Why Justin Timberlake Should Stop Acting

After “Runner Runner,” he’s still not a movie star

In 2011, I sat down for a lengthy interview with Justin Timberlake, who told me that he was having the time of his life as a big screen star. Even though he’d experienced a few setbacks (“I bombed all my auditions,” he confessed), he was in the middle of promoting two romantic comedies and he had another film out that fall. Most of our conversation focused on his revitalized movie career.

Timberlake, who first appeared on “The Mickey Mouse Club” with Britney Spears and Ryan Gosling, said he had been studying acting for a long stretch. His inspiration was Will Smith, who successfully transitioned from music to “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” to box office megastar. But then Timberlake said something that surprised me. “I have no aspirations of being a movie star,” he said. “I need no more attention.”

(Almost on cue, a young man came up to the patio where we sat and asked for a photo, which Timberlake briskly declined.)

I couldn’t tell if this was faux modesty or not, so I never published that part of our interview. But it seems weirdly appropriate now: Timberlake’s “Runner Runner” was a spectacular box office flop. The gambling drama only eked out $7.6 million in its opening weekend, despite the casting of Ben Affleck, post-“Argo,” as a slimy casino boss.

There are plenty of reasons for “Runner Runner’s” failure. The reviews were awful, and Timberlake (at 32!) is hardly plausible as a brainy Princeton graduate student trapped in an illegal Costa Rica gambling scheme. None of the film’s principals did much press for the movie released by 20th Century Fox, so they must not have had confidence in the finished product either.

At a Manhattan showing on Sunday night, the unfortunate group inside my theater had to wiggle past the excited crowds waiting for “Gravity.” Timberlake, who is meant to anchor “Runner Runner,” struggles with most of the screenplay’s cheesy dialogue. In other scenes, he comes across like a lost celebrity hosting “Saturday Night Live” who can’t find the teleprompter.

But the real problem with “Runner Runner” stems from what Timberlake told me. Even if he can peddle zillions of iTunes singles or concert tickets, most of his groupies aren’t going to follow him to the bigscreen. He will never be a movie star, and it’s a mystery why he took such a long hiatus from music to appear in so many movies. Now that he has a hit new album, “The 20/20 Experience,” it might be a good idea for Timberlake to give up acting.

He put his cinematic ambitions on the map with 2006’s “Alpha Dog” and 2008’s disastrous “Love Guru.” But it was his dazzling turn as Napster founder Sean Parker in the “The Social Network” that got him noticed. (He told me that he joked with his friends about getting business cards that read, “David Fincher Put Me in a Movie.”) After that, there was a flood of offers. Since 2010, he’s appeared in more pictures — eight — than real working actors Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts or Tom Cruise.

Timberlake was the voice of Boo Boo in “Yogi Bear,” a nerdy high school teacher (“Bad Teacher”), a GQ magazine editor who couldn’t keep his clothes on (“Friends with Benefits”), a sci-fi bandit (“In Time”), a baseball recruiter in a Clint Eastwood movie (“Trouble With the Curve”) and a folk singer in an upcoming Coen brothers’ musical dramedy (“Inside Llewyn Davis”). While some of these performances aren’t bad, they pale in comparison to what he’s accomplished as a musician. An artist who can rock the MTV Video Music Awards like Timberlake doesn’t need a second mediocre career.

In his heyday, Elvis Presley had 31 Hollywood acting credits and he became his own franchise at the movies. Throughout the ’80s and mid ’90s, Bette Midler, Cher and Madonna all had viable film performances (and an Oscar win). But something changed in Hollywood around the time that “Total Request Live” marked the final hurrah for musicvideos. It could be that the millennial generation found the idea of bigscreen divas unappealing or the bubble gum pop stars weren’t versatile enough to make the leap.

See: 30 Music Stars Turned Actors (PHOTOS)

But whatever it was, many one-named superstars who tried to transition to the big screen flopped — from Britney (“Crossroads”) to Mariah (“Glitter”), Christina (“Burlesque”), Jessica (“Dukes of Hazzard”) and Kelly (“From Justin To Kelly”). Jennifer Lopez may be the exception, but she was introduced to Hollywood as a dramatic actress first in “Selena.”

On the other hand, the Internet revolted when Justin Bieber pretended to nab the part of Robin in the new Warner Bros. Batman installment.

In the new Hollywood model, the singers who successfully bridge into film do so in supporting or character roles. Jennifer Hudson won the Oscar for “Dreamgirls,” even though it was Beyonce’s name at the top of the credits.

