Timberlake On 'N Sync, Acting And Bringing Sexy Back Justin Timberlake rocketed to stardom as a teen heartthrob in the band 'N Sync. He has gone on to be a successful solo artist — and expanded his career into both comedic and dramatic roles on-screen. He discusses his long career in showbiz, his SNL digital shorts and his transition to film.
NPR logo

Timberlake On 'N Sync, Acting And Bringing Sexy Back

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/130356030/130376902" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Timberlake On 'N Sync, Acting And Bringing Sexy Back

Timberlake On 'N Sync, Acting And Bringing Sexy Back

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/130356030/130376902" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

It wasn't until I saw Justin Timberlake host "Saturday Night Live" that I realized what a great comic performer he is. And his performance in the new film "The Social Network" shows that he's a gifted dramatic actor.

Many people his age, 29, or a little younger were introduced to him when he was one of the stars of "The New Mickey Mouse Club," along with Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Ryan Gosling. Then Timberlake was a member of the boy band 'N Sync. He released his first solo album, "Justified," in 2002.

After his huge commercial success in music, he entered the world of independent film, co-starring in "Alpha Dog" and "Black Snake Moan." Timberlake's new movie, "The Social Network," is about the creation of Facebook and the rivalries, accusations and lawsuits that followed. It was written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by David Fincher.

Timberlake plays Sean Parker, the founder of Napster, who befriends Facebook's creator, Mark Zuckerberg, and finds the money to take Facebook from a college network to a global phenomenon. Parker also introduces Zuckerberg to the excesses of financial success: the girls and the parties.

Here's a scene from the film. Sean Parker is in bed, introducing himself to the woman he's just spent the night with.

(Soundbite of film, "The Social Network")

Unidentified Woman #1 (Actor): (As character) So what do you do?

Mr. JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE (Actor): (As Sean Parker) I'm an entrepreneur.

Unidentified Woman #1: (As character) You're unemployed.

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: (As Parker) I wouldn't say that.

Unidentified Woman #1: (As character) What would you say?

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: (As Parker) That I'm an entrepreneur.

Unidentified Woman #1: (As character) Well, then, what was your latest preneur?

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: (As Parker) Well, I founded an Internet company that let folks download and share music for free.

Unidentified Woman #1: (As character) Kinda like Napster?

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: (As Parker) Exactly like Napster.

Unidentified Woman #1: (As character) What do you mean?

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: (As Parker) I founded Napster.

Unidentified Woman #1: (As character) Sean Parker founded Napster.

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: (As Parker) Nice to meet you.

GROSS: Justin Timberlake, welcome to FRESH AIR. It's such a pleasure to have you here. So I read that David Fincher, the director, does like 80 takes of some scenes. How is that for you?

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: Its - he does you know, the first scene in the film, with Jesse and Roony Mara, it's sort of the scene that becomes the catalyst driving the whole film and his obsession with creating something as big as a Facebook, I know that they shot that scene 99 times. And that might be the most takes he did for a scene. But yeah, he averages no less than 40 to 50.

You know, when you come from the stage, like I do, when you sort of put it that way, you rehearse, it's very similar to theater. You rehearse for a long amount of time, and then you only get one take. And so to have 40, 50, 60, 70 takes sometimes in each scene, it was exhausting, but it was also very freeing because you felt like you could get out on the floor, so to speak, and let it mess up and find nuance.

If David didn't afford us that opportunity, if we wouldn't have been able to layer these characters as much as we feel like hopefully we did.

GROSS: So the character you play, Sean Parker, was a co-creator of Napster, and then he kind of came onboard with Facebook and turned it into something huge because he got the financial backing to make it huge. And he had a huge vision for it. How much did you know about Sean Parker before playing him?

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: I didn't really know - you know, all of the actors in the film, we didn't know much about any of these guys. We came to these people as characters. You know, our first introduction to these people was the, like I said, the well-researched and specific characterization of them by Aaron Sorkin.

And there was a book by Ben Mezrich that was being written sort of at the same time that Aaron was doing his research for the film and I know that he did speak to a lot of people that, you know, their only condition was they got to keep their anonymity.

And I think - so none of us really asked questions about who or what he talked to or about with anyone, but you know, suffice it to say that he was very adamant about a lot of the research, even, you know, details about what they may have been drinking in a certain scene or the brand of clothing that they were wearing was all accounted for by his research.

