Timberlake enjoys the acting challenge
Friday May 25 15:00 AEST
Justin Timberlake has sold more than 13 million solo albums, won four Grammy Awards, has a hot movie career, including Shrek the Third, and could probably take his pick of the world’s eligible supermodels and Hollywood beauties.
At the age of 26, it’s been a nice ride so far.
He was with Britney Spears when she had hair, was romantically linked to actresses Alyssa Milano, Scarlett Johansson and Jenna Dewan and just wrapped up a four-year relationship with Cameron Diaz.
If Timberlake was taller, his life may not have turned out this way.
“I wanted to be a basketball player when I was a kid”, Timberlake, musing about what may have been, told AAP during an interview in Los Angeles recently.
“That was all I cared about”.
His hero was Magic Johnson and he once read how the Los Angeles Laker legend shot 100 free throws a day at practice, so each day a young, skinny Timberlake would walk to his local basketball court in his hometown of Millington, Tennessee and shoot 100 free throws.
“It rained a lot in Tennessee”, Timberlake recalled.
“I remember standing in the rain trying to do 100 free throws”.
During these early years, Timberlake was also dabbling in music, with his mother, Lynn, paying for singing lessons.
The rainy hours on the basketball court did not help his singing.
“I’d go to voice lessons on the weekend and I’d have a cold”, he said.
“My mum said, ‘Look we have to figure this out because I’m not going to pay for you to have voice lessons if you’re going to waste it'”.
Timberlake, at the innocent age of 10, found himself at the crossroads of a career path, but the choice was not a difficult one.
“Of course, I’m not 7ft 2”, Timberlake, still no shrimp at 6ft 1 (1.85cm), laughed.
When he was 11 his singing landed him on TV talent show Star Search and a year later he joined Spears and another future pop princess, Christina Aguilera, on The Mickey Mouse Club TV show.
When the show ended in 1995, Timberlake was catapulted to worldwide fame when he formed boy band ‘NSYNC with another Mickey Mouse Club castoff, JC Chasez, and three other teenagers, Chris Kirkpatrick, Joey Fatone and Lance Bass.
“Touring the world at 15 years old, that’s a history lesson right there”, a wide-eyed Timberlake recalled.
“When you’re 15 years old you don’t understand fear as much. But it was amazing.
“I remember once when we did three shows in three different countries in one day. We were touring for a year and a half so I got to see some great sights, but it was tough going”.
Acting became a natural transition for Timberlake, who showed during guest starring appearances on US sketch comedy TV show Saturday Night Live that he had acting chops.
“We all saw him on Saturday Night Live about three and a half years ago”, Jeffrey Katzenberg, one of the heads of DreamWorks, the Hollywood studio behind the Shrek franchise, said.
“Given how great the regular SNL cast is, it’s unusual for a guest to go on the show and knock it out of the park.
“All of us were just blown away by how funny he was and what a great sense of timing he has so we approached him to do a voice”.
Feature length animated films are notoriously tedious to make for the director and technical staff, with Shrek the Third taking almost four years.
Since signing up to voice a young, nerdy King Arthur in Shrek 3, Timberlake shot four other feature films – Edison with Morgan Freeman, Alpha Dog with Bruce Willis, Southland Tales with Sarah Michelle Gellar and Black Snake Moan with Samuel L Jackson.
“He’s like the old school triple threat”, Mike Myers, the voice of green ogre Shrek, said, referring to Timberlake’s ability to act, sing and dance.
Timberlake is enjoying the new artistic challenge.
He also enjoys not being judged about the characters he plays, unlike music, where his lyrics are analysed for hints about his private life.
“With acting, you get to build a character but you don’t have to be responsible for it, you know?” he explains.
“I write lyrics and everyone takes them so literally.
“It’s funny to me, because I write songs a lot of the time that have nothing to do with me.
“It could be based on a friend’s experience or based on a fantasy that I create in my mind.
“I lock myself in the studio and just let my mind wander. Then it goes out into the world and people go ‘Oh that’s who he is’.
“Then with actors, so many of them put themselves into the role and people go ‘Oh that was brilliant’.
“People think it’s as if they were someone else, but sometimes I think, ‘No they were just being themselves'”.
Shrek the Third broke box office records in North America when it opened on May 18, collecting a mammoth debut weekend take of $US122 million ($A148 million) – the highest for an animated film and the third biggest of all time.
Timberlake’s character in Shrek 3, “Artie”, is a nerdy school kid who Shrek hopes will become the saviour of the Far, Far Away kingdom.
Often actors describe the difficulties of voicing an animated film, but Timberlake has a different take.
“It’s literally the easiest work I’ve ever done”, Timberlake says.
“No make-up, lights or cameras and a script to read from, it was a breeze.
“They do a storyboard, they go over the scene with you and then you do it four or five times”, Timberlake, detailing the process for voice talent, continued.
“Then you hit certain lines in different ways so the director has certain options.
“You do five or six sessions which go for about four hours each and that’s it.
“The challenging part is you’re in a booth by yourself.
“Or just you and the director (Chris Miller).
“It’s not like acting where you have someone to feed off”.
Timberlake said the other tough part was finding the time to fit the voice recording sessions into his music schedule, although DreamWorks was so keen to have the teen idol in Shrek the Third they followed him.
“I’m sure I was a headache for Katzenberg because I went on a concert tour”, Timberlake said.
“I did sessions in LA, Minnesota, Florida and New York”.
Timberlake also did not mind playing the young nerdy version of King Arthur.
“He’s sort of the opposite of a hero when you meet him in the movie”, Timberlake said.
“That’s the beauty of Shrek. They take medieval mythology and turn it on its head.
“When I first got the offer we started talking about who he would be.
“Is he a punk? Is he a skater punk?
“As it turned out, it felt more heart warming that he was just a regular kid, but he wasn’t the coolest kid in school.
“We all felt like kids could relate more to that.
“I feel that when you’re an adolescent in school, nobody is really cool.
“Either your limbs are too long, your skin is bad, or you know, kids make fun of kids in school”.
Timberlake is thankful he quit attending a regular high school when ‘NSYNC scored its record deal when he was 15.
He maintained his studies by completing a home school program by the University of Nebraska that allowed him to complete his education in a condensed amount of time.
“High school is kind of weird”, he said.
“I don’t think I missed out on anything”.
College, however, he believes would have been interesting.
“I would have just chased women”, Timberlake cheekily admits.
“I wouldn’t have made it through college to be honest with you”.
Shrek the Third opens in Australia on June 7.