After Mariah failed in “Glitter,” she redeemed herself in “Precious.” Lenny Kravitz is a great stylist for Katniss in “The Hunger Games.” Lady Gaga has cameos in Robert Rodriguez’s “Machete 2” and “Sin City 2.” Adam Levine makes his movie debut in “Can a Song Save Your Life?” with Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo. Taylor Swift, who had a small role in “Valentine’s Day,” was recently announced in “The Giver” with Streep and Jeff Bridges.

If there’s one lesson Timberlake can learn from all these other acts, it’s that he should stick to ensemble parts, because he can’t carry a film on his own. His best onscreen work has been wedged between other strong performances in both “The Social Network” and “Inside Llewyn Davis.” But after “Runner Runner,” I still think he should take a break from the movies. Please stop sending him scripts.

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  1. johnny says:

    I see Justin timberlakes name on a film and i immediately know i will never watch it. Only the social network and he was bad in that too, he didn’t ruin the movie but only thanks to everyone else carrying him. He is only even given a role because they hope girls will want to see it because he’s in it. If he never had a music career he wouldn’t of got a single job past a B movie.

  2. paul to the 'b' says:

    he can’t act ,he can’t get into a character, he narrates every scene , he spoils every film.

  3. paul says:

    Unfortunately , Justin Timberlake married Jessica Biel , a woman who also cannot act . They seem made for each other . Good luck to the both of them .

    People, keep saying that JT was outstanding in The Social Network. No, he was the weakest link in that film . Timberlake couldn’t come close to Andrew Garfield and Jesse Eisenberg .

  4. Kfed says:

    I’ve actually seen every one of his movies (even Model Behaviour and Eddison Force and On The Line) and he really is exceptionally mediocre. After so many movies you’d think something would click. Even his best roles – the small ones, like in Alpha Dog and The Social Network – are only notable for the fact he didn’t ruin the films.

  5. Candice says:

    You’ve forgotten about Whitney Houston.

  6. starrone83 says:

    So it’s not plausible to be a f*cking grad student at 32 yrs old? I guess everyone goes back right after undergrad in their 20’s? Young people are ballin so hard they can afford to take on not one but two debts before 30? GTFOH

  7. TJ says:

    I completely disagree with this article. Timberlake is a very good actor. In fact I’ve never seen him do a bad job in a movie. I do not feel that way about his music. How many lame movies have the following people made in the last twenty years: Robert Deniro, Al Pacino, Nicholas Cage, Daniel Day-Lewis, Billy Bob Thornton…I could go on. Should all of these actors stop making movies?

  8. How can he stop acting when he never started? I don’ t know what he calls what he does, but it’s certainly not acting. I haven’t seen performances this wooden since “Bride of Chucky.”

  9. Daniel says:

    Will we never be free of Ramin Setoodeh? Ramin Setoodeh should just stop writing.

  10. kris says:

    The problem with Justin Timberlake in movies is that its him in the film and not the character. Like was mentioned in the article its like he’s an S.N.L presenter lost on the set of a movie. I watched ‘Runner Runner’ and walked out half way thur, the cheesey script making a bigger stink than JT’s performance (frankly I only watched it to see Ben post Batman casting squinting to see if I could see him donning the cape, I was sold by the time he started speaking Spanish. He’ll be a good, older Bruce Wayne).

    But there’s hope for JT’s acting career because both Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise had the issue where it was too much of them as people on screen and not the character. They were for a while the same in every movie they did and not enough of the character they’d been paid to bring to life. And now look at ’em Brad Pitt’s coming more and more into his own (‘Moneyball’, ‘Killing Them Softly’ take ur pick) and so is Cruise (Collateral, Tropic Thunder)

    Anyone who can say he should give up acting altogether after seeing ‘The Social Network’, come on!

    • kris says:

      BTW watched ‘Charlie + the chocolate factory’ (2005) after ‘Runner Runner’ as it was on TV. and the kid playing Charlie (Freddie Highmore) delivered what I consider a strong performance. The line about sharing his chocolate bar with his family tugged at my heart strings. Freddie def’ly brough the character of Charlie to life, even if the movie is so bad that is kinda good.

  11. Anita says:

    Oh, and Variety: Please stop letting Ramin write for you.

  12. Anita says:

    How does JT feel about you thinking he shouldn’t receive anymore scripts? Your opinions are hilarious, btw! So off sometimes, but it’s people like you that make the rest of us look gooooooood =D Good luck to you in the future.