GROSS: You have become so good at comedy. And even in "The Social Network," there are comedic touches, even though to your portrayal, even though the film is hardly a comedy. When did you start heading in that direction, though I guess even on "The Mickey Mouse Club" there were comedy sketches. But you just do seem to have a gift for comedy.

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: I guess for me, I've always thought that there was humor everywhere. And as a kid, I just, you know, I grew up an only child, and I -sort of nothing made me happier than to make my parents laugh.

I remember I had costumes and things laying around the house that I was, you know anything that I could do to make my parents laugh.

GROSS: What kind of costumes?

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: Well, like I had a Jackson 5 wig that I would wear around, and I would do like the dances from the Jackson 5, and, you know, my mother thought that was hysterical. So of course, that seed got planted very early, the physicality of comedy. And, you know, different things.

When I was a kid, I would impersonate anything that I would hear. It's actually, I attribute that more to why I actually was able to become a musician and a singer. I think I had a knack for music, but I think what I was more sort of talented at more than anything, because I don't think I'm a great singer, I think that I grew up imitating different voices that I heard.

And when I was young, my mother, you know, used to listen to a lot of there's a Southern rock station in Memphis that she listened to all the time. So I would imitate all of those voices that I heard when I was young, when I was singing along with them on the radio.

GROSS: Well, along those lines, you were just on Jimmy Fallon's show, and you and he did like a history of hip-hop, and it was so great. And you did different voices in it. And let's hear some of that, and this is my guest Justin Timberlake, and...

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: Ladies and gentlemen, stupidity at its best.

GROSS: No, it's great.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: This is Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon doing a history of hip-hop with the band The Roots, which is a great hip-hop band and is also the band on Jimmy Fallon's show. So here we go.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JIMMY FALLON and Mr. TIMBERLAKE: (Rapping): I said hip-hop (Unintelligible).

(Soundbite of applause)

GROSS: Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon. So how did you both decide to do that sketch?

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: We knew that I was going to be on the show the next week, and we said, wow, we should come up with a bit to do that would be really funny. And we were talking about a million different ideas. And I just remember blurting out, you know, you remember that guy who did the history of dance or the evolution of dance, I can't remember exactly what it was called. I said: We should do the history of rap.

Because every time we're together, we sing songs as ridiculously as possible to try to make each other laugh. And that's where it came from. And, you know, I think it should be noted, as well, when you watch that back and listen to it how amazing The Roots are.

You know, it's almost like a DJ is spinning records back and forth, and to do that as a live band, it's, you know, they're peerless musicians to be able to pull that off.

And honestly, we came in, I came in before we did the show and we went through it a couple times back in their rehearsal area, and then we took it to the stage and did it a couple times. And I think we decided, too, that if we did mess it up on live television that that would make it funny, as well.

So I think there was that element of that for us that made it exciting for us. And obviously, Jimmy's great on SNL and having you know, that's kind of the same thing that you do on SNL, the element of anything could happen in the moment. I think that was exciting for us, too, so...

GROSS: My guest is Justin Timberlake. He's co-starring in the new film "The Social Network." More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Justin Timberlake. He's co-starring in the new film "The Social Network."

So there's a "Saturday Night Live" song I want to ask you about, and this song is just so famous now. And I can't really say the full title of the song, but this is something that you did with Andy Samberg. And it's a parody of those narcissistic songs and videos in which the male singer thinks that the greatest gift he could give to a lady is his very special lovemaking.

(Soundbite of laughter)


GROSS: So this song and video is about...

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: That was very eloquently put.

GROSS: Thank you, thank you. This song and video is about presenting his girlfriend - I think it was right before Christmas that you did this. So the song and video is about presenting his girlfriend with his manhood in a gift-wrapped box.

And it's the kind of song where the singer is singing about how great he is, not how much he loves his girlfriend but really how much he loves himself.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: Right. Right.

GROSS: And this became one of the most-viewed online things. It just went viral. So before we hear it, just tell us about writing this and performing it. It's so much fun. Go ahead.

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: The weird thing about the couple of things, digital shorts that I've done with Andy and the Lonely Island guys is that it really - you know, for instance, we wrote this song in a delirium of no sleep on a Wednesday or Thursday of the week.

And then we recorded it that night, and we were laughing so hysterically and like I said, before probably through the delirium of not being able to sleep and trying to write something funny, this came out of it. And we knew it would be funny on some level because we were laughing with each other on the Friday that we filmed the video.

