With his new film ‘Shrek the Third’ out in Irish cinemas today, Justin Timberlake talks about working on the movie and the challenges of bringing an animated character to life on the big screen.
So were you a fan of the ‘Shrek’ movies?
Yeah, huge. I mean, how can you not be? I mean it’s a piece, a classic animated film, you know? I can’t believe I’m in a ‘Shrek’ movie. I’m just kind of all giddy inside.
Music clearly has a vital part to play in every ‘Shrek’ movie; the music’s intertwined beautifully. Had you thought at any point ‘They want me to come in so that I’ll do some music for the movie’?
From the first meeting I had with Jeffrey [Katzenberg, executive producer] he said: “I don’t want you to do any music, I just want you to be Artie”.
Was there any preparation needed or did you just turn up in your jeans and t-shirt in the studio?
Yeah. One day I showed up in sweats! This is literally the easiest job I’ve [laughs] ever had. You show up and they show you the storyboards. You go through it and then you do the scenes. You come up with ideas and you go back and you try different things. You do it different ways and they get what they need. And they make an amazing, amazing film out of it.
What appealed to you about playing Artie?
What I love about ‘Shrek’ is that it turns everything on its head. King Arthur is such a strong figure in mythology. In ‘Shrek’, in the world of far, far away, he’s a bit of a nerd, he’s a bit of a loser, and he’s got a journey to make. So the fact that you can come in and make a character out of that… I mean it’s a challenge, but it’s an awesome challenge to take on.
Your career, well the bulk of it, has been built on getting the reaction from the audience and feeding from that reaction – that reaction helps your performance. So how difficult was it to get used to the idea of it’s you, in a soundproofed glass booth, and you can’t even hear them laugh outside it?
It wasn’t all too weird. I mean, obviously I’ve been in a recording studio before.
Yes. But you don’t get many laughs in a recording studio.
Yeah, well, the kind of kind of recording I normally do you hope not to get laughs! You could still see through the glass, you can see what they’re responding to, so you kind of knew what was working. Chris Miller, the director, he did such an amazing job. He’s got such a good ear and such a good sensibility about what works best for a movie like ‘Shrek’.
Will this have been the first time that you’ll be on sale as a doll? There’ll be a King Arthur doll out there with the ‘Shrek’ toys.
Unfortunately no. I think there were some marionettes made. I don’t want to talk about it. I really just don’t want to talk about it!
‘Shrek Four’ is already in preparation. Are you signed on for that? Because you’re clearly swept away.
No one’s spoken to me about it. Obviously I screwed ‘Shrek the Third’ up. But whatever! Hey, it was fun while it lasted guys! Thanks for thinking of me! I hope so. You know, I don’t even know what the story of ‘Shrek the Fourth’ is but I’d love to be a part of it though.
You say this is the easiest job you’ve ever done. I don’t believe that, I think you’re just being typically modest. And I wondered if you would tell us about a day perhaps when you were struggling to get a line right or to get the right rhythm in a line or to get the right tone or the energy?
I have been virtually perfect my whole career so I don’t what you’re talking about!
A lot of what became challenging for this character was just the terminology. There is a huge responsibility on this character because at the end of the film he really does bring the message home. And that was probably the most challenging scene.
We kept going over and over it again. I’d come up with ideas, and Chris would come up with some, and Aron Warner, the producer, would come up with ideas, and we’d all just spit all these ideas out. After a while it became a nice monologue for the end of the film. But it definitely took a lot to get there.
You want to make sure that it’s relatable to the kids. You want to make sure that it meets on a level with them where it doesn’t dumb it down, it doesn’t try to preach to them. That’s what they’ve done twice already with ‘Shrek’. And so, to bring that message home with a new character, you just didn’t want to let that track record down.
You know you wanted to really pound that message home, but do it in a way where it seems like it’s cool for kids to hear about. And I feel like we really did that.
You’re in a very fortunate and special place in your career where you’re able to mix a tremendously successful music career with a career in film. Is doing comedy like this almost like a kind of release from the quite serious business of making excellent pop music?
Yeah, it is an art form. But I’ve always kind of flown by the seat of my pants… so to speak. Wow, somebody’s really going to turn that into something else, aren’t they!? [Laughs] I’ve always just kind of trusted my gut on stuff like that. And you know you’re right: I am an extremely lucky individual to be in this position, and I definitely don’t take it for granted. I’m very thankful to be here.