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How would you cast a movie where all characters is or remains 25 years of age on the outside — but could be in their 30s, 50s, 60s, or over 100 years old? The movie In Time had to deal with this very question when looking for actors who could convey the characters of writer and director Andrew Niccol’s script.
The production team elaborated on their choice of heartthrob Justin Timberlake as the main character. “All the actors had to look around age 25 because in the story, that’s when the aging gene switches off,” Niccol explained in the film’s production notes. That specific age was not chosen arbitrarily. “It’s the age we fully mature, when the frontal lobe of the brain fully develops,” the filmmaker continues.
“It is the part of the brain that controls impulse and reckless behavior. Rental car companies know this; they will not rent a car to somebody under age 25. There are characters in the film who are chronologically 100 years old, so I had to search for ‘old souls.’ Only certain young actors have the ability to play a senior citizen in a 25-year-old body.”
One actor who jumped at the chance to play an “old soul” was Justin Timberlake. It was Timberlake’s early rise to stardom that helped convince the filmmakers of his fit for the character of Will. “I love Justin’s work ethic, which is one of the important traits he shares with his character, Will Salas,” says Niccol. “It was actually very fitting that Justin plays Will.”
“Will has to wake up every day and go to work or die, and I don’t think Justin himself has taken a day off since he was 12 years old. There is no reason he won’t be a successful action hero [as Will] because he seems to be great at anything he turns his hand to.”
Producer Eric Newman continues, “Justin has been an adult since he was 17 years old, when he was a superstar. He didn’t have a conventional childhood, and he carries that with him. The character of Will is one who probably never had a childhood either because, in this world, you are born with a clock on your wrist, spending the first 24 years of your life waiting for that clock to start.”
“And when it does, you have less than a year to figure it out; you’re constantly faced with your own mortality. I think Justin has continually worked harder than everybody else, and he brings that to his acting as well. I think Justin and Will both have a similar ‘work or die’ ethic; they’re wired the same way.”
Timberlake, a longtime fan of action films, embraced the opportunity to play a character whose heroics are grounded in reality and a contextual richness. “When I was a kid, some of my favorite movies were action pieces like First Blood, The Fugitive, and Die Hard,” says Timberlake.
“The one thing I loved about those specific movies was that the protagonists were everyday people placed into extraordinary circumstances and doing extraordinary things.” Will’s heroics are triggered by an easily relatable factor. “Will has grown up with essentially nothing,” Timberlake notes.
“He wakes up every day and goes to work to stay alive. Through a series of events, he decides that he’s not going to take it anymore, and takes it upon himself to try and change the way things work in this world.”
“Will grows up in Dayton, which is somewhat of a ghetto. It’s kind of ironic that the word ‘day’ is in its name, because most of the citizens only walk around with a day to live. So the day-to-day life in Dayton is quick. People don’t have time to walk slowly, so they run, almost all of the time, to where they are going, and they’re constantly eating and drinking on the run. They don’t have time to spare or to waste.”
“Everything’s frenetic and alive, in a kind of dangerous yet beautiful way. When your back is up against the wall and you don’t have a choice, you make revisions and you live your life the way that it has to be, to survive.” Timberlake reserves special praise for Amanda Seyfried, who portrays Sylvia, his unwilling partner-in-crime.
“There are people that see the world the same way Will does. At the end of the day, I think he just wants what is fair. I think, through Sylvia, Will discovers that there’s something bigger he could be fighting for. It becomes kind of a Robin Hood tale at that point, once they pair up; like any young people put in high risk situations, they become enamored with each other.”
“And working one-on-one with Amanda has been great. I feel like we’ve really captured something special between those two characters.”
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