On a hot and humid night last August, I spent the night on the San Juan, Puerto Rico set of director Brad Furman‘s (The Lincoln Lawyer) crime thriller Runner, Runner. The film stars Justin Timberlake as a Princeton student who is cheated out of his tuition money playing online poker and ends up traveling to Costa Rica to confront the on-line mastermind (Ben Affleck). The film also stars Gemma Arterton, Ben Schwartz, Dayo Okeniyi and Oliver Cooper and it was written by Brian Koppelman and David Levien (Rounders).
During a break in filming, I got to participate in a group interview with Justin Timberlake. He talked about why he wanted to do the project, how it’ll be rated R, how he prepared for the role, what it’s been like filming in Puerto Rico, and a lot more. In addition, he talks about Saturday Night Live and if he’d ever consider being a part of the cast for a full season. Hit the jump to either read or listen to what Timberlake had to say. Runner, Runner opens September 27th.
Before going any further, if you haven’t seen the trailer yet, I’d watch that first:
If you’d like to listen to the audio of this interview, click here. Otherwise the full transcript is below.
JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE: Just so you know, it is every other day or almost every day.
How bad has it gotten?
TIMBERLAKE: All things considered, we are making the days. So, I guess, it’s alright. But it is kind of a thing when you are into the scene and then 20 minutes go by where you are just standing under a tent like this looking at the rain.
It does you no favors.
TIMBERLAKE: You have to ramp it back it up or whatever.
Can you talk about what drew you to this project?
TIMBERLAKE: Well, honestly, I read the script and I thought it was really interesting. I called the producers and they said, “Read this for the role of Richie and tell us what you think.” I said, “It’s great and I want to play Ivan.” because it is fun to play the bad guy. But I will tell you what really pushed me over the edge: it was meeting with Brad [Furman] and hearing his take on the movie. I thought it was really well crafted. I think that Brian [Koppelman] and David [Levien] are great writers and I just thought the story was really interesting. Then talking to Brad about it and meeting with him about it – we met a couple of times about it – he had all of these great visual ideas to kind of contemporize the movie and to kind of take the stakes to a really nice level. I didn’t know much about the gambling world of Costa Rica. After meeting with him and continuing to do a little bit of research on it, the more it kind of felt like that there was this juxtaposition to what could be attractive and sexy about it, but also there is this seedy undertone to the whole thing. So I thought that his take on it could be really interesting. Then I called the studio and went through this really elaborate 45-minute pitch about why the movie should be rated R so that we could shoot a real high stakes thriller. So it just all fell into place and I guess after that they sent it to Ben [Affleck] and he was really digging it too.
Did you help make this movie get rated R?
TIMBERLAKE: I think there were a couple of people that made it happen. But I was definitely the first one to kind of poke my flag in the sand to say, “I think that this would be better for this movie.” Just to clarify, it is not about “We have to make a rated R movie and that makes it a real movie.” It is kind of about how Trouble with the Curve should be rated PG-13 then this movie [should be R]. With everything that Brad and I talked about; he got me so excited and it just seemed like that would be the only way to sort of do it as real and grounded at the same time as possible, and to make the stakes high and to make the stakes life or death.
TIMBERLAKE: It is so funny. Ironically, the scene that you guys showed up for is really just a walk and talk. But the scene that we were shooting is basically my character and Gemma’s [Arterton] character sort of meet through…She works for Ben’s character and we sort of…exchange pleasantries very quickly. [laughs] But we thought that that was a kind of interesting thing: the more they get to know each other, the more of a friendship they kind of spark. As the movie progresses she really becomes my ally throughout the whole process of trying to get out of this world that I have fallen into.
Your character of Richie is described as being formerly of the Wall Street sort of fast track lifestyle. Can you talk about his journey in the film and what kind of research you have done to prepare for it?
TIMBERLAKE: I actually have a couple of friends who still work in that world and work for investment companies as well. That was sort of lucky; to be able to call them and pick their brains. Just to breakdown how the movie is set up: I play a guy who has dropped out of an Ivy League school to start a career at a company called Rush Street Capital in Chicago. So it is not exactly New York but it is the same kind of world. Then, in talking with the writers too, we all kind of decided that it was important to make the movie current and to feel right, real, and that we should embrace 2008 and the whole crash. We thought that was more interesting. Originally, when I was sent the movie, Richie was written much younger. I thought it could be more interesting to embrace that. It raises the stakes that I would be back at Princeton as an undergrad but older than the rest of the kids there. It would set up this kind of interesting….I just thought it was cool that a lot of movies of this nature start their lead character as wide eyed and naïve. I thought it would be more interesting to have him have his own story to begin with. Then, we make his experience at Princeton. I don’t know how much you guys know about the movie.
