Justin Timberlake Talks Alpha Dog

Timberlake is bringing Sexy Back to the movies

Alpha Dog is the true story of Jesse James Hollywood, a two-bit drug dealer whose gang of lackeys kidnapped and murdered fifteen-year-old Nicolas Markowitz. This crime happened in plain sight as the teenagers paraded Markowitz around for everyone to see. The film was in jeopardy of being delayed from this week's release. Lawyers for some of the defendants tried to get an injunction, but were shot down by a Los Angeles judge. Director/writer Nick Cassavetes changed the names of the characters to avoid legal issues to begin with.

Justin Timberlake co-stars as Frankie Ballenbacher, a stooge of the Jesse James character; played superbly by Emile Hirsch. Timberlake was the obvious hot property at the press junket. People were focused on him like a laser. It was like the president was in town and everyone wanted a peek. The guy is certainly famous. I honestly don't know much about his music, but give him serious props for making Alpha Dog. It's a hard film to watch, but speaks volumes about the youth of today.

Were you worried about playing such an immoral character? Also, are you worried about the film's success? "Edison" did go straight to DVD...

Justin Timberlake: First of all, I'd like to thank you for pointing that out. The point was to reveal the truth of what was happening in the story. We had all laid so much groundwork. There was so much information on the characters. I think that all of us felt morally responsible for portraying that. I don't think it's a stretching statement at all to say that this is a tough movie to watch. This is as close to what happened as we felt like we could make it.

Did you see this role as taking a risk?

Justin Timberlake: My only stipulation for the movie was that I just wanted to crack a couple of jokes here and there. That was it.

Do you see your movie career becoming as successful as your music career?

Justin Timberlake: I guess we'll just have to wait and see. I haven't thought that far.

I'm sure you get many film offers. Why make Alpha Dog?

Justin Timberlake: For me, it was attractive to be involved with great actors, a great director, and great material. That's what leads me to this film.

How did you research this role? Did you know anyone like this?

Justin Timberlake: I don't know that I knew anyone like this. As an actor, it's your job to find the way to play a character. I think you can latch on to some things that might have happened. I actually went with Nick [Cassavetes, the director] to upstate California, to go to prison to visit the guy that my character was based off. Literally, when we signed up for the project, we all got a stack of files. It was thick. I mean literally like a novel of files of all the police reports and all the newspaper reports about what had happened. Nick was able to get a lot of information. We really just trusted Nick to portray the truth of what happened. We followed Nick's lead.

Did you meet anyone else associated with the crime or the events surrounding it?

Justin Timberlake: This movie, in California, it became almost like legend. It was really interesting because I found just around town, people would come up to me and say, "Hey you're doing that movie on the Jesse James and Nick Markowitz thing." They would always label it like that. It actually helped when we were making the film because you realize how word spreads and how young people converse with each other. They knew that he was kidnapped and murdered, but they would always be like "Yeah I knew him". I found it interesting that through his infamy he became this weird sort of tall tale to these young people.

Have you considered that you have a role in this myth making as well?

Justin Timberlake: I find that every conversation I have with anyone after they've seen this film is sort of like this group therapy discussion. It's fun, it's fun, it's fun, and then all of a sudden it's not. That's the way it ends and that's how this story ended. Yes, we are entertainers but this is a different theme. The film doesn't treat you like a dumb ass. It lets you feel what really happened. What I took away from the film is that is how a little perspective on things can change a humongous outcome in someone's life.

There are so many people that witnessed this tragedy take place. One of the brilliant parts of the movie is when you see "Suspect 1, Suspect 2" pop up on screen. It happened in plain sight...

Justin Timberlake: When we screened the film at Sundance, people literally would giggle during the first half of the film, when the witness credits would kind of come up. I think that it supported the point. You watch it as those kids, as those characters watched it happened. That's what I think is special about the film. You literally watch it through their eyes.

How is being an actor different than being a singer?

Justin Timberlake: There are lots of differences. In creating music you are the writer, the director, the producer, you create it from scratch. Obviously in playing a role in a film, you take guidance and put your trust into the director. You come into it and you really trust people. I can't speak about how amazing the other four actors are here. I was a sponge the whole film, just watching all of them. It's sort of like you are playing a position on the team. We need you to play small forward; we don't need you to play point guard. That's probably the closest analogy, it's probably a really crappy analogy but that's the closet one I can think of off the top of my head. You play a role and you're part of a collaborative movement. Obviously, with creating music you are solely responsible for the creation of it. So to wrap your mind around those two things, you definitely approach it differently.

Alpha Dog is in theaters this Friday and is rated 'R' for pervasive drug use and language, strong violence, sexuality and nudity.