  13. Todd Jacobs says:

    Thank God someone had the nerve to write this article. Spot on.

  14. Lana Del Taco says:

    that was way harsh, Tai

  15. Jenison Bays-Sundt says:

    He makes people happy with his song and dance: good for him and for them. He doesn’t satisfy on the big screen. He brought down the remarkable “Black Snake Moan” several notches, and henceforth prevents me and many I know from watching anything where he has much screen time: If he wants to keep on acting, so be it. As far as I care, if the movies he makes succeed, he should. But I shalln’t be buying tickets.

  16. Elizabeth says:

    So the same author that said gay actors should not play straight roles because they are not believable is now working for Variety and thinks he’s the acting police? I think he should not be allowed to write anymore articles. If every actor with a bomb didn’t act anymore we would have no actors. BTW, Timberlake has a movie coming out in December, and though his role is small, the movie is already getting Oscar buzz.

  17. Nicolai says:

    He needs to stop acting (like a kid) stop with the movies… Sure he was on Mikkie Mouse Klub, with Brandie Spears. But his real thing should be, playing second-fiddle to Lance Bass!… Lance plays BASS, and Justin can play TENOR! I hope Jess doesn’t find “OUT” about this GAY PARADE! Waka waka waka waka waka!

  18. Tomas says:

    He should quit making music too.

  19. Carol says:

    His delivery is so forced and his ego, rather than the character he’s failing to portray, permeates the screen.

  20. quickdraw59 says:

    After reading this ‘opinion’ piece, I wondered how such a superior, entitled film snob ended up writing it. Then, I saw who wrote it, the same ‘genius’ who said playing straight roles were outside a gay actor’s realm. So, Mr. Setoodeh, do you have an off button? Because, seriously push it. George Clooney jokes about the epic flops he has made in the past, too bad you didn’t give him your ‘expert’ opinion on all that is acting so he could have spared himself all the heartache and grief his lousy career has brought him–oh, wait. Since you seem to have the psychic connection to everything–how about giving us next week’s Powerball numbers……at least now I know to skip any article written by you.

  21. denise says:

    he is a joke in the movie biz…

  22. Sabella says:

    Maybe delivering an uneven, or ‘bad,’ performance has more to do with uneven direction (not to mention there’s some really lousy scripts out there that are getting funded). If his acting was consistently sub-par, maybe this article would be a bit more credible, but his splendid portrayal of Sean Parker is evidence enough to demonstrate the man has a measurable amount of talent.

    • angela says:

      Nonsense. He delivers every line like he’s reading directly from the script. He is completely unable to emote. In every role. I don’t know why people reference Social Network was some sort of proof that he has acting talent.

  23. TruthSquirts says:

    Ramin, not your fault this gets published. It’s the morons who are your bosses that I’m looking at. Really Variety? I’d say you were slipping if you weren’t already on the floor. After this guys other piece about gays not playing straight roles? HOW can you allow him back to speak even a small piece of his mind?

  24. What the heck? IN TIME might be one of the best movies I saw last year. Have you seen him in SNL? What about Fallon? This guy is an all around artist. He might not be the best but he sure can act.

  25. Joe Smart says:

    Justin Timberlake isn’t likely to ever be a movie star who can carry a movie but that doesn’t mean he should quit acting. If producers are willing to hire him and he enjoys making movies then he should continue to do it.

  26. David says:

    J.Lo is still a flop in movies. The only good thing she’s ever done is Out of Sight, and that’s thanks to Soderbergh. What was her last movie, Parker? Total bomb

    • S says:

      Yeah right, Parker, a JASON STATHAM FILM
      Jlo has been Golden Globe nominated for Selena, number 1 films include, Anaconda, The Cell, The Wedding Planner, Maid In Manhattan, Monstor in Law where she was top billed
      Has had critical acclaim in films such as Blood and Wine, An Unfinished Life, El Cantante

  27. Jacques Strappe says:

    While I find Mr. Timberlake’s offscreen persona to be likable, smart and engaging, I find his movie acting to be nearly as wanting as his post boy band music talent( but that white boy can sure dance and mesmerize the crowd, nonetheless)

  28. Dayton Ward says:

    Please give JT’s parts to Ryan Phillippe. Phillippe is a much better actor, deeper voice, and probably a better singer.

    • Candace says:

      I agree with this article. Timberlake is much better ,even hilarious at guest appearances and sketch comedy. This article is not mean spirited but the truth. He simply can not carry a film. It is safe to say that he is at his absolute best as a musician and that is okay with me. Kudos to Variety for saying what I and others have been thinking for a while now.

