Jack of All Trades

07.15.11

Justin Rolls the Dice

He’s betting his musical reputation on the flagging MySpace brand and hitting screens in his first romantic comedy. Timberlake explains his surprising moves to Ramin Setoodeh.

Justin Timberlake didn't spend a lot of time mulling over his decision to invest in the ailing MySpace, which earlier this month was sold by News Corp. to advertising network Specific Media for $35 million—a fraction of its $580 million price tag in 2005. Talking to Newsweek/The Daily Beast about the deal aimed at taking the site off life support, which involves the pop singer turned entrepreneur having an undisclosed stake in the company, he said he acted quickly. Timberlake said the creative control they were offering him was hard to turn down and it was "in how they approached me about it." "They wanted me to get creative and come up with ideas. That appealed to me as an artist, just to think about new landscapes for it. I'm the perfect crash-test dummy for the technology they're sitting on."

"I don't think it's about the ownership for me," Timberlake said in a phone conversation earlier this week. "We're inspired to make MySpace what it should have been. Our mission is to recreate the landscape for the connection between people and art, and vice versa." Specific Media CEO Tim Vanderhook said earlier this month that Timberlake is expected to have a staff of six people working for him. One thing is for certain, he's sure to become the face of the underdog website, which lost its social networking crown to Facebook. As of last month, MySpace has around 30 million active users compared to Facebook's 150 million in the U.S.

He also elaborated on the report that MySpace plans to launch its own reality show to bring new talent to the site. "You can put that out of your head. It's not something that we’ve talked about doing. That’s the cart before the horse."

Timberlake, whose new film Friends with Benefits hits theaters July 22, knows enough about recreating, and reinvention. Next to James Franco, he's one of the most successful multitaskers in the entertainment industry. "I went from a group"—a little band called 'N Sync—"to being a solo artist and quite honestly everybody told me I was stupid for doing it," Timberlake said. "Everybody around me said this was dumb: you can do two more stadium tours and not have to work forever. I was like I enjoy what I do. I want to work."

He's been working in the Hollywood since he was 12 years old, singing and dancing on The Mickey Mouse Club alongside his future girlfriend Britney Spears and Ryan Gosling, but it was another TV show that hooked him—and gave him a roadmap for his future. "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air came out and I was like, That's what I want to do. I liked Nikes. I liked rap music. I liked all the things that [Will Smith] liked. He especially related to me, and I'd never even been to L.A.” Just after he packed his bags to move to Hollywood, he received a phone call: “That was 'N Sync. It’s weird how things work themselves out."

I'm the perfect crash-test dummy for the technology [MySpace] is sitting on."

Now he’s focusing on his big-screen goals. When many contemporary pop singers risk branching out—see Christina Aguilera in Burlesque or Jessica Simpson in The Dukes of Hazzard—they end up being ridiculed by critics. Timberlake was headed down the direct-to-video path too, until his well-received turn as Napster founder Sean Parker in The Social Network. "That's when everybody said, 'Oh you're going to act,'" Timberlake said. He now jokes with his friends that he should get business cards that read: David Fincher Put Me in a Movie.

Friends with Benefits is his first attempt at a leading man, and he capably balances the sexy/goofy shtick that made him a popular host and performer on Saturday Night Live. (On Thursday morning, he received three Emmy nominations for his hosting duties on the show.) Timberlake plays a GQ art director who starts a purely sexual relationship with a colleague (Mila Kunis). "This is a guy who is still growing up. He’s almost come into his own. That late 20-something, going into your 30s." It was a role that he could easily relate to—Timberlake just turned 30 in January. "For a long time, I was chasing, chasing, chasing: you feel like you want to prove yourself,” he said. That's not a priority anymore. "I never want to be presumptuous. I never want to do something just to do it. But there becomes a point when you see something, and you just put your balls out there."