Hear us out, JT. (Wait, can we call you “JT”?) You’ve been in a mega-popular boy band and brought sexy back to the music industry, and parlayed that into a number of movie gigs showcasing innate talent. Your leading-man roles haven’t been exactly stellar, though the supporting gigs have low-key been on point – like your skeezy murder suspect in Netflix’s new noir-ish crime drama “Reptile” (streaming now). And we think you can do more.
In other words: Who’s ready for that JT character-actor era? It’s gonna be me. (Sorry, had to.)
Here’s the thing, you play a darn good dirtbag. It’s a flip on the clean-cut protagonists you’ve inhabited over the years. And among a whole bunch of shady folks in “Reptile,” this new character Will Grady is arguably the sketchiest: He finds fellow real estate agent/girlfriend Summer (Matilda Lutz) gruesomely stabbed to death, and although Will’s gutted by the whole experience, steadfast detective Tom Nichols (Benicio del Toro) immediately gives him side-eye.
Sure, there are a whole bunch of other suspects as the whodunit plays out, but Will has so much working in his disfavor. Without spilling too many details, he’s a mama’s boy to matriarchal piece of work Camille (Frances Fisher), he's dating another woman soon after Summer’s murder (never a cool move) and you make him so unlikable. But in a compelling way: There are cat-and-mouse scenes between Tom and Will that ratchet up some serious tension.
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“Reptile” also tones down the boyish looks. “I hate the beard. It just doesn’t look good,” Will's mom tells him, almost a knowing nod to your clean-shaven earlier lead roles in rom-com “Friends With Benefits” and sci-fi flick “In Time.” When we hear your animated “Trolls” mainstay Branch banter and sing, we’re transported back to the fresh-faced dude from the ‘90s who went from the Mickey Mouse Club to MTV. That guy recently eating chicken wings on “Hot Ones” with his besties is a throwback to the teen idol a generation adored growing up.
That’s all good. But you bring your best stuff when further down the call sheet. Think of the wild-eyed weirdness – and some ace lip-syncing to a Killers song while breaking the fourth wall – as a disfigured Iraq War vet in the criminally underseen “Southland Tales,” the tech-bro smarminess of Napster founder Sean Parker in Facebook biopic “The Social Network,” and the folk-music fussiness of a 1960s songwriter in “Inside Llewyn Davis.” OK, so that one wasn’t too much of a stretch.
You’re also 42. Hey, we’re all getting older – I’m right there with you, bud. This is the right time to transition into those meaty character roles. Jesse Plemons doesn’t need all the plum ones. Go get you some oddball creepers, hard-nosed cops, tortured siblings, lovable dads, baby-faced serial killers and ex-cons in need of redemption (“Palmer” showed off that unseen side of your skills). Robert Pattinson could always use a new Batman villain – just think of the TikToks that pairing would inspire.
Or find a great actor's career to emulate and chart a path toward the future. Kurt Russell totally did Disney movies back in the day (“The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes,” anyone?) before getting a supporting actor Golden Globe nomination and becoming an action-movie stalwart in the ‘80s. Mandy Patinkin and J.K. Simmons were both song-and-dance men before hitting their cinematic strides. Perhaps you want to embrace your inner Michael Shannon?
JT, you’ve got the goods as a character actor. Now you’ve just got to own it the same way Branch powers through “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” (Not forgiving you anytime soon for that earworm, by the way.) It's a chance to do something intriguing and substantial you haven't done yet and different from peers like Lady Gaga and Will Smith.
They can likely tell you: As fun as it is chowing down on hot wings with your pals, the chicken served during awards season is probably way tastier.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Justin Timberlake's Netflix movie 'Reptile' proves his acting chops