When Justin Timberlake asked for his “What Goes Around … Comes Around” video to seem dangerous, he didn’t expect there to be any real danger. But there were a few bruises and broken bones in the shoot — and he made a Scarlett turn purple. “We screwed up one of the most famous actresses in Hollywood!” director Sam Bayer laughed about Johansson. “That’s the price of making art.”
Neither Timberlake nor Bayer wanted to make a simple music video — the idea from the get-go was to do something “big.” “I have a history I’m very proud of, from ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ — which was my first video — onward,” Bayer said. “And I wanted to do a throwback, like make a ‘Thriller’ for 25 years later, a ‘Thriller’ for the new generation. Something larger than life. But instead of monsters and Vincent Price, we have car crashes and a very beautiful girl.”
That “beautiful girl” was Scarlett Johansson, whom Bayer calls — without a trace of irony — “the Marilyn Monroe of the 21st century.” Timberlake enlisted her services when he and Bayer decided they wanted to use real actors, not models, for the video, which was meant to be a short movie. Since Timberlake had just worked with Nick Cassavetes on the film “Alpha Dog” (see “Why Is Justin Timberlake’s ‘Alpha Dog’ Flick So Controversial?” ), and since Bayer and Cassavettes are friends, the writer/director was brought in to script some scenes and dialogue to go with the general concept of a relationship broken by betrayal. “I knew I wanted a big car crash,” Bayer said, “and that it would be dangerous and mysterious, without everything being explained.”
Not like there was time for everything to be explained anyway — since Timberlake was in rehearsals to launch his tour, there was an accelerated schedule to plan and shoot the clip. With the shoot lasting primarily three days — between Christmas and New Year’s Eve — some of the ideas Bayer, Cassavettes and Timberlake had were one-shot deals. Like the car-crash stunt, which had to be done by 10 p.m., lest the city of Los Angeles shut the scene down. No matter that the video makers had spent $70,000 building the stunt Corvette for the jump. By 9:59, they finally got the stunt driver in the air — with 10 cameras rolling, to play it safe. For a moment, they thought it would be a disaster, since the car looked like it was about to run over two cameramen. “It’s one of the scariest stunts I’ve ever seen,” Bayer said.
The closing shot — in which Timberlake looks at the aftermath of the crash and finds Johansson on the ground, presumably dead — was just as tricky. Since they thought of the shot after they had concluded shooting, they had to fly the singer back by helicopter on January 8 — the night he was kicking off his tour in San Diego — to get Timberlake in place at dusk so that it would look like dawn in the clip. “There was this constant feeling of pressure, like if we didn’t get it fast, and if we didn’t get it right, there was no chance it would make it in,” Bayer said.
That pressure only increased with the nature of Cassevettes’ script — very loose, with a lot of improvisation — and Bayer’s in-your-face camera style.
“Nothing was set in stone,” said Shawn Hatosy, Timberlake’s co-star in the video and “Alpha Dog.” “Nick had ideas, but this wasn’t David Mamet by any means. They were hollow concepts that we had to fill up, fast.”
For one scene, which required Hatosy and Johansson’s make-out session to be interrupted by a violent Timberlake, they knew a fight would have to take place. “The fight in the stairwell was very loose,” Bayer said. “It was more mood than dialogue.” So Bayer upped the ante, using a handheld camera to weave in and out of the action, not telling the actors where the camera might be. “It was to make the camera a character, make it flesh and blood,” Bayer said. “I’ve never seen anything like that,” Hatosy said. “He’s like a madman.”
Timberlake and Hatosy got so into it that they beat each other up for real — “He kicked my ass, man,” Hatosy said. “It was like, wham! Scarlett’s and my teeth got smashed together” when Timberlake came at the couple from behind. “He was really kicking me. I got massive bruises.”
So did Johansson, who showed off her purple arm to the crew as a badge of pride. Not that Timberlake emerged unscathed, either — he broke a finger for his troubles. “I don’t think he realized it at first,” Hatosy said. “But later on, his tour manager was glaring at me. ‘You broke his finger! He’s got to go on tour and play piano!’ And I was like, ‘You should see my butt!’ ”
Still, considering they shot that scene on December 29 (Hatosy’s birthday), he’s not that upset. “Who would complain?” he said. ” ‘I had to go to work and make out with Scarlett Johansson.’ Who wouldn’t want to do that?”
Go behind the scenes with other Video of the Year nominees:
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» Amy Winehouse’s ‘Rehab’ Was Really Just A Decrepit London Building: VMA Lens Recap
» Justice’s ‘D.A.N.C.E.’ Is An Underdog, But ‘Maybe Kanye Will Jump Onstage Again’: VMA Lens Recap
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