like the one that’s lower on my front I got when I was 18. But the one on my side… I’ve kind of gotten one every year between 18 and 22, and I don’t regret them. There’s some placing I regret, like the one in the front, just for kids someday. But I think my body at that point in my life was like a sketch pad, and if I sketched something – even if I don’t necessarily sketch the same thing now – I sketched it then and it reminds me of that part of my life. I did them all in happy moments.

I’m curious about your background and what made you want to get into acting in the first place, especially given your father’s profession – he’s not only in the industry, he kind of runs entire studios. How did that shape your attitudes toward even jumping into the business to begin with?
Well, I read my first screenplay when I was 9, so I fell in love with story at that time. I knew I wanted to produce, I knew I wanted to be involved, and so I started interning and doing different things. I was a reader, and then I came about acting pretty organically. I got cast as a model because of a lot of volunteer work I was doing as a kid – the Ralph Lauren Polo Jeans Give Campaign – and I kept booking it. I thought, this was interesting. I wanted to be a professional soccer player, so I thought maybe I’d start producing films at 35. The only side of the film industry I knew was behind the camera. I started modeling and after a while the photographer Bruce Weber introduced me to Joel Schumacher, who cast me in my first film, and I just fell in love. Simple as anything. And I was very shy as a kid; if you sang me “Happy Birthday,” I would cry. Quite shy. So the idea of being an actor, much less a model, was just out of this world. There was just no way. But then it just sort of happened, and then it kept going. I’ve kind of said “Yes” to the moment my whole life, whenever something is happening. If I like it, I like it. If I don’t like it, I don’t like it. And being true to oneself and being true to that path is how I’ve gotten here.

How did your dad influence your choices?
I’m lucky to have my dad in my life. He’s very brilliant, I think he’s really a smart man, and he’s a kind guy. [The way] he approaches the movie industry – although he comes from a business background, he just loves movies. And that’s the way I feel as well. I just love film. That’s why it’s fun for me, and why I’m having such a good time. If you don’t love what you do, you’re not going to be successful at it.

How old were you when the Harry Potter films happened under your dad’s watch? You must have been right around the right target age…
I was – I’m a little bit older than the [actors] but I was of age when the actual books were coming out. I was 11 when the characters were 11. But the movies came out a couple of years later.

Did you ever find yourself giving him feedback with those sorts of things? I feel like having kids around the age of these heroes must have helped inform him in some way.
My dad and I always had a really special bond, and we have a very similar brain and talk well with each other. I started giving him notes; he started asking me age-appropriate questions on age-appropriate projects. I think I was just a little focus group for him! I was very lucky that he valued my opinion, but at the end of the day the decisions were, of course, his.

Growing up in L.A. is a unique experience for a kid in itself, let alone in such proximity with show business. How do you think that affected you, or taught you what you might expect as an adult entering the entertainment industry?
I think that what growing up here has taught me is that people are just people. So while there are so many times that I walk into a room just overcome with respect and admiration for an artist, or a director, or a producer, or a studio executive, or anyone, what growing up here has taught me is there’s no need to fear anyone. There’ s no need to walk in with anyone up on a pedestal , because people are just people – even the ones you admire. Of course, there are times when you walk in and you can’t help it… for me, it’s Harrison Ford because I grew up a massive Star Wars freak. So meeting someone like him, I was like, “Oh my God…” And then you realize, he’s just a guy who played a character. He’s just a guy.

That’s a surreal realization to come to.
That also is rare, though – it’s rare that you meet your heroes, even working in this industry. But what that’s taught me on a day to day basis is that since I grew up having conversations with my dad like, “Who would you cast in this role?” I’d like to think I have a little better understanding of why sometimes you don’t get it. Sometimes you’re just not right, sometimes there’s someone who just fits better, sometimes it’s about the person that you’re working opposite, and sometimes it’s just not going to happen. There’s no one that’s clearly the best. It’s very subjective, and sometimes it’s out of your control – you could be amazing, but you could be too tall, or too fair-skinned, or too blonde, anything.

That brings me to your choice of upcoming projects; a lot of up-and-coming actresses might fall prey to typecasting, or struggle to find really challenging and varied roles when they’re starting out. But your next few projects are very interesting and, it seems, much different from what you’ve played in Magic Mike and before. For example, you play a cop in End of Watch.
Yeah – for End of Watch, I initially auditioned for the role of Jake Gyllenhaal’s wife [played eventually by Anna Kendrick]. I got up to audition in front of the director and I walked out of the room knowing I didn’t get it. I could just feel it wasn’t mine. But I knew I’d done a really good job. So when he called a couple days later and said, “Would you like to play a cop?” I said “Hell yeah!” That sounded way more interesting anyway! Also, I just personally am quite old-school; I do love the strong roles and I do love the female roles that are out there, but I almost wish I was in the ‘50s or ‘40s where actors weren’t necessarily required to do all these crazy love scenes. As someone who believes in “The One,” I find it hard to share your body like that – even though it’s not you, it’s a character. But I find it intellectually hard to deal with, hard to reconcile, and that’s why I’m less interested in playing a romantic lead. I would rather not. I would rather play the romantic lead’s best friend, like, “Dude, your life’s crazy.”

That’s interesting, because acting is already such a disassociative profession. It seems like some actors can have a lot of trouble balancing that part of it.
I mean, I do believe that when you walk on the stage, or onto the screen, that’s your character – not you. So it’s an interesting challenge, an interesting line to walk.

How much does the comedy world appeal to you, and what was it like being caught between Will Ferrell and Rainn Wilson on the set of The Office?
You know, it’s funny – I started booking Rescue Me and The Office and my agents were sending me out to meet with Judd Apatow. I thought, “What is this? I have a degree in philosophy – I want to be making Inception! I want to be making Waking Life, and Before Sunrise!” Just talking. But after navigating heavier waters, I realized that the lighter stuff is fun. It’s fun to go to work and do that, and it’s a good day – it’s a funny, fun day when you’re laughing. But it was really fun, and I had a great time – and of course, they are geniuses, and they’re at the top of their field.

Magic Mike is in theaters now; look for End of Watch on September 28.

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