”You’re catching me at an extremely vulnerable time,” says Justin Timberlake as he sits down to dinner in West Hollywood. He’s just come from taping The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, but he’s still thinking about last night’s industry screening of The Social Network. ”So many people I admire were there,” he says with a shudder. ”Like Michael Mann and Jim Sheridan. I had to sit behind Gary Oldman. It was literally the sweatiest my armpits have ever been.”
He’d better stock up on deodorant: Timberlake, 29, is placing his music career on hold and making four films in a row. After The Social Network, he’s got next spring’s comedy Bad Teacher (costarring his real-life ex-girlfriend Cameron Diaz; he’s now dating Jessica Biel), Friends With Benefits with Mila Kunis (due July 2011), and a thriller from Gattaca director Andrew Niccol. We’ll also hear him as Boo Boo in this December’s animated Yogi Bear. Meanwhile, in the four years since his last CD was released, Timberlake has also emerged as a bona fide comedy star thanks to memorable appearances on Saturday Night Live (including two crowd-pleasing moments on the Sept. 25 season premiere). His SNL stints even won him two Emmys: one for hosting in 2009 and another for co-writing the riotous 2006 R&B track ”D— in a Box.” Playing The Social Network‘s entrepreneur Sean Parker — who helps Mark Zuckerberg grow Facebook — Timberlake gets to show acting chops only hinted at in past films like 2007’s Alpha Dog. ”We looked at a lot of different actors for that role,” says Social Network director David Fincher. ”But I needed somebody who understood the value of ‘If I sit this person next to this person, there’s millions to be made.’ There’s this kind of glee and glint and sparkle that happens with people who truly know that.” Here Timberlake talks about coping with industry pressures and why you shouldn’t expect a new record from him anytime soon.
EW: So how did you land such a choice part?
Justin Timberlake I did a marathon of testing for the film. I tested more than anyone. I have to fight against my music career — I’m cognizant of that. But I didn’t care. I loved the part and I wanted to work with David [Fincher] so bad that I was like, ”We can read this scene butt-naked if you guys want.”
EW: Fincher is known for wanting dozens of takes. Was that hard to get used to?
Timberlake I had this conversation with David. He used an example of another actor that he’s worked with who got burnt-out after a certain amount of takes. And this is an actor that I very much admire. I was like, ”I’m a linebacker, dude. You tell me to hit somebody, I’ll hit ’em a thousand times.”
EW: Are movies your priority now?
Timberlake My priority is inspiration. It always has been. I grew up in a generation that was like, ”Why not do everything?” I grew up in a family where they said, ”Why not do everything you want to do if you have the opportunity?”
EW: There are only so many hours in a day, though.
Timberlake True. And to be honest, ever since I went solo, I’ve felt like an infiltrator more than not. I feel like I’ve been made to feel that way.
EW: By whom?
Timberlake Just everything around you.
EW: But if there was any resistance to you as a solo artist, it ended pretty quickly, wouldn’t you say?
Timberlake I don’t know. Maybe I’m more tortured than I think and I only focus on the bad.
EW: Do you feel like an infiltrator in the music world now?
EW: How about in the movie world?
Timberlake Absolutely. Maybe that’s my own demons. I know what I want to be, and that’s an artist. It feels stupid to talk about it. I told you, you’re catching me at a vulnerable state. I just need to shut the f— up.
EW: Are there people you work with who are telling you that you should put another record out sooner rather than later?
Timberlake [Long pause] When someone starts alluding to that, it gets shut down so fast. It’s like, ”Talk all you want. Predict what you want.” I’m talking about people that work with me. ”Ask me what you want, but know that I’m going to do what I want.” Does a painter make a painting because he has to make it by December 21st? No, he doesn’t. It happens when it pours out of him. That’s how music is for me. It’s not methodical. It’s so much more of an outburst of emotion. That’s the way my two albums have been. And when it does, it’s like Niagara Falls. I’m constantly creating. I’m into photography, I’m into music, I’m into film. I’m into a lot of things, but I don’t think that every idea I come up with is the greatest idea ever. I don’t have to tweet that I’m going to the bathroom in a song.
EW: Do you think it’s dangerous to wait so long? Christina Aguilera waited four years between albums, and her fans don’t seem to care about her right now.
Timberlake If you’re asking me, no. I never stop making music. I don’t know what else to tell you, except that I just don’t know [in] what capacity I want to be involved anymore.
EW: That sounds very final.
Timberlake No. All I’m saying is, in very simple terms, I’ll know when I know. And until I know, I don’t know. Every time I’ve gone against my gut, I’ve made the wrong decision. Call that New Agey if you like. I don’t give a s—. I know that I could wake up next year one day and be like, ”Hey, I want to go on tour again, so I want to put a record out.”
EW: In the meantime, what do you want to do in film that you haven’t yet?
Timberlake You talk about film with me, I’m like an open flesh wound. But in the good ways, too. Sensitive to everything, sensitive to what could be great, afraid of success and afraid of failure.
EW: Would you want to play a super-hero like Andrew Garfield is about to do with Spider-Man?
Timberlake I don’t think so. I tested for one [rumored to be The Green Lantern]. I don’t think I’m the superhero type. I think it’s important to know when you’re not the guy.
EW: How about a movie musical?
Timberlake It’s so funny you said that. There’s something in my brain that’s been brewing and brewing and brewing. I’d be happy to talk about it when it comes to fruition in this playground. [Points to his head]
EW: How was it working with Cameron Diaz in Bad Teacher?
Timberlake Holy s—. It is so f—ing funny. You’ll love Cameron in this movie. She’s so funny. Like, Bill Murray in her body. It’s weird when it first hits you, but you’re like, ”I like this side of her.”
EW: You’ve already won two Emmys and a few Grammys. So you’re halfway to an EGOT, to use 30 Rock’s term. What’s going to be harder for you to get, an Oscar or a Tony?
Timberlake Why would you think I would ever answer that question? There’s no answer I could ever give you that would not make me sound like the biggest a–hole on the planet. My mother’s going to read this, bro! She’ll be like, ”You sound like a little a–hole!” I’ll tell you this: Getting a laugh on SNL means as much as winning a Grammy. Listen, I’ve won Grammys that I didn’t think I should have won and I’ve lost ones when I thought I wrote a really great record. It’s not important. In a lot of ways the Emmy kind of means more to me than a Grammy. Because it’s the kind of thing that I don’t think I would ever expect to have. This is how my brain works: I just think that it’s fantastic that there’s an Emmy that exists that has the word ”D—” on it. That’s funny.