NEW YORK: Fresh from his widely chronicled split with Britney Spears, 'N Sync's Justin Timberlake has hired publicist Ken Sunshine to help fend off the muckrakers - and more importantly, guide his transformation from teen heartthrob to leading man.Timberlake has reportedly been contemplating cutting a solo album and launching an acting career. "I'm not going to comment on exactly what's brewing, but stay tuned,
said Sunshine, who is taking over Timberlake's PR duties from LA's Wolf Kasteler.
Sunshine was more explicit when describing how he plans to deal with the tabloids. "I'm not going to play any games,
he said. "The reputation I have gained through my other clients
- a list that includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Barbra Streisand, and the Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli - "is that they'd better check their sources, and they'd better call me if they're going to write a story."
Of course, issuing statements to reporters won't be the former city hall aide's only task - or his most challenging. "One of the things I will try to do is manage his public persona while he gets to the level he's going to,
said Sunshine. He acknowledged that other young celebrities who have attempted to transcend the pop-star label have met with mixed success. After all, for every Mark Wahlberg, there is a David Cassidy, who after his turn on The Partridge Family, tried - and failed - to establish himself as an A-List talent.
"There is a stigma attached to the boy band, to the teen idol, that says they are a product of a machine,
said Rini Cobbey, a communications professor at Massachusetts's Gordon College, who is writing a book about celebrity. "Someone like Will Smith, on the other hand, didn't so much have to gain respect,
she added, "as transfer it from one genre to another."