And then Saturday morning, they edited it, and Saturday - or Saturday night, it was put out on television. So interestingly enough, how you described, that these guys were so self-absorbed that there could never be a question in their mind that this wasn't the greatest Christmas gift of all time, and...

GROSS: Aren't there just, like, so many songs, performers who seem to be that?

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: Well, maybe it's maybe the song is funny to people because it speaks so much to the male population and how self-absorbed we all are.

GROSS: And did you have any particular performers or songs in mind?

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: Oh no, no. Well, the style no, no, we weren't, we weren't parodying anyone in particular. I think the style in which we were doing the song was, you know, we made that pretty clear that it was early-'90s R&B.

But, you know, when we had that as a basis, then we said well, okay, how ridiculous can we make this? Because then, at that point, it's just about making it as funny as possible.

GROSS: Well, let's hear it. This is Andy Samberg and my guest, Justin Timberlake, in the SNL video parody, and it's "Blank in a Box."

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: "Blank in a Box," well-titled.

(Soundbite of song,

Mr. TIMBERLAKE and Mr. ANDY SAMBERG: Hey girl, I got somethin' real important to give you. So just sit down and listen. Girl you know we've been together such a long, long time. And now I'm ready to lay it on the line. You know it's Christmas and my heart is open wide, gonna give you something so you know what's on my mind. A gift real special, so take off the top. Take a look inside it's my (BEEP) in a box.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. TIMBERLAKE and Mr. ANDY SAMBERG: Not gonna get you a diamond ring. That sort of gift don't mean anything. Not gonna get you a fancy car. Girl you gotta know you're my shining star. Not gonna get you a house in the hills. A girl like you needs something real. I wanna get you something from the heart, something special, girl. It's my (BEEP) in a box, my (BEEP) in a box, girl.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. TIMBERLAKE and Mr. ANDY SAMBERG: It's my (BEEP) in a box, my (BEEP) in a box girl...

GROSS: That's my guest, Justin Timberlake, along with Andy Samberg in a sketch from "Saturday Night Live," which is really, really...

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: I've got to tell you, I feel like I'm even getting away with something that that just got played on NPR.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: I wish we could say the title, but...

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: I feel dirty. I feel dirty right now, and I apologize.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: It's such a great sketch. So Justin Timberlake is now one of the stars of the new movie "The Social Network," which is about the founding of Facebook and all of the legal percussions and the jealousies and resentments and lawsuits and so on that followed.

So did you started performing when you were so young. I mean, if you go on the Internet, people can see you at age 11 on "Star Search," singing a Country and Western song. So, like, who's idea was it to start performing on TV that young? Was it you? Was it your parents?

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: I no, I always as soon as I sort of discovered the stage, I think that it just brought out a lot of a lot in me that I didn't know that I had. And it did it at a very young age, and it was one of the most fun things that I could ever do.

And so I, you know, I begged my mother for voice lessons and guitar lessons and anything I could do to sort of I wanted to be really good at it. I wanted to learn how to do it the right way. I wanted to I knew that I had a good ear, and but my father, my biological father, has an amazing voice and music kind of runs in my family.

But I knew that I wanted to learn. I knew that there was a sort of a right way to sing, and I wanted to learn that.

GROSS: So your grandfather was a Baptist minister, and I think your father now directs a church choir. Did you - was the church your first stage?

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: It was. It was, actually. It was well, my father doesn't do that anymore.

GROSS: Oh, okay.

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: But he did at the time when I was very young. But yeah, it was the first time I had sort of stepped onstage to sing, and I don't know if you know much about sort of a Southern Baptist church. But no one puts in a bad performance there, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: It's a very nurturing place to step on the stage and sing because even if you're really bad, people still say amen at the end, and...

GROSS: So what did you sing?

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: I can't remember what the songs were. I think there was something from the hymnal that I sang with my father, and I sang the harmony to something that he was singing. And that was my first sort of...

GROSS: Oh, of course. So you learned to harmonize in the church. That would make sense.

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: Right. I learned to harmonize listening to a choir sing, you know, three and four-part harmonies. And so that's kind of where I got my ear from.

But yeah, like I said, that's a very nurturing place to step onstage because you don't, no one's going to get booed at church.

GROSS: So I watched the clip of you at age 11 on "Star Search" with Ed McMahon, and some really interesting things about that include that you're singing a country song, and you're dressed in kind of, you know, country clothing with the country kind of belt and the hat. And the dancers that...

