“I wish that when I was touring the world as a teenager I would have spent more time going to museums rather than spending all of my time just eating food,” he says, his eyes lighting up at an exhibition of David Smith metal sculptures, a series of orbs and limbs that rest upon one another without an apparent regard for gravity.
He recently bought a painting by Banksy, whose works sell in the neighborhood of $50,000 to $100,000—“I split it with a friend, so we each get to keep it for a little while”—and went to the opening of Jeffrey Deitch’s street-art show at MOCA downtown.
“I saw so many people I hadn’t seen in a while,” he says. ” After following the maze of a steel Richard Serra sculpture around and around (“I feel like this is a bad dream I might have had,” says Timberlake) and stopping for a moment at a photograph of Elizabeth Taylor (“What a regal woman”) and a drawing with the words “I can’t imagine ever wanting to be white” (“Isn’t that the truth,” he says, nodding), Timberlake is recognized by a bunch of West London schoolkids in the States for an art tour.
“If I don’t turn around, maybe they’ll think, That was just a guy who looks like him,” whispers Timberlake. “There will be a much more confident version of the story when he comes home: I walked up to him and said, “Mate, sign this,” says Timberlake. I just walked up to Michael Jordan and I said, “What’s up, man? ' ” Creativity, whether it’s fine art, performance, or music, is something that Timberlake takes very seriously—it’s what he thinks saved him from a humdrum life as a shy boy in Tennessee. “It was redeeming that I played basketball, because if you don’t play basketball or football where I come from, you’re a sissy.” His mother, Lynn Harless, had him when she was 20, and was divorced from his father, a singer in a bluegrass band, when Justin was a toddler.
“I didn’t want someone who would just say, I know how to play groovy.' You can’t fake that stuff.
That’s the problem with making movies about a rock star—actors have spent their lives auditioning and getting rejected, and rock stars haven’t.” Timberlake takes acting seriously, though.“It’s always uncomfortable to do those scenes—it doesn’t matter if it’s with a same-sex partner or opposite-sex partner,” she says, referring to her lesbian scenes with Natalie Portman in Black Swan.“You have to be in these crazy positions for 12 to 16 hours.I’ll never forget when Justin had to be on top of me with his right hand on my left pasty and his left hand on my right pasty—my feet were getting numb, and I think his hands were giving out on him.It was a workout.” Unlike most romantic comedies, Friends with Benefits often trains its camera on the man’s body, not the woman’s.No such luck, as a boy in a plaid shirt, with matching cap, leads the charge of 30 or so peroxided tweens, all of them giggling and pointing. The boy seemed to share some qualities with his dad.“I’d like to ask for your autograph,” says the boy boldly, handing over his sketchpad. By 11, Timberlake had appeared on Star Search, singing Alan Jackson’s “Love’s Got a Hold on You.” (The video of him crooning that tune in a thimble-size cowboy hat has become a You Tube staple.) He lost at the taping in Orlando, but the trip’s reward was still in the offing.“I only did it because I’m young now, and everything’s where it’s supposed to be.I figured this is the time, before gravity gets the best of me.”Timberlake entrusts his Audi to the valet at the sidewalk outside the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, then starts to make his way into the building.He also has a supporting part in the Cameron Diaz comedy Bad Teacher, and is finishing postproduction on Now, a futuristic drama with Amanda Seyfried and Olivia Wilde. “I’ve made a long career out of low expectations.” This need to succeed, to become his generation’s multi-talented Sammy Davis Jr., is part of what makes him appealing to filmmakers.He has his own tequila, distilled on the agave farms outside of Guadalajara, he hosts a PGA Tour tournament that has raised millions for Shriners Hospitals for Children, and he owns one of the country’s few eco-friendly golf courses, Mirimichi (translated as “Place of Happy Retreat”), in his hometown of Millington, Tennessee. “I needed someone who could be a Frank Sinatra figure, someone who could walk into the room and command all the attention,” says David Fincher, of casting Timberlake as Sean Parker, the Facebook investor and rogue, in The Social Network.