  29. LOL says:

    There is a basic demise of movie stardom in general. Generation Y does not do movie stars, they want brands and high concepts. Justin Timberlake, one generation ago, would’ve been a marque actor; the type of movie star that sells a movie according to name billing. It’s not his fault that his acting career hasn’t really taken off. He can act and has massive charisma. Things are just different in this era.

  30. delaina1 says:

    He’s so overrated as an actor and his performance at the vma’s was overrated too. They should give chances to undiscovered good actors and stay away from the singers that wants to try to take over every aspect of the entertainment business.

    He’s right timberlake should just stick too what he does best and leave it to the professionals. Justin said it best himself, it’s not like he needs the attention. He already has it.
    Please do not blame the writers and editors for his so so acting, especially when all of the movies that bombed were not written by the same writers and editors. Maybe you should blame his choice of movies he acts in and if he wants to act then be in a supporting role. I’ll support that….

  31. Shane says:

    Wow…I was going to say something in JT’s defense, but from all the comments it looks like its been said. Justin, if you read this, its us that matters, not Variety. We buy tickets. Remeber that. Keep it up.

  32. vera says:

    Am I reading Us Weekly or Variety? So because Justin has had a few movies that have bombed he should quit acting. If that is the case then any actor who has had movies that have bombed should also quit acting. How about putting the blame where it probably should go. On the writers and editors. We have a real lack of great writing both in movies and on television. Yet what use to be a legit site like Variety calls for the actor to quit? How about this article was so ridiculous if I owned Variety I would call for the author to quit since he’s not worthy of working for Variety.

    • Nathan says:

      he should quit because he doesnt have the skills-he is NO movie star-the people have spoken-and WHY is he picking roles he is ten years too old for??

      • TheMainGuy5000 says:

        I agree with Nathan on this. It’s not about his movies bombing. It’s about him not being a good actor. It’s clear and simple watching him onscreen and it’s no fault of the writers, directors, or editors. For some reason people think he was good in The Social Network, but I encourage you to go back and watch and he was clearly the weakest actor in the film. Professional actors like Andrew Garfield and Jesse Eisenberg were much more believable. And you can’t blame the writer or director on that one, since the film took homes an Oscar for best adapted screenplay and won multiple other awards.

        A much more talented and deserving actor should be stepping in those roles. Timberlake might be an ok basketball player, and if so does that grant him the opportunity to go join some NBA team?
        People defending him clearly don’t understand what the writer of this article is stating. One commentator stated that since he “likes” acting, he therefore should continue to do so and people should lay off him. That makes no sense. You don’t simply get awarded jobs and opportunities in any profession simply because you “like” it. You get those jobs because you excel at it. Timberlake obviously does not excel at acting, so he should give it up and do what he should be doing– making music.
        Save the acting parts for someone who deserves them.

        If not, Hollywood producers: I love acting. So give me leading parts please.

  33. john armstrong says:

    I hated him as a musician and have loved him as an actor so no, never

  34. babydoc says:

    How presumptuous. And illogical. And mean.

    ‘Variety’ is losing circulation; maybe it should shut down. How many Pulitzers on your mantle? Maybe you should stop writing.

    • Todd Jacobs says:

      Why is telling the truth presumptuous? And illogical? The author provides his reasons for his opinion, but if you can’t follow the train of thought the author is to blame and he or she is considered illogical? Mean? So we’re back in the “everybody’s a star” mode even though the majority of movie goers don’t want to pay to see bad acting.

  35. Blarg says:

    Friend’s with Benefits was hilarious.

  36. The Edit says:

    If “they” paid you to be in a movie, you would probably crash through vegetable carts on your way to the set. Most people would. It wouldn’t matter to most if some Variety from writer thought they shouldn’t. Congrats, you gave your opinion about it. Here’s mine: yawn.

    • The Edit says:

      It wouldn’t matter to most if some writer from Variety thought they shouldn’t.

      There … and I should have a better editor, as well. ;-)

  37. sosgemini says:


  38. juarose says:

    I don’t think Justin has ever claimed to be an Oscar winning actor. Whilst I’m yet to see Runner Runner, I think his turn in Friends With Benefits was good as it was never a film that was meant to give any real life changing messages to the audience. It was a feel good film. His comedy timing is on point.