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: I appreciate you reminding me of all this.

GROSS: You're welcome, yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: But, you know, I love, like, kiddie talent shows because what always happens on those is that the children are coached by older people to perform like performers from older generations. And there's always some, like, really weird disconnect to see, like, a 10-year-old pretending like he's Sammy Davis or something, you know.

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: Right, right, right, a 10-year-old pretending like he's Alan Jackson.

GROSS: Exactly, thank you, yeah. So what was that like for you, I mean, to...

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: Well, it was a very surreal experience. I auditioned for that show in a mall in Memphis, Tennessee, at an open-call audition. And I mean, it was a line, you know, at that time "Star Search" was our version of "American Idol." It was the biggest talent show in the world.

And I actually auditioned with Percy Sledge's "When a Man Loves a Woman," and then I went back and auditioned again because you were allowed to audition as many times as you wanted with as many different things as you wanted.

So I auditioned, if I can remember correctly, I think it was a Garth Brooks song that I auditioned with, too, but, you know, Garth Brooks was, like, you know, bigger than bubblegum at that time. And coming from Tennessee, it made sense to try that angle, as well.

And I got booked on the show and it wasn't the song or performance that I wanted to do, but it was what they thought was crafted better for the television show.

But I was happy to be there, and I was at Disney World, and I was 10, and, you know, I mean, it was like, it was a big deal for me. And I if not for anything, I had a blast at the theme parks, so...

GROSS: Okay, well, speaking of Disney World, you went on to be on "The New Mickey Mouse Club," and what was the audition for that like?

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: Interestingly enough, so this is some irony. The Disney MGM Studios, where "Star Search" was filmed, was a double soundstage and next door to the soundstage of "Star Search" was the Disney Channel's New MMC.

And so the serendipity of it is I lost the first round on "Star Search," and we were on our way home, and there was an open-call audition in Hendersonville, Tennessee, and it just came on the television in between commercials. And it said open-call audition at this place for the Disney Channel's MMC, and my mom said, do you want to give it a go before we go home? We're just going home.

So I went in and auditioned for it and then got a callback and went to sort of a casting camp of - like a week period of casting camp where, you know, all the kids who were sort of spawned out of that show, we met for the first time: Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera and Ryan Gosling.

And there were 21 kids who were whittled down by I think 20,000 that they had done auditions with all over the country. And out of those 21 kids, I think seven of us were picked to be the new part of the cast.

And when you're a kid and things like that happen, and happen so fast, you know, you can't help but feel like, you know, something great was happening for you. But I look back on it and I think it was more of a fluke than anything.

GROSS: Justin Timberlake will be back in the second half of the show. He plays the founder of Napster in the new film "The Social Network." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Im Terry Gross, back with Justin Timberlake. He's had a hugely successful music career and has been a popular host of "Saturday Night Live." Now he's co-starring in the new movie "The Social Network" playing the founder of Napster. He started acting on "The New Mickey Mouse Club" in 1993 when he was 12.

So after a couple of seasons on "The Mickey Mouse Club," you ended up being in one of the famous boy bands, 'N Sync, that was put together by Lou Pearlman who also put together The Backstreet Boys and New Kids on the Block. So did that feel like a totally synthetic, or did it feel more organic as a group?

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: Well, it should be noted that Lou Pearlman didnt put us together, but did put up the money for us to have...

GROSS: Oh, I didnt realize that. So you created, the group got together yourselves?

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: Well, I got a phone call.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: The show cancelled and then I went home for two years and got into trouble, and like, you know, pre-teens do in a small town in Tennessee. And then all of a sudden, one day, I got a call from Chris Kirkpatrick. He called my mother and said that he was putting together something and that there was a person in Orlando who would finance the whole thing. And the money was put up, but, you know, after I took the trip down there to meet him - at the same time I said ironically, JC, who was on the show as well, we were in Nashville cutting demos and starting to write music together. And so when I got that phone call I said to Chris, you know, I actually know someone who probably would obviously has an amazing voice and is a very gifted musician and would be great for the group, and let me ask him if he's interested as well.

