In Brad Furman’s new film Runner Runner, starring Justin Timberlake and Anthony Mackie, the romantic notion of the American dream is expressed through the machinations of what Furman calls the “new American dream,” — the lavish life of the online gambling world.
“The American dream used to be about being rich and famous, but now it’s to become rich and famous — as quickly as possible,” Timberlake said in an interview. “People are constantly trying to reinvent the wheel, and things are moving at warp speed. It’s cutthroat. It’s very cerebral and less about integrity, pride or honor, or any moral values.”
Runner Runner tells the story of Princeton grad student Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake) who, after playing an online poker game, goes bust. Believing he’s been conned, Richie travels to Costa Rica to confront the online gambling mogul Ivan Block (Ben Affleck). Confronting Block only leaves Richie seduced by Block’s promise of immense wealth, until he learns the truth about Block’s benefactor. When FBI Agent Shavers (Anthony Mackie) tries to coerce Richie into helping bring Block and his associates down, Richie attempts to outmaneuver the two forces closing in on him.
If one were to put a mirror up to the audience’s faces, the reflection would probably look like the character Richie. The young generation of the film’s desired demographics are involved in everything from illegally downloading movies and music to Internet gambling, while supporting hacker groups such as Anonymous. Runner Runner suggests this generation believes that the rule of law has no place in the online world. Instead, they look to the supposed leaders in the business world who take shortcuts that are morally suspect — if not illegal — and tell themselves, “If they can do it, then so can I.”
“With [Runner Runner], it’s so bright and beautiful [and] you really give your character the opportunity to really go as far as they can into the world they live in without becoming superficial or unbelievable.” Mackie said. “You can track the characters and put yourself in their position throughout [Runner Runner].”
While working on Runner Runner, Timberlake and Mackie both saw the positives of portraying their respective characters. The actors, in different ways, found something rewarding through their filming experiences and working with each other.
“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,” Timberlake said. “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.”
Mackie found his portrayal of Agent Shavers just as rewarding, but his gratifying experience comes from acting with his co-star as well as playing the nontraditional black role.
“For me, it was more so I enjoyed the ability to really just push Justin around,” Mackie said. “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.”
Working with Mackie, Timberlake also saw the advantages of working with characters with complex relationships.
Runner Runner ultimately gave the chance for both Timberlake and Mackie to grow as actors. From working with Oscar winner Ben Affleck to the detailed technicalities of the script, both actors took their experience working with each other seriously and that is what will ultimately show on the screen.
“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 [Justin] out of a building two stories in the air, we literally could have dropped him on his head,” Mackie said. “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.”
Similarly, Timberlake found value in the way the film’s characters were written.
“What I like about every character is that in a movie like this it could easily be in a way, ‘genrefied,’” Timberlake said. “It could easily become cliché … 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 [Arterton]’s character is intelligent. You know, it just elevates the material.”
With a story such as Runner Runner, the importance lies in what the audience gets out of the film and how the audience reacts to the action being portrayed onscreen. Timberlake notes that in his job as an actor he had to come to the realization of what’s being spoken though the film.
“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,” Timberlake said. “So, the more I learned about the world … It felt very fresh, this movie, because you felt like you were making a movie about something that was happening right now.”
The film Runner Runner opens in theaters today.
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