Happiness, Hugs and Music: A Conversation with Justin Timberlake for the Home Entertainment Release of TROLLS
From DreamWorks Animation, TROLLS is a funny and irreverent musical adventure, starring Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake. Kendrick is the voice of Poppy, the feisty and fearless leader of the Trolls, who are naturally cheerful and optimistic. They love to sing and dance, and they have rainbow-coloured hair. Timberlake voices Branch, a gray and fearful troll. He is convinced that the Trolls’ mortal enemies, the Bergens, will track them down in their forest Utopia and capture them. The Bergens are miserable monsters and they are only happy when they eat Trolls.
The gifted comedian Russell Brand joins the cast as the voice of Creek, a wise, Zen-like, but rather arrogant, yogi Troll, who is captured by the Bergens, along with a group of Poppy’s best friends. They await a terrible fate. Unless Poppy and Branch can save them, they will be devoured.
The upbeat and exciting 3D film, from the creators of the SHREK movies, was directed by Mike Mitchell and Walt Dohrn. Timberlake is the executive music producer.
The world of the Trolls is entirely happy. It’s a world of rainbows and cupcakes, where life seems idyllic. Led by Anna Kendrick’s upbeat Poppy, the Trolls are naturally fun-loving and joyful. Inspired by the quirky looking dolls with thick, luminous, brightly colored hair (originally invented by a Danish woodcutter in 1959) that became popular in the 70s, the directors, Mike Mitchell and Walt Dohrn have created a Troll universe, in which these wondrous, animated characters live in a Utopian community; its hallmarks are peace, friendship, love and sheer happiness. But for one lone Troll, Branch (Timberlake), life is anything but fun.
Consumed with fear, the cautious Branch has no time for hugging or celebration. Unlike his bright, colorful friends, he has turned gray. He is terrified that the dreaded foes of the Trolls, the pessimistic Bergens, will track them down. He doesn’t join in any of the fun and bunkers down in his hideaway, hoping to survive a potential Bergen attack. Branch is certain that the mean monsters will discover where the Trolls are living because they spend so much time singing loudly. Why do the beastly Bergens pose such a terrible threat?
Jealous that the Trolls are cheerful all the time, these perpetually gloomy creatures believe the only way they can have a taste of happiness themselves is to eat Trolls, which they do regularly, at their traditional Bergen feast day, called Trollstice. Of course, devouring Trolls means that they first have to capture them. One day, Branch’s worst fears come true. The Bergens kidnap a group of Trolls, and the brave Poppy sets off to save her friends and is soon joined, rather reluctantly, by Branch. The film relates the hilarious and exciting adventures of these two very different characters, on their perilous journey to rescue their pals from the clutches of the greedy Bergens.
From the team that created the hugely popular SHREK films, TROLLS is full of similarly strong, funny characters. Like SHREK, the comedy in TROLLS is unique and witty. Depicted in groundbreaking animation with a unique, retro, hand-made look, the world of the Trolls is characterised by a felt-like, tactile, quality. Timberlake is in charge of the upbeat music and has combined classics from Earth Wind & Fire, Simon & Garfunkel, Gorillaz and Cyndi Lauper, with original songs he wrote for the film, including ‘CAN’T STOP THE FEELING!’ (a number one hit). Also starring in the film are Anna Kendrick, James Corden, Gwen Stefani, Zooey Deschanel and Russell Brand.
An actor and musician, the multi-talented Justin Timberlake, has won nine Grammys and numerous other awards. Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Timberlake rapidly became a highly respected musician, and his debut solo album, ‘Justified’, led to his first two Grammys in 2004 for ‘Cry Me a River’ (Best Male Pop Vocal Performance) and ‘Justified’ (Best Pop Vocal Album) and then his second studio album, ‘FutureSex/Love Sounds’, picked up two more for ‘SexyBack’ (Best Dance Recording) and ‘My Love’ (Rap/Sung Collaboration).
The following year, Timberlake won Grammy’s for the Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for ‘What Goes Around…Comes Around’ and ‘LoveStoned/I Think She Knows Interlude’ (Best Dance Recording). As a featured artist in Jay-Z’s song ‘Holy Grail’, Timberlake won yet another Grammy (Best Rap/Sung Collaboration), while his double album, ‘The 20/20 Experience ‘resulted in the final two to date: for ‘Pusher Love Girl’ (Best R&B Song) and ‘Suit & Tie’ (Best Music Video).
A gifted actor, Timberlake has appeared in diverse films including ALPHA DOG, BLACK SNAKE MOAN and SHREK THE THIRD. He won strong reviews for his performance in Oscar-nominated THE SOCIAL NETWORK. Other credits include BAD TEACHER, FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS, IN TIME, INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS and RUNNER RUNNER. Timberlake has also won four Emmys for his appearances on the legendary US TV show, Saturday Night Live.
Justin Timberlake sat down for the following interview at DreamWorks Animation studios in Southern California to discuss TROLLS…
How did you get involved with the film?
I was offered the job of voicing the character and being executive music producer at the same time. It almost felt like an embarrassment of riches for me. I thought, ‘Let me think about it, yes, I’ll do that.’ There was no other answer.
Can you explain the world of the Trolls and your character Branch?
Branch, along with the rest of the Trolls, lives in a wondrous world filled with music and adventure. It is all very happy-go-lucky with singing and dancing. It is over-joyous. Branch is the outcast among the Trolls. He doesn’t sing, he doesn’t dance and he is constantly cautious. While Poppy is pink and vivid, Branch looks gray and dismal.
