By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Justin Timberlake may be riding a new wave of movie stardom as his new film, "In Time," sees its release in theaters on Friday, but the singer-dancer-actor still thinks he's an ordinary man.
Timberlake takes the lead role in the sci-fi, action thriller in which director Andrew Niccol takes audiences into a world where time has become the monetary currency.
"I found it (the movie) to be very provocative and it made me ask a lot of questions about myself, some of it which I still haven't come up with the answers for, but I like when a movie does that," "The Social Network" actor told Reuters.
In a world where everyone stops physically aging at 25, Timberlake's character, Will Salas, often finds himself with just 24 hours to live, in which he must find ways to earn time in order to prolong his life.
"I admired Will, I hope I would fight back the way he does," said Timberlake. "I've never gotten to play a character that I wanted to be like, I don't think, so I was eager to run in his shoes."
The 30-year-old "Sexyback" singer has been in the public eye since childhood as lead singer of boy-band juggernaut N*Sync in the 1990s, before shedding his child-star image to become a Grammy-winning solo artist and Hollywood heartthrob. Yet, he doesn't see himself as all that different than the kid who was born in Memphis, Tennessee.
"I think I've always looked at myself as an ordinary guy who gets to be in extraordinary situations," said the actor.
"Extraordinary" is an understatement. He has conquered pop music, moved into fashion and is doing his best to become a Hollywood movie star. He's doing a good job of it, too.
Timberlake has managed his ascendancy carefully, working in supporting roles in high-profile, low-budget movies like "Alpha Dog," voicing a role in animated "Shrek the Third," then breaking through in a key role in last year's award-winning "The Social Network."
This year, he starred in comedy "Bad Teacher" and alongside Mila Kunis in romance "Friends With Benefits." Timberlake is now setting his sights on being an action hero with "In Time."
FIGHTING TIME, SAVING WORLD
The world of "In Time" sees 'time' bartered for goods and services. Time can be given, received and stolen just by people locking arms with each other.
When Timberlake's character, Will, is given a windfall of 'time' from a wealthy person, he finds himself fighting against social boundaries and injustice in a city where inhabitants are segregated by time zones according to their level of wealth.
"The concept is pretty extreme and it's hard to take that idea and actually ground it to a point where you can actually do it and make it relevant to our society," said "Mamma Mia" actress Amanda Seyfried, who plays his love interest Sylvia.
The film has been compared to 1997's "Gattaca," which Niccol directed and 1998's "The Truman Show," which Niccol produced, both films presenting a future world that doesn't veer too far from present day.
"Andrew has this ability to toss you into another world, but in a world where you see the metaphors of what's happening today and right now," said Timberlake.
The film's themes of wealth inequality may resonate with some present day audiences, and Timberlake found it "serendipitous" that the release of "In Time" coincided with the Occupy Wall Street protests taking place across the U.S.
"I would put Will in the 99 percentile that are protesting Wall Street and Occupy LA," said the actor, adding that the film also addressed the multi-billion dollar beauty industry.
The film has received mixed reviews ahead of its release. Variety's Peter DeBruge found that it took advantage of Timberlake's action-hero potential, but the director was "incredibly surface-oriented" in addressing the themes.
The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy said Timberlake "capably carries the film but a glint of true rebelliousness, of a slightly unhinged element in his character's makeup, could have nudged the performance to another level."
(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)