''You're catching me at an extremely vulnerable time,'' says Justin Timberlake as he sits down to dinner in West Hollywood. He's just come from taping The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, but he's still thinking about last night's industry screening of The Social Network. ''So many people I admire were there,'' he says with a shudder. ''Like Michael Mann and Jim Sheridan. I had to sit behind Gary Oldman. It was literally the sweatiest my armpits have ever been.''
He'd better stock up on deodorant: Timberlake, 29, is placing his music career on hold and making four films in a row. After The Social Network, he's got next spring's comedy Bad Teacher (costarring his real-life ex-girlfriend Cameron Diaz; he's now dating Jessica Biel), Friends With Benefits with Mila Kunis (due July 2011), and a thriller from Gattaca director Andrew Niccol. We'll also hear him as Boo Boo in this December's animated Yogi Bear. Meanwhile, in the four years since his last CD was released, Timberlake has also emerged as a bona fide comedy star thanks to memorable appearances on Saturday Night Live (including two crowd-pleasing moments on the Sept. 25 season premiere). His SNL stints even won him two Emmys: one for hosting in 2009 and another for co-writing the riotous 2006 R&B track ''D--- in a Box.'' Playing The Social Network's entrepreneur Sean Parker who helps Mark Zuckerberg grow Facebook Timberlake gets to show acting chops only hinted at in past films like 2007's Alpha Dog. ''We looked at a lot of different actors for that role,'' says Social Network director David Fincher. ''But I needed somebody who understood the value of 'If I sit this person next to this person, there's millions to be made.' There's this kind of glee and glint and sparkle that happens with people who truly know that.'' Here Timberlake talks about coping with industry pressures and why you shouldn't expect a new record from him anytime soon.
EW: So how did you land such a choice part?
Justin Timberlake I did a marathon of testing for the film. I tested more than anyone. I have to fight against my music career I'm cognizant of that. But I didn't care. I loved the part and I wanted to work with David [Fincher] so bad that I was like, ''We can read this scene butt-naked if you guys want.''
EW: Fincher is known for wanting dozens of takes. Was that hard to get used to?
Timberlake I had this conversation with David. He used an example of another actor that he's worked with who got burnt-out after a certain amount of takes. And this is an actor that I very much admire. I was like, ''I'm a linebacker, dude. You tell me to hit somebody, I'll hit 'em a thousand times.''
EW: Are movies your priority now?
Timberlake My priority is inspiration. It always has been. I grew up in a generation that was like, ''Why not do everything?'' I grew up in a family where they said, ''Why not do everything you want to do if you have the opportunity?''