So JC and I actually went down to Orlando together and we met Chris, and in the process of that, we started just forming the group. And everything that we did was based around a cappella harmonies. That's what we wanted to be in the beginning. We sort of wanted to be an a cappella group and so that was why we put five guys in the group. And when we were forming the group, there wasnt a boy band phenomenon. You know, Nirvana was - and Pearl Jam were the, were probably the top two acts in the world at the time. And, you know, we never knew at what capacity everything was going to work out for us. I dont think that we thought it was going to be as big as it became.

GROSS: Youve talked a little bit about singing and learning to sing when you were young. What about dancing? Like, did you study dancing? Did you study with break dancers or with more traditional choreographers?

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: I wish that I would've taken more - I guess there's still time - but I wish that I would've taken more technical dance. I never I've taken a couple of technical dance classes, but I learned more how to dance just as a product of watching MTV and being around, like you said, break dancers in clubs. You know, break dancing was hugely - b-boying, as it's sort of more accurately called by the culture, it was very popular at the time so I was really, really into it. I thought it was just phenomenal. And I learned more, probably, about how to dance in watching in studying them.

GROSS: What's something that you tried to do, but that was just going too far for you?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: Yeah, I know, I remember I really started getting into break dancing very hard and learning the technicality of it. I broke my thumb twice in a row and I think that's when I said, you know, I think I'm just going to stay on my feet. I'm going to keep my feet below my head as it's intended.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: So then...

GROSS: Were you trying to spin on your head or something when that happened?

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. My head spun me instead of me spinning on my head. It wasnt a pretty sight, so. I think right then and there I decided that I would, that sort of, you know, I find that every time I write music or come up with an idea for a record, that whatever it is that I come up with I feel like I have a specific aesthetic that goes with it, very much like creating a character. I find that I describe that to people and sometimes they respond to it and sometimes they dont. But, for instance, my last album, "FutureSex/LoveSounds," was a character that I created. Much like, you know, obviously not the same way that David Bowie would create something like Ziggy Stardust, you know, but, you know, something that aspired to be a character. And...

GROSS: What was the character that you were seeing?

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: I dont know. I just saw it as someone who I saw - I guess for some reason I saw some mixture between like 007 character.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: But also an ode to like Fred Astaire, in a way.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: Or Gene Kelly. I think I saw it as an ode to that, but how could I take that and make it sound modern? And so when the aesthetic of it came into play, I wanted to play the part. I wanted to play it. But it was, I did feel like I was creating sort of a character that could maybe fall into a Kubrick film or a Helmut Newton photo or, you know, I just saw a lot of images in my mind after we had looked back and created it.

GROSS: Well, let's take "Sexy Back," as an example. Your voice is processed on part of that.


GROSS: Why did you want that?

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: You know, I, it was a song - not actually even singing on the song, you know, so I remember when...

GROSS: What does that mean?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: Well, I'm more sort of talking in tone, more than singing in that song.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: I mean it's, all I can tell you is that the day before we did that song I was listening to David Bowie's "Rebel Rebel," and I'm sure that when people hear me say that it sounds almost sacrilegious because I mean, I obviously I think the world of his musicianship. But just the feeling that I got from that song was just there was something so unabashed about that record and his performance on that record. And there were parts of that song where I felt like oh, he's not even singing. He's just expressing himself through rhythm and tone and that's what I wanted to capture with that song and I dont know where that line came from. I sometimes regret it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: Because I feel like people feel like it's an extension of who I am, but when I feel like when I get the opportunity to tell them that I felt like I was playing a character, sometimes they get it and sometimes they dont. And, you know, for whatever reason, when we started recording it, I wanted the vocal to sort of almost slap you in the face. I wanted it to sound like it was distorted. And so I just got the idea that what if we put it through a simulated guitar amp or an effect like that. So it really has a - its a very sparse sounding record because there's no - in between the parts that I'm actually performing the record, there's not - there's just the sound of these weird, quirky, computerized gimmicks.

I felt like if anyone ever took dance music and applied a rock 'n' roll frame of mind to it, with bravado and sort of rock star-ism, that's what we were trying to capture and it was just a moment. And originally, the song wasnt going to be called that, because I thought that was too on the nose. But I just found that the more I played it for people around me, that's what they called it. And, you know, its, like I said, I sometimes regret that I wrote it that way; but also not, because it was a moment and it was fun and I had fun writing it. And when I see people sing it back to me, you know, when you play for instance, cut to me standing on stage in Copenhagen for 80,000 people and they're all singing the song and there's something so unabashed and fun and unbridled about their feeling with that song. So I felt like it was mission accomplished,

GROSS: Okay. So after that great description, we have to hear it.

