Over the past few years singer-turned-actor Justin Timberlake has been trying to make a name for himself in front of the camera. He hasn’t sang or danced in a while because he’s been too busy perfecting his craft as a thespian. Who better to learn from than the notoriously meticulous director David Fincher? This month Timberlake appears in his biopic The Social Network, which covers the controversial inception of Facebook.
In the film, Timberlake plays Sean Parker, the notorious founder of Napster, who has a substance abuse problem and a habit of hanging around impressionable teens. The actor has charisma and presence but he needed more to carry a role as specific as Parker. When Timberlake attended the New York Press Day for The Social Network he spoke about the differences between his singing career and acting, his working relationship with Fincher, and he revealed whether or not he actually uses the infamous Facebook himself…
Did you ever have the opportunity to meet the real Sean Parker and if so, did he give you any pointers?
Justin Timberlake: I briefly bumped into him in New York one time, but we spoke for probably all of two minutes. And, ironically, I met him before I was cast in the role. There was about a 3 week period where I was going through an audition process that it had been announced that I was going to play the role. We met briefly. He seemed to be very nice, but we didn’t really talk about much. He just mentioned that he had read the script and he thought that I was going to be playing the part. I think that when I read the first two scenes, I thought, ‘How can you not love this guy?’ His brashness, his sort of cynical wit, his brilliance just popped off the page.
How was it working with David Fincher?
JT: He is one of the most brave directors you could ever be lucky enough to work with. But, I’ll say this as well: he does not get bored easily. And when I say easily, I mean at all. Every take he would find something that was so specific. There was no question in your mind what he was trying to get you to accomplish, what he wanted to see through your character. I’ve never seen someone so hyper-smart and multitasking. To watch him direct the camera operator, Jesse [Eisenberg] and then myself, and then have the set designer come in and move the blinds an inch because he wanted to shield the light at an angle and I watched. There was a 25-minute session where the blinds were moving back and forth. And I was literally like, ‘What angle of light is he trying to accomplish?’
Did your experience with music videos prepare you for acting in films?
JT: Back when we used to make those dinosaurs called music videos? I guess a video like ‘Cry me a River’ that I worked with on with Francis Lawrence and ‘What Goes Around’ with Sam Bayer that actually Nick Cassavettes was kind enough to write some dialogue for — those two are probably the most similar, because they are kind of a short-film style. I think that there is a lot of musicality to acting.
What about your concerts and stage productions? Are they similar?
JT: Putting together a stage production, on my last tour that probably took about 10 months from concept to actually getting to the first show. So it’s very similar to theater, and you have a very long, drawn out, methodical rehearsal process, because you only get one take. You step up on stage and you get one pass at it, and it has to be workshopped in front of different types of crowds that you trust.
How is the acting process different from your singing career?
JT: It’s more collaborative. Everything that I’ve put together on stage, I’m sort of the buck and everything stops with me. You have to instinctively trust what you’re doing as much as everyone’s offering things up with you. To get to toss the ball around — wow, another bad sports analogy! — with such great actors, it’s a completely different, fulfilling, collaborative, creative experience.
Why do you think people are obsessed with Facebook?
JT: It’s a party and you’re throwing it. I think that’s kind of the intrigue behind having your own Facebook page and creating your own profile. It’s your world. I would assume that that’s sort of what it is. As we’ve been promoting this film, I get the idea collectively that none of us are really that savvy at using Facebook or any other site. I think that what makes the film so intriguing in the bigger picture of things if you kind of zoom out, is that social networking in general is still a hypothesis.
Do you think it has a positive of negative effect on society?
JT: I find that people are still asking the question, and they’re asking it to people like us more and more. I don’t know why they think we have the answer. I’m ridiculously stupid when it comes to computers and social networking but I think the hypothesis is still ‘is it a good thing or is it a bad thing.’ I think there’s always a medium that’s being pushed. It shows how human we are, how kind we are, how cruel we are. The accessibility and the instant gratification of having all of your photos and profile and everything lined up –I think that’s probably what makes something like a Facebook or any other social networking site so great for people. I think that’s the intrigue. We still wonder if it’s going to create great things in the world or are we’re going to waste away with it.
The Social Network hits theaters on October 1st.