TIMBERLAKE: Let me back up because that explains nothing. It was probably something general thing like, “It is a thriller about a businessman who gets in too deep.” Was it something like that? What did it say?
That it’s a sultry, sexy, thriller.
TIMBERLAKE: A sultry, sexy, thriller? You have to love Fox Marketing. It’s basically that you meet my character and Ben’s character in the first two scenes. The movie starts off with a guy who was sort of a part of the whole stock market crash and who basically got laid off. We put him at Princeton, but I am there as an affiliate of an online gambling site. Basically, through a series of events, he gets discovered by the dean of Princeton. He forbids it and, for my character, it’s the only way I can pay my tuition. I was sort of left with nothing after the crash and it is the one way that I can pay my tuition. I really have nothing. So, in that moment, my character decides that the only way to get enough money to pay for my tuition in order to finish out school and start a business career is to go back on the site that I am an affiliate for and win all of my money, and I lose all of it. But what happens is that I discover that there is this sort of algorithm for a trap door that at some point makes you lose.
So it is assured that you will eventually lose it all and you will have to start over again?
TIMBERLAKE: Right. You lose more than you win. So I basically find my way down to Costa Rica and show up to the owner of this site, Ivan Block, who is played by Ben. I show up and say, “Your site cheated and I want my money back.” Sort of the way that I do it endears Ben to me because he kind of sees himself a little bit. So he offers me a job and then wild, sexy, sultriness ensues. [laughs] I don’t want to give too much away but that is the way the movie gets set up. Then we get down to the world of Costa Rica and I become his protégé. The deeper things get, the more it gets a little off. Ben’s character slowly peels back the onion and you see the smellier side, I guess, of this world. So it becomes not really a con game, but a game of smart to see who is going to outsmart the other. So it really becomes myself versus Ben in a way with our characters.
Your character has to start over a lot and take risks. Is that something that you can relate to yourself? Does that draw you to the character at all?
TIMBERLAKE: I can definitely relate to not thinking things through, no [laughs]. Yeah, I think so, a little bit. But even so, I don’t think you…I think you find like-things about you in the humanity of the character and the rest of it you can play. So, I think, it is more about those things. “How am I like Richie?” You know? That is more of what I do in general. That is more of a general way of explaining it. Then, I think, you as Richie, can believe any move that you will make. Be it finding some way to get down to Costa Rica or some of the things I do in this movie to get out of the shit, you know?
TIMBERLAKE: You know, that is a funny world – SNL. It’s like….yeah, I would be game for it.
There are a lot of people leaving this season. I am just throwing that out there.
TIMBERLAKE: Yeah, I know. You know what is so funny is that someone asked me the other day when I was going to host again. I was like, “You don’t understand. My homies are gone.” My support – Kristen [Wiig] and Andy [Samberg] – are gone. I end up in at least 2 or 3 sketches with them every time I hosted. So I am actually excited to see where the show goes and I am excited for Andy. Jason [Sudeikis] left as well, right?
They say that he is mulling it over but he hasn’t made a decision. I have a feeling, though, that if you were to host you could probably make a phone call and get certain people to show up.
TIMBERLAKE: You never know, man. They are going to be starting their movie careers. They won’t be taking my calls. You never know.
Can you give us some comments about Puerto Rico and how it has been like?
You’ve been here for weeks and we have been here all day. It’s hot, humid, and you’re sweating – that is for the ladies…
TIMBERLAKE: I wish you wouldn’t do that. That has made me uncomfortable. [laughter]
I mean, what is it like being here? Does it help inform the character? What is this location like? It’s very photogenic.
TIMBERLAKE: Yeah, filmic-ally, it is beautiful. There are certain…like La Perla and that neighborhood – you can’t build that set. I was in an abandoned building the other day that we had to kick homeless people out of to shoot in. I was looking around at the mold on the walls and I was kind of like, “Alright, yeah, we are in it.” But I will say that there is something it gives you that the luxury of shooting in a place like L.A. Everybody here is excited to be here and excited to be shooting a movie as a crew. I find that with the actors, director, and everyone who is really on the ground making the movie that are constantly there on set; you really do build this bond. It’s like the circus effect. You shut down, move to a different location, and you really do build this bond with everyone because you’re sort of forced to in a place like this where everyone speaks a different language. I think it is always nice to be on location shooting somewhere because it just makes it…walking onto a sound stage and then getting into that world versus walking into a neighborhood like we were in today. You are sitting there looking at the ocean and you see an old fork behind you. I think you just feel like you are a part of that world. Then the world that Brad has really envisioned for this…I think he is going to really blow a lot of people away with this. I think he is really, really talented and to have this opportunity for him. I have just gotten really close to him and he is such a great guy. He is really, really talented and has this really amazing vision for this movie.
Click here for all our previous Runner Runner coverage. Look for more on set interviews soon.