This is my guest, Justin Timberlake singing "Sexy Back."

(Soundbite of song, "Sexy Back")

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: (Singing) Im bringing sexy back. Yeah. Them other boys dont know how to act. Yeah. I think you're special, what's behind your back? Yeah. So turn around and I'll pick up the slack. Yeah.

Take 'em to the bridge. Come on.

Dirty babe. Uh-huh. You see the shackles baby Im your slave. Uh-huh. Ill let you whip me if I misbehave. Uh-huh. Its just that no one makes me feel this way. Uh-huh.

Take 'em to the chorus. Come here girl. Go ahead, be gone with it. Come to the back. Go ahead, be gone with it. VIP. Go ahead, be gone with it. Drinks on me. Go ahead, be gone with it. Let me see what youre working with. Go ahead, be gone with it. Look at those hips. Go ahead, be gone with it. You make me smile. Go ahead, be gone with it. Go ahead child. Go ahead, be gone with it. And get your sexy on. Go ahead, be gone with it. Get your sexy on. Go ahead, be gone with it. Get your sexy on. Go ahead, be gone with it. Get your sexy on. Go ahead, be gone with it. Get your sexy on. Go ahead, be gone with it. Get your sexy on. Go ahead, be gone with it. Get your sexy on. Go ahead, be gone with it. Get your sexy on.

Im bringing sexy back. Yeah.

GROSS: That was Justin Timberlake recorded in 2006, one of his big solo hits. And Justin Timberlake is now one of the stars of the new movie "The Social Network," about the founding of Facebook and he plays the founder of Napster.

So that's really fun to listen back to.

(Soundbite of laughter)


GROSS: What was it like for you going solo as opposed to like being in a group, you know, being more - having all the responsibility - the main responsibility - on your shoulders?

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: Well, I mean it was comfortable. I think growing up as an only child probably had more to do with that than anything. But, you know, I've stated this in the past, that I felt like I had grown up in the group and then becoming a young man, I had music that I was ready to express and I dont think it was an extension of the other guys in the group, and so I think it was a natural progression. There was timing that was involved with some of the other guys wanting - aspiring to do other things as well and so there was a little bit of serendipity to that. But also, I think naturally it still would've taken its course that I would've ended up doing solo work just because I think that I had different music inside of me that I wanted to express.

GROSS: So you are so lucky. You were a child star and survived. I mean...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Seriously, like the things that you learned as a child star were probably like so helpful in learning, you know, like show business and dancing and singing and acting. But at the same time, it ruins so many people like so many people who are lucky enough to have that kind of early fame, never recover. So do you have any sense of what it was that has kept you...

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: I think I would just chalk that up to, I would chalk that up to amazing parents, an amazing mother.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: You know, my parents...

GROSS: I hope she's listening.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: I'm almost positive she's listening right now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: She's very proud. But I would chalk that up to an amazing mother. She's, you know, my biological parents divorced when I was right - I think right around the time I turned one and my mother remarried my stepdad when I was five and - right after I turned five. And so, you know, there was a period of time where I had to get used to sort of a man that wasnt related to me by blood. And you know, she always made everything so comfortable for me and she always spoke to me like I was her peer.

And I remember her saying, you know, I think the thing that she sort of embedded in my brain is if you have the ability to do something, one or two things great, it doesnt mean that youre a better person than anyone else. And I think that I've held on to that, and I think that the accolades that I receive, personally, from what I do, are more of comments you would get from people that say your music helped them through a rough time, or saying that you made them laugh, or saying that they thought, you know, something you did was great, rather than, you know, materialistic awards or things like that. And, but just I would chalk it up to a great mother who has always taught me that we all put our pants on one leg at a time, so.

GROSS: Well, Justin Timberlake, it's been great to talk with you. Thank you so much for being on our show.

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: Thank you. I'm such a fan and I...

GROSS: Oh, wow.

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: I was so excited to be on the show, so...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: I'm very excited to here you say that. Justin Timberlake co-stars in the new film "The Social Network." He plays Sean Parker, the founder of Napster. You can listen to several Justin Timberlake songs and find links to his digital "SNL" shorts on our website, freshair.npr.org.

Coming up, Milo Miles reviews the American debut album of Australian singer-songwriter Sarah Blasko. She says her songs are inspired by early Carol King and Leonard Cohen.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.