Friends with Benefits - Justin Timberlake
Dylan (Justin Timberlake) © 2011 CTMG

Justin Timberlake is as comfortable onscreen acting as he is onstage singing and dancing. Last year he co-starred as the Sean Parker, the founder of Napster in the Oscar nominated The Social Network and recently starred in the comedy Bad Teacher opposite Cameron Diaz.

In his new movie Friends with Benefits, he portrays Dylan, an art editor who is recruited by a New York-based executive headhunter named Jamie (Mila Kunis) to move to Manhattan for a job at GQ magazine. Both have been in failed relationships and are ready to give up on love and just have fun. So they decide they will add causal ‘no emotions’ sex to their friendship.

I spoke with Justin at the press day for the movie here in Los Angeles.

Did you and Mila have a great rapport when you first began working together or did it grow?

Friends with Benefits - Justin Timberlake
Dylan (Justin Timberlake) © 2011 CTMG

We actually do have a lot in common, and we actually bonded, as Mila has said, over a lowbrow sense of humor that we share. But also we both kind of grew up in the business. So, we share that. And we’re both pretty normal people when we’re not working.

I just think that we had an unusual amount of time to rehearse this. So we were able to discuss the scenes when we workshopped them and find what we thought was like-minded from a male perspective and a female perspective about them.

Did you find the intimate scenes that you did with Mila comparable to a choreographed dance number?

Well, it’s funny you should say that. It’s physical humor. It has a level of theatrics to it. We wanted to use these scenes to break a little ground and actually put the banter in them.

In real life when awkward things happen when you’re first getting intimate with a new counterpart, it’s like if I didn’t say that it happened then it didn’t happen. But later on you talk about it, like, ‘You remember the time when it was really awkward?’ ‘Oh, my God, thank you for saying that.’

I think we wanted to use a lot of this movie to break a lot of ground. There’s a lot in it that just feels like how we see our generation, and a good way to empower that is to comment on how ridiculous some of it might be.

Do you think a lot of young people are reluctant to get into relationships because they don’t want to repeat their parents’ mistakes?

Friends with Benefits - Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis
Dylan (Justin Timberlake) and Jamie (Mila Kunis) © 2011 CTMG

I think that happens with every person, not just in relationships.

I think that you get to a certain point in your life where you feel like you’ve taken all the cards you’ve been dealt and made a great situation of them, and then you realize that things are in your DNA that you have no control over.

I think that you go through life feeling like you want to gain your independence. So, sometimes there’s a misunderstanding of feeling like you have to break away from your parents to do that.

What’s your favorite romantic comedy?

When Harry Met Sally is a great one. What I love about that movie is what I love about what we aspired to do with this movie which was stop, look around at your generation and say what’s funny and ridiculous about it.

For me that empowers people who will go see this movie that want to be spoken to in a smart way about love, sex, relationships and connections between people.

You have a very funny dynamic with Woody Harrelson in the movie.

Friends with Benefits - Justin Timberlake and Woody Harrelson
Dylan (Justin Timberlake) and Tommy (Woody Harrelson) © 2011 CTMG

I’m glad that you brought that up because that was very important to Will (Gluck, the screenwriter and director) and myself when we were diagramming that relationship. I have a lot of male friends, straight and gay, and nobody gets treated differently.

Your friends are your friends no matter the sexual preference. We had a lot of discussions about that, and we said, ‘Man, what a great opportunity to break some sort of ridiculous stereotype about a gay male and show a great, honest relationship between a straight man and a gay man that’s just a friendship.’

I really, really hope that it feels empowering to the males in the gay community and across the world because it’s real life for me.

Richard Jenkins, who plays your father in this, is wonderful. Can you talk about working with him?

Dylan’s father has some sort of dementia or early onset Alzheimer’s, and again, I would say that was the most important value for me. Without going into too much personal detail I have some of that [in my life] and I think that everybody knows someone in their family who has a level of that and is dealing with it.

Friends with Benefits - Richard Jenkins, Woody Harrelson and Justin Timberlake
Mr Harper (Richard Jenkins), Tommy (Woody Harrelson) and Dylan (Justin Timberlake) © 2011 CTMG

To have Richard Jenkins who’s just a classic, amazing actor to take a situation like that, take what’s uncomfortable about it, talk about it, be verbal about it and make it comfortable and make it real, that was really important to me.

Our ability to deal with the human spirit is a crazy thing and Richard has such an amazing way that he portrayed that disease in this movie, how he still uses it to relate to his son. It’s heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time.

I think it’s actually the most redeeming thing about Dylan’s character, how familial he is. There’s a lot of great family stuff, and it sneaks up on you. There’s a lot of great familial values in this movie through Dylan’s family.

Your character mentions Harry Potter a couple of times in this. The last movie just opened. Are you a fan of the series?

I’m sorry. That’s, like, a thing about wizards or something, right? (he laughs) I’m aware of it. Harry Potter is pretty amazing. We’re all fans.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.