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January 2006
Interviews with Justin Timberlake, Emile Hirsch, Shawn Hatosy, Ben Foster, Anton Yelchin

Interviews with Justin Timberlake, Emile Hirsch, Shawn Hatosy, Ben Foster, Anton Yelchin
Posted by Wilson Morales

January 10, 2007

Coming out to theaters is the “Alpha Dog”, which the chronicles the events that led to the murder of a kid allegedly orchestrated by Johnny, played Emile Hirsch. The film is based on the life of Jesse James Hollywood, the youngest man to ever be on the F.B.I.'s most wanted list. Amongst the cast includes newcomer and singer Justin Timberlake, making his big screen debut, Shawn Hatosy, Ben Foster (Angel from the X-Men films), and Anton Yelchin, who plays the kid who got murdered. The film is based on a true story. In a press conference in New York, the cast talked about making this film and the individuals they portrayed.

It's fair to say these characters are morally repulsive, what was the attraction to do this and how do you feel about the risk involved with portraying someone like that?

Timberlake: First of all, I'd like to thank you for pointing that out.

Hatosy: What does that have to do with anything?

Timberlake: I don't think the point was for the characters to be repulsive, the point was to show the truth of what was happening, the story. We had layed so much ground work, all of us as actors, there was so much information on the characters, I think all of us felt a moral responsibility in portraying that. I don't think it's stretching a statement at all to say that this is a tough movie to watch, but this is as close to what happened as what we felt we could make it. As far as the repulsive aspect, you'd have to talk to the director about that.

And about your risk in taking on the role? Most people want to start out as a sympathetic character…

Timberlake: My only stipulation was that I just wanted to crack a couple of jokes here and there.

Have you thought about how you'll balance a movie and music career?

Timberlake: I guess we'll just have to see, I haven't thought that far.

Hatosy: Wait, you have a music career?

Timberlake: [Laughs] I do. I'll send you my demo. I think for me it was attractive to just be involved with great actors and a great director and great material. That's what led me to this film.


How did you work together to establish the characters? Did you talk to any of the real-life people and do you know anyone like this?

Hatosy: Nick made us all get together and train so that was helpful to get to know each other. These characters grew up together, they played sports together, they did everything together so the opportunity to work out together

Foster: Five days a week, right?

Hatosy: Yeah, it was intense. Five days a week, before we started shooting, but I think that was a good idea.

Foster: Nothing short of boot camp.

Hirsch: There's one funny story, because we had to weight-lift and stuff and I got it in my mind, because I was the youngest guy, 'Well, I'm going to make a statement with this workout" and we were doing these exercises with these two and a half pound weights, for your wrists and shoulders a thousand times, where your arm just dies and I said to Frankie, the guy who was training us, "We're moving on to fives," and Shawn looks at me and says "Dude, no!" and I killed myself lifting this five and as soon as I did it, Frankie said "Everyone's doing fives"

Timberlake: Thanks a lot

Hatosy: Yeah, that was awesome.

So have you kept that up?

Timberlake: [laughing] Yeah, can't you tell?

Hatosy: Just take off your shirt, that's what they want.

Hirsch: That's what they're here for.

In regard to the question about your real-life counterparts, did you talk to people you portrayed, or any of those involved?

Timberlake: I don't know that I knew anyone growing up that was specifically like this, but as an actor it's your job to find the relative to play a character. You can latch onto things that have happened to you as a kid, we all can, kids are cruel. For myself, I
traveled up to a prison in upstate Cali with Nick to visit the guy my character was based on. But when we all signed up for the project, we all got a stack of files about all the police reports, all the newspaper reports about what had happened. I know that Nick was able to get a lot of information and we really just trusted him. We signed up to portray the truth of what had happened and we followed his lead on that.

Yelchin: I don't think it's that difficult to find similar characters because it's just a relative apathy in general, that pervades in society. These guys, they just took it to a different level. They're just apathetic, you find it everywhere. It seems shocking when you watch it, how this happened, but it's not really when you think about it. Everything in the story is kind of justified, it just happened and nobody really cared. It happens all over.

