Say bye, bye, bye to any preconceived notions you may have had about Justin Timberlake.
The N*SYNC heartthrob who sang and danced his way to fame in the '90s has grown into a modern day Renaissance man, the kind of guy that's hard to find in celebrity-dom these days.
Yes, he still sings -- he's won six Grammys and sold more than 14 million albums. He also dabbles in comedy, performing uber-popular "Saturday Night Live" skits about wanting to do wanton things with maternal figures and presenting a key part of his body in an unconventional package. ("Motherlover," "D**k in a Box"). Then there's his clothing line, William Rast, and fledgling restaurants, Southern Hospitality and Destino.
Now, playing Napster co-founder Sean Parker in "The Social Network," he's getting into big time acting and also raising a question:
Just who is Justin Timberlake?
Jack-of-all-trades (Justin-of-all-trades?) doesn't seem to be hyperbole. While "The Social Network" isn't Timberlake's first foray into film -- he starred in 2006's "Alpha Dog" and appeared in "Black Snake Moan" the same year, and he's made a handful of other appearances -- he's getting more attention for this role than any other. How does he feel about singing versus acting?
"They're apples and oranges, creatively," he said on ABC News Now's "Popcorn With Peter Travers" recently. "I like apples and I like oranges."
Clad in thick-rimmed black glasses, jittering his leg nervously and speaking in a voice barely above a whisper, Timberlake seemed as shy as the average Hollywood newbie about to jump into the deep, dark waters of The Serious Film World. Gone is the brash boy-band star of yesteryear. Today's Timberlake could use a shot of whatever Kanye West takes.
"In my head, all I thought was, I don't know if I'm good enough as an actor," he said about being cast as the conniving Internet mogul "The Social Network," David Fincher's latest film. But he pulls off the role to perfection, straddling the line between friend and foe to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg with a dancer's precision.
Of course, he is a dancer. And he drew on his experience in music in making the film.
"I find Aaron [Sorkin's] dialogue to be very musical and very rhythmic," Timberlake said. "I find Fincher's style very rhythmic as well."
But despite his deep roots in the music industry -- Timberlake started performing on "The Mickey Mouse Club" in 1993, along with a fellow pop icon and future girlfriend, Britney Spears -- he doesn't give his voice much credit.
"I try to tell people that I've been acting as a singer for a long time," he said. "I'm really not that skilled at singing."
Regardless of his own reservations, Timberlake's colleagues in the music industry can't belt out his praises loudly enough.
"He's super-talented, he's funny, he's great to be around," said Andrew Coleman, a producer who works with N.E.R.D. front man Pharrell Williams and recorded the majority of Timberlake's first album, "Justified." "Obviously he knows what he's doing. It's a pleasure working with him. There's a reason he's as popular as he is. He's got it all and it shows in his work."
"It's in his blood," Coleman said about Timberlake and music. "I think acting is a great vehicle for him but from how I know him, music's always in his blood."
The bottom line: with "The Social Network," Timberlake's entered into a stratosphere of stardom all his own. While the movie's not yet in theaters, there's already a campaign on Facebook to get him an Oscar nomination. The world is his for the taking, with at least one caveat.
"As long as he keeps his hair cut short, I think he'll be OK," quipped E! online columnist Ted Casablanca. "Don't grow the 'fro back."
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