The based-on-true-events movie, which premieres Oct. 4, follows Princeton University college student Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake) through Costa Rica to confront the head of an online gambling site that lost him his tuition money. There he is convinced to join Ivan Block (Ben Affleck) in his online gambling business and is tracked down by FBI Agent Shavers (Anthony Mackie), who hopes to bring Block down.
I’d been waiting all my life for this moment. Just kidding.
Although, I did devote the day to the interview because in the excitement of it all, I missed the part of the directions that told me to sign on to Google Hangouts at 11:50 a.m. PST, so I was three hours early.
When all eight of the college journalists participating in the interview were online, it took the moderator about an hour to check the sound, explain the directions and give us the two-minute warning.
Fifteen minutes after the two-minute warning, the actors stepped on camera, and the expression on everyone’s face went from annoyed to toothy grin.
If the way the group interview played out is any indication of what the audience should expect from “Runner Runner,” it’s safe to say the movie will be a sassy crowd-pleaser with some lighthearted twists.
From the moment Timberlake and Mackie joined the Hangout, the pair started joking with everyone.
The bad Internet connection messed up the predetermined order in which the journalists could ask their questions.
Between broken sentences, I heard the pair say the girl wearing red lipstick looked like she had something to say.
I had just made the realization I was the only girl in red lipstick on the Hangout that afternoon when I heard a “Ma-jore-ee” come from the speaker. I internalized my natural fangirling and got professional.
“Marjorie,” I said. “Hey, how are you guys?”
They said they were good and asked me where I was. I told them I was in Gainesville, interviewing them for the Avenue.
“So, you’re a Gator,” Mackie said and asked if I was going to do the Gator Chomp.
Of course, I did the Gator Chomp, and so did they. That led me right into my first question.
Q: Justin, growing up in the entertainment business, you didn’t have the traditional college experience. How did you prepare to play a college student in “Runner Runner”?
The Internet connection slowed again and they replied by requesting I ask my question again.
The pair teased me about my wood-paneled office and said the Internet connection must be so bad because clearly, I was interviewing them from the ’70s.
After nervously laughing, I asked a less concise version of the same question.
Mackie made jokes about beer pong and flip cup, and Timberlake addressed the question more seriously.
JT: For the most part, I didn’t know much about online gambling because I’m not a big “online gamer” in any way. I actually have a really good friend who used to be an online poker player and an online gamer, so he kind of showed me the ropes around what that is … I guess I can say I drank a lot of beer, a lot of pub crawls.
They thanked me for my question and moved onto the others.
Q: Justin, you play a character that’s in the middle of this whole thing where everyone is against you. What’s it like to get into that character?
JT: I find that regardless of the relationship the characters have in the movie, I think the more fun you have with the actors and the more collaborative the experience is, and in a way the closer you get with the actors, that it’s easier to play any type of relationship… He (Mackie) basically terrorizes me the whole movie. But off-camera, it was an opportunity for us to immediately jump in and start dissecting material. I think the more fun you have together, the more comfortable you feel playing a guy, or guys, that are on opposite ends of the spectrum.
Q: Brad Furman’s last film “The Lincoln Lawyer” was a lot about the legal world, with playful entertaining tones. Does “Runner Runner” follow the same style?
AM: I think if you look at Brad’s other movie, he really has a interesting way of looking at the world. I think it shows in his movies with the way he shoots. With this movie, it’s so bright and beautiful, you really give your character the opportunity to go as far as they can into the world they live in without becoming superficial or unbelievable.
Q: What about your character attracted you to the roles?
JT: I loved the idea of Richie, this character who’s a good guy. He’s trying to do the right thing, but he’s got himself into a hole. It’s kind of the idea of trying to dig yourself out of a hole, but you just keep digging yourself deeper and deeper into that hole. You know, I identify with a lot of things about him.
AM: For me, it was more so I enjoyed the ability to really just push Justin around. My character is such a bully in this movie, and I’m never given the opportunity to grow out my facial hair and look crazy and sweaty and smack up white dudes. So when I’m given that opportunity, I go for that 100 percent.
Q: With the movie it is online gambling poker and online gambling, and I know we had a big poker boom with ‘Rounders’, so what was interesting in coming to this now?
JT: I think that was an extra-added bonus that the material we are working on is very “now.” Like I said before, I didn't realize that online gaming was so huge, and I didn't realize that so much money was being generated from it down in Costa Rica. So the more I learned about the world, as I was reading the script, as I was talking to Brad Furman, the director, and Brian and David, the writers, it felt very fresh, this movie, because you felt like you were making a movie about something that was happening right now.
Q: Is it more difficult to work on an album or a film?
JT: You know, on the surface it may look like a lot of things are different about the process, but I would say that a lot of what I do with music informs a lot of what I’ve done in playing characters and vice versa. There’s a real rhythm to certain scenes and certain types of movies. Timing is everything in life and acting; it’s extremely important. I guess where it’s different, and where I would say making a record is a lot harder is, it would be like being the producer, the director, the screenwriter, the actor. To make a record you have to put all the parts together because you are basically creating your music from scratch. I’ve never written a script before; I’ve never directed a movie before. So I can’t imagine how tricky that could get, but I would say that from the outside looking in, watching the directors that I’ve worked with, I would say that making an album is kind of like being all those things at the same time. So I guess, I guess making a record is in some ways a little more difficult.
Q: What makes you guys choose a certain role to take on? And how do you guys think the roles you played in “Runner Runner” helped with your growth as actors?
AM: I wanted to do the movie because I was a fan of Justin, and Ben and Brad and I were friends. So when they called me, and I read it, I felt like it was a no brainer being associated with those people. As an actor I learned so much because when you’re running down hallways and doing all that crazy stuff it’s so easy — like we’re hanging him out of a building two stories in the air; we literally could have dropped him on his head. You know, there’s just so much stuff going on that if you've never experienced that as an actor you kind of have to roll with the flow. With being in Puerto Rico, not here in the States, it adds a whole new element to it to make it more difficult, when you speak to somebody, and they have no idea what you said.
JT: You know getting to work with these people, I just thought, specifically about the movie, what I like about every character is that in a movie like this it could easily be in a way, “genre-fied”. It could easily become cliché, is what I’m saying. What I love about how this was written, not only is my character intelligent, but Ben’s character is intelligent, Anthony’s character is intelligent, Gemma’s character is intelligent. You know, it just elevates the material, when you feel like the plot of the movie can go in any direction. It’s like going to see a basketball game with two great teams. You got great athletes, but it’s who’s the best on that day? That's what I kinda like about these characters — the movie can go in any direction based on who outsmarts who. I just think that elevates the material.
The bad Internet connection made the question-and-answer session run less smoothly than it could have, but between the jokes and insight to “Runner Runner,” I sure was glad to have participated.
You can catch the movie in theaters on Oct. 4.
A version of this story ran on page 7 on 9/26/2013 under the headline "Justin Timberlake, Anthony Mackie talk “Runner Runner”"
Justin Timberlake, right, and Anthony Mackie, left, speak with college students about the pair’s upcoming film “Runner, Runner” on Sept. 18 in a Google Hangout.