    At the end of the day, Variety has to offer an opinion. Either way Justin and Hollywood will still continue to laugh all the way to the bank regardless

  39. Mick says:

    Several of the movies Timberlake has been in have done well at the box office. He seems to have a large international following also. Even though movies like In Time only brought in less then 40 million in America, it brought in over 100 million overseas. He’s done well in his supporting roles. Why are you picking on him. If every actor/actress that had movies that bombed quit acting there would be no actors/actresses out there. Every last one of them, including Oscar winners have had many movies that have bombed. This seems more like an unnecessary article just to pick apart Timberlake.

  40. Everybody’s not going to be a movie star and lots of movie stars wish they could just be Actors every now and again. The problem with this article is that the writer assumes that unless Timberlake achieves Oscar status he shouldn’t be acting at all, when in fact it may simply be that he enjoys acting whether he’s considered among the Best, or not.

    Acting is a muscle one must exercise. It’s also a craft that must be honed through training and of course hours and hours of acting. Having said this–just because Justin has appeared in quite a few movies doesn’t mean he’s anywhere near his peak or potential. He’s being cast in part because of his notoriety. If anything it’s time for Timberlake to be a bit more discerning in the roles he selects for the career trajectory he envisions for himself.

  41. Who is the bitter idiot that wrote this garbage? As an actor myself, I have always been impressed with Timberlake’s performances. This is the kind of mean-spirited hateful noise I expect from youtube commenters or IMDb reviewers that live in their mom’s basement at 30. It’s NOT what I expect from “Variety”.

    • angela says:

      What’s “impressive” about his performances which are void of any human emotion, speaks in an awkwardly high pitched voice and has no screen presence what so ever?

    • Nathan says:

      you think JT is a good actor? WOW! thats why your acting wont take you anywhere-check out real actors to see how it’s done

  42. Dhalpourie says:

    Stop hating! The author/s reeks of pure jealousy! So unfair. Why fault the man for having multiple streams of income? Gee whiz, this is such a hateful and mean-spirited article for no good reason at all. Let the man do as he pleases. How many movies have you been invited to be in? Bwahahaha…get a life! He sure is living his.

    • Nathan says:

      stupid-the author is jealous? doubt it-JT is NOT a movie star-and why is he playing a character ten years younger than him? at least question his choices!! silly groupies…

  43. Tony says:

    I think the problem with Justin is that the average male doesn’t want to see JT in an action role !
    It just isn’t believable at all. I will hesitate to see a movie if it stars JT especially if it is an action movie and I will watch most movies, I’m no movie snob.
    I don’t dislike JT but I just don’t buy into him as an actor, he certainly is not very charismatic, even if he can sing and dance.
    One word of advice for people casting him in action roles, DON’T DO IT !
    The average male not only doesn’t want to see him in these roles but he is not believable either, the only action roles that he would play convincingly would be playing a jockey.

    I agree with Dan, as I think most average males would too and we are the ones that buy tickets for these types of movies.

  44. TheMainGuy5000 says:

    I never thought he was a good actor and I could never understand how he keeps getting roles. He is always inauthentic and boring onscreen, and he always seems to be reciting his lines in accordance with the emotion that he thinks he should be emoting. No depth, no charisma, no talent, and no clear understanding of the human condition or how to navigate a character.
    Please stop sending him scripts.

  45. Dan says:

    I 100% agree with this article. I have never bought Timberlake as a legitimate movie star. While he was admittedly good in “The Social Network”, seeing him on the screen and hearing his whiny voice has consistently taken me out of the movie I’m watching.

    It is quite ironic that while Timberlake has never experienced a low point in his music career, and is always a bankable name in that regard, he appears to be considered a third rate star when it comes to movies. Whenever a movie comes out with him in it, I think to myself, “The role he is playing had probably already been turned down by both James Franco and Joseph Gordon-Levitt”.

    That’s why when Timberlake has a supporting role in a movie, I think twice before buying a ticket. When he’s starring in a movie, I simply don’t buy a ticket.

    • angela says:

      Considering he’s only released two albums prior to this year, not hitting a low point in his music career isn’t really a stretch.

      Its a shame that all these roles that could have gone to an upcoming actor (who actually study this as their craft) is given away to singers and models who want to ‘try something new’.

  46. Adam says:

    He’s a solid actor who enjoys it almost as much as making music. Why should we stop him? There are a ton of actors worse than Timberlake.

    • chade says:

      Justin keep doing you. Not many people get to live their dream. It obvious you do not listen to negative remarks cause you would not be where you are today if you did.

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