It’s ironic that Branch is nothing like you, isn’t it? He doesn’t sing or dance.
Yes, it was fun to play this sarcastic, pessimistic guy, because I don’t get to do that a lot (laughs). I think it was also fun for Anna (Kendrick), who is known for her dry, sardonic wit because Poppy is so over-joyful. But Anna got to bring a certain type of wit and sass to Poppy, which gave her more depth.
What has made Branch so fearful and negative?
He is worried about the Trolls’ enemies, the Bergens, the villains of this movie, who like to eat Trolls because they are only happy when they have a Troll in their stomach. And nobody likes to get eaten! Every year, the Bergens celebrate what’s called Trollstice, where they gather all the trolls they’ve caught, and have a ceremonial all-you-can-eat buffet, and they proceed to eat the trolls. At the beginning of the movie, we go back to when our heroes were captured and King Peppy, Poppy’s father, led an escape. The Trolls got away and started their own new civilisation. That is really where our movie starts. Because of his fear that the Bergens will return, Branch has such a sense of foreboding and is trying to keep the Trolls quiet. Branch warns Poppy that if the Trolls continue to keep singing and dancing and making as much noise as they do, they’re going to attract the Bergens, who will discover where they are and they will get caught again. So he is very scared. Then a group of Trolls, Poppy’s friends, are kidnapped.
There’s a lot of SHREK-like comedy in the film, for example, in the relationship between Branch and Poppy. How do they relate to each other?
Branch is probably closer to Poppy than any of the other trolls. That is mostly because Poppy is pretty persistent in trying to cheer him up. There’s a lot of humour between the two of them because they’re opposites. To Branch, Poppy is annoyingly happy. He says to her: ‘You know, life’s not always cupcakes and rainbows.’ From his point of view, bad things happen. Even though Poppy is always overjoyed, she has a sense of humour and does her fair share of ribbing Branch. She has a toughness to her. There’s something tomboy-like about Poppy. Her perspective may lead the Trolls into peril, with all the singing and dancing, but she’s also courageous. And there’s a little flirtation that goes on between Poppy and Branch as they go on their journey to rescue the Trolls.
Do you think most people are intrinsically positive like the Trolls?
I think we really want to be. Sometimes it takes a tiny little ‘so ugly it’s cute’ creature with crazy hair to show us that we can be positive.
As well as starring as the voice of Branch, you are in charge of the music. How did you combine both jobs?
Playing the character is like jumping into the eye of the storm, with Anna and her character Poppy. Being involved in the music is all about helping to tell the story. It is like being a mile away from that storm, looking at it and helping move it in a certain direction and hopefully making it sound good. The jobs were informing each other for me. I got to see so much of all the characters while creating music for certain scenes, and I could observe their little idiosyncrasies. Then I would jump back [into the acting]. But there was a whole team of people contributing to the music; it was not just me saying, ‘I think we should do this song here.’ It’s great to get the points of view of the directors and producers.
Can you elaborate on the musical process?
You look at what’s happening in the scene and ask: ‘Is this an intimate performance? Is this a big production-style performance?’ TROLLS is a wild comedy, so I had a lot of fun with the music. The animators created so many funny moments, and I picked the songs that work best with the jokes. As the music producer, I get to pick all the music that goes into the film, and I have to actually arrange all of it. Sometimes I choose popular songs I already know, or I write my own original songs – like I did with ‘CAN’T STOP THE FEELING!’.
How would you describe the very distinctive, tactile look of TROLLS?
“It is fantastic and the thing that tripped me out was how much texture there is in the animation. I remember them [the animators] saying, ‘We’ve found a new code to give new texture to the animation.’ The hair on the Trolls looks unbelievable.
The Trolls, of course, are famous for their distinctive, long, colourful hair. How is the hair used in the film?
The long hair has famously been a big part of these mythical creatures, ever since they were first created. In the movie, it is a big part of who they are. The directors and animators use the hair as an extension of the Trolls’ bodies, which is a pretty ingenious move. Branch swings from tree to tree with his hair and he can use it like a whip. There is one scene where one of the trolls is bench-pressing with his hair.
Did you have trolls as a kid?
I didn’t have any, but Trolls were popular with all the girls in my school. I remember every girl in school had a treasure Troll with a jewel in the belly. They were all different colours.
What would you say is the theme of the film?
It is about finding your inner happiness and how that really is a choice. Happiness shouldn’t depend on anything that’s external.
Is the Troll world an ideal? Is Poppy’s approach to life realistic?
Well, I think we’re obviously way more complicated as human beings. Good things happen and bad things happen, but I think it is great to have the ability to see the good in everything and to know why something happened the way it did. That is one of the more important things we can all use and learn.
What makes you happy?
My family makes me happy; making music makes me happy. I’m a golf nerd, so golf makes me happy. I love to be outside. I like snowboarding and the beach. I love pasta. If you keep asking me questions like this, you’re going to find out that basically all I do is eat (laughs)! I really love to eat.
Finally, what do the audiences have to look forward to with TROLLS?
The humour is unadulterated and uninhibited; it is non-cynical; and ironically, you know, I think that is something the world needs a lot more of right now. I love this movie because it makes me smile; it makes me laugh. And I get emotional at a certain point, every time I see it. It’s an animated, modern musical comedy adventure, with amazing songs and amazing humour. And I don’t know what more you would want in a film? For me, just some popcorn in my mouth while I’m watching, which goes hand in hand with a good movie.
DREAMWORKS TROLLS IS AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY™ AND DVD FROM 13TH FEBRUARY, FROM TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX HOME ENTERTAINMENT