Justin Timberlake Reveals the 'Scar Tissue' Behind His New Concert Documentary

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Justin Timberlake and the Tennessee Kids

Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids is the Jonathan Demme-directed concert film of the performer’s final stop on his 20/20 Experience World Tour in Las Vegas. Justin Timberlake, 35, sat down with Billboard during the Toronto International Film Festival (it's out Oct. 12 on Netflix) with Demme sitting by his side, to talk about the experience of being onstage with his musical family of two years, recruiting the maker of the legendary Talking Heads doc, Stop Making Sense, and what almost moved him to tears during “Mirrors."

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How would this film have been different if Jonathan had shot the first, not the last, show?
I think a lot of the energy with what we would be capturing would be about, "Oh, man, how nervous we were to get the show up on its feet for the first time." When you spend two years with people, there’s good and bad scar tissue, right? More texture, more wrinkles and more heart because of all that shared experience. I’m glad we did it this way.

So you had one shot. If your pants had split, that’s what you’d get.
We shot it over two nights, so we got two shots. But one thing that you did [to Demme] that I thought was a simple thing, it’s genius, was say, “Hey, we’ve got two nights so I’m going to take all these cameras and put them on one side one night, and the next night take the same angles from the other side.”

Do you ever watch and critique your own performances?
I used to do that a lot when I was younger, but I stopped when I realized that nothing’s perfect. (Laughs.) And that the imperfections are probably the most beautiful part. I’ve also been doing this long enough that I know what my strengths -- you know that some nights you’re not going to have those strengths on full tilt. So you become a little more experienced at going, "This is the bandwidth that I have available."

In the film, during “Mirrors,” you get a little emotional. What was going through your mind?
I’m a softie. It happens some nights because you’re only one man standing up there, and you’re getting all of this. I feel like I look out in the crowd and see all these different walks of life, ages, sexes, races, and it makes me wonder, "What are they going through? What is their life like?" We think we go to concerts so we can check out from life, but the truth is we want to relate; we want to connect. You say, "Oh, I need a night out," and you think you’re going away from your life. But you show up there and sing these lyrics, and even though they remind you of your life, you're thinking somewhere in the back of your mind, "Five years from now, I’m gonna remember this moment." There’s all that energy: the synchronized clapping, the lyrics you wrote in a box of a room being sung back to you with such joy -- it’s a lot to take in.

It's a credit to Jonathan -- I felt that. You have been successful most of your life, but at the same time you are this one dude on stage getting all this back from the audience. 

I just experience it in a totally different way. I think when you stop searching for admiration, you realize that you actually really love it. And it carbonates you. It does something different to you. You allow yourself to experience it in a different way.

With Jonathan’s Neil Young docs, one film he plays a song for 20 minutes; another, there are shots up his nose -- not the most attractive angle. You are decidedly snazzier and can dance better…

Let me say that Neil Young has a ton of art and beauty to his face.

Oh, he does have art and beauty, but I’m wondering what was important to you for your concert film.

You know what was important to me? That Jonathan Demme directed it. And everything else would fall into its right place. It was just important that Jonathan Demme directed the film, because I knew that it would be something that no one else in the world could have imagined.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Oct. 15 issue of Billboard.