The on-screen labels of "witness" and "suspect" are very interesting, how do you think that affects the film?

Timberlake: Interestingly enough, when we were screening the film at Sundance, when you see it without an audience, you don't see the little things, but for the first half of the film when the "witness" tags come up, people would giggle at Sundance and that sort of helps support the point that Anton [Yelchin] just made. You watch it as those characters as those characters watched it happen, that's what I think is so special about the film, you watch it through their eyes and that's sort of the point.

Hirsch: I never met the real Jesse James Hollywood, he was kind of on the run at the time, but his dad was on-set almost every day. He told me a lot of interesting stories and he definitely wanted to get it across that he loves his son, he's a kid. It's complicated, talking to a father about his son like that because you don't want to be like, "You're a monster," you have to be understanding and reasonable in how to deal with it.

Yelchin: I obviously didn't meet my character, but the weird thing I think, when you watch the film, the terrible feeling at the end of the film is because you like the characters for the first half of the film. I thought, "These are cool guys, I wouldn't mind spending time with them." The more you like them, the more you either feel guilty or at least uncomfortable with yourself for liking them. You spend an hour liking them and spend the next 45 minutes being shown that affection is just… it's terrible. It's almost like, when I saw it, I didn't know what to do with myself and I knew everything, obviously. You watch it and aren't sure how you should feel. You want to like these people but there's no way you can. It's almost like a paradox.

Timberlake: It's morally repulsive.

Yelchin: Yes, there you go.

Were you able to talk to his parents?

Yelchin: No, I didn't have that opportunity. Probably the most depressing thing I found was this Web site that they created, dedicated to their kid, where they wrote letters about him. I looked through it and I don't know, it was another one of those things I wasn't sure how to feel about it. The only person I felt clearly about was the kid himself because I don't know how much you can blame the family, how much you can feel bad for them. You read these, the mother wrote these letters to her son about how she misses him, how she's lost, how she sees him everyday as this angel, it's heartbreaking but at the same time she drove him away just as much as she loved him. It's really hard to handle because you want to point fingers at everyone, but you can't. The only choice you have is to make sure you don't do anything similar in your own life. It's sounds odd, but it's true. All you can do is hope you're not going to be as selfish.

Did you meet any of the witnesses?

Yelchin: There was actually this guy at Sundance who said he was friends with them. This tall guy…

Timberlake: This movie is, I don't know… in California it became I don't know if it's a legend, but I found that just around town, around Los Angeles and outside of it and people would come up to me and say "Hey you're doing that movie, the Jesse James, Nick Markowitz thing, right?" And they would always label it like that and I would say"Yeah." And then they'd say, "Yeah, I knew that guy. I knew Jesse James Hollywood." And everybody knew somebody that knew him. It became this interesting thing but it actually helped, I think, when we were making the film, to hear those kinds of things, and how kids spread, just how young people converse with each other. I found it interesting he became this weird, sort of tall tale to these young people who in some weird way were wanting to be involved with it.

Do you have any thoughts on your viewers, specifically the younger crowd, what do you think people will take from it?

Hatosy: I think the theme that we're missing is that there were a lot of parents who were witnesses as well, who could have done something. So it's good for kids to see it, it's good for parents as well. These kids were very misguided in every sense, even the love Jack Hollywood had for his son, was misguided.

Hirsch: I think it's a cautionary tale in a certain sense. You get going in this party lifestyle world and you get,"Oh, it's so crazy" there's kind of a certain  glorification of that but the glorification is just a red herring. That's part of the battle, that's the hook that gets you and then it kind of hits you over the head with reality. A lot of the violence in the media, a lot of the music we listen to today, there's the whole myth and then when that myth is confronted with the actual reality, the acting out what happened in real life, it shatters the myth and I think that's what "Alpha Dog" does. I think it's even more important for young people to see this because as much as every kid may love rap or really violent music or violent video games, it's good for them to get a healthy dose of reality so that they don't think it's all going to end riding into the sunset on a horse with no cops around. Young people over 17.


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