And he has demonstrated his acting chops, performing in both comedic and dramatic roles. Timberlake tells Terry Gross that he isn't exactly sure where the lyric "I'm bringing sexy back" came from — and that he occasionally regrets writing it that way. I wanted it to sound distorted. Originally the song wasn't going to be called that. I thought that was too on the nose. What matters more to him than trophies, he says, are "comments from people who say, 'You've helped me through a rough time,' or [people] saying that you made them laugh or something — that something you did was great, rather than materialistic awards or things like that.
We came to these people as characters. Our first introduction to these people was the really layered and well-researched and specific characterization of them by [screenwriter] Aaron Sorkin.
I know he had done a lot of research, but there was a book [called The Accidental Billionaires] that was being written by Ben Mezrich at the same time that Aaron was doing his research for the film, and I know that [Ben] did speak to a lot of people.
Their only condition was they got to keep their anonymity. So none of us really asked questions about who or what he talked to, or about, with anyone — but he was very adamant about a lot of the research, even details about what they may have been drinking in a certain scene. As a kid, I grew up an only child, and nothing made me happier than to make my parents laugh. I had a Jackson 5 wig that I would wear around, and I would do the dances from the Jackson 5, and my mother thought that was hysterical.
Of course, that seed got planted very early, the physicality of comedy. When I was a kid, I would impersonate anything that I would hear. What I was more talented at, more than anything — because I don't think I'm a great singer — I grew up imitating different voices that I heard, and when I was young my mother used to listen to a lot of a Southern rock station in Memphis, and I grew up imitating all of those voices that I heard when I was young.
We recorded it that night, and we were laughing so hysterically — and probably through the delirium of trying to write something so funny, this came out of it. We knew it would be funny on some level, because we were laughing with each other on the Friday we filmed the video. And then on Saturday they edited it, and Saturday night it was put out on television.
We weren't parodying anyone in particular. Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera and Ryan Gosling — there were 21 kids who were whittled down from 20, [kids] that they had done auditions with all over the country. Out of those 21 kids, seven of us were picked to be the new part of the cast. That's what we wanted to be in the beginning — an a cappella group. So that is why we put five guys in the group. When we were forming the group, there wasn't a boy-band phenomenon.
Nirvana and Pearl Jam were probably the top two acts in the world at the time, so we never knew at what capacity everything was going to work out for us.
I don't think we thought it was going to be as big as it became.