“He’s insane. He’s from Planet Handsome.” That’s how Nicholas Stoller, the director of the comedy smash Neighbors, described his young star, Dave Franco.
Seven years since making his film debut as a pants-wetting soccer player chastised by Jonah Hill in Superbad, the 29-year-old actor has stepped out of his older brother James’ considerable shadow and made a name for himself as a reliable young comedy star. There’s his turn as Eric, the New Age-y, drug-dealing quasi-antagonist, in 21 Jump Street; one of a handful of renegade magicians-cum-bank robbers in Now You See Me; and his hilarious performance as a bromantic frat boy in the comedy megahit Neighbors.
This weekend, you can catch the younger, bushier-eyebrowed Franco in a cameo in the comedy sequel 22 Jump Street, alongside Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum.
In a candid interview, Dave Franco opened up to The Daily Beast about his burgeoning acting career, his—and his older brother’s—social-media habits, and much more.
It’s funny, I’ve interviewed your brother about a half-dozen times, but this is the first time we’re chatting.
Oh, nice. I can imagine you guys touched on some pretty weird grounds with those interviews. He’s already got enough weird stuff to say, but by the seventh or eighth time, I can’t even imagine. [Laughs]
You haven’t inherited your brother’s love of social media. You’re not on Twitter or Instagram. Why have you decided to abstain?
Um… to be honest, it all overwhelms me a little bit. I’d feel the pressure to constantly be posting something funny or interesting. But I don’t know. I’ve stayed away this long. The main reason I’d do it is to help promote my Funny or Die videos or my smaller endeavors, but at this point, I have friends who will help me tweet stuff out. On top of everything, I do value whatever anonymity I have left and I like to have a private life and keep things as private as possible.
Have you ever had to check James with his social media? Are you like, “Dude, relax”?
I know better than to tell him what to do with regard to anything at this point. What a lot of people think is crazy is also what I admire about him: He does what he wants, and he’s not afraid of how people are going to perceive him. Someone in his position who will put himself out on a limb like that, I think it’s refreshing. So I’m not the one to tell him to stop posting naked pictures of himself on Instagram—not that I’m necessarily rushing to check these pictures out—but he can do what he wants.
I’ve spoken with James about his regrettable early roles, but your résumé is pretty damn solid overall. Did you learn any lessons by observing what he went through? To avoid the Annapolis’s of the world?
[Laughs] Right. The biggest thing I’ve taken away from my brother’s career, and just from being able to ask him questions and lean on him and pick his brain, is being patient and waiting for roles that I really love. It’s a hard thing to do when you’re first starting out because you’re not getting a lot of offers thrown your way, so what I did was I started creating things for myself by making videos for Funny or Die. It allowed me to be patient and wait for parts I wanted, and in the meantime, I was happy doing these short films with my best friend that I grew up with where we had full creative control. Making a short video where me and Christopher Mintz-Plasse say how much we want to have sex with each other was a nice luxury to have.
The first Funny or Die video you did was “Acting With James Franco,” right?
That was when I first started a relationship with Funny or Die. I think Judd Apatow came up with the idea of the “Acting Class” series, and we filmed all three skits in one night and I remember not thinking anything of it. It was kind of cathartic. There was a skit we didn’t end up using where we were imitating each other and it got a little too dark and got some issues out that needed to be spoken out loud—nothing too serious. But we released them and they got millions of views, and it was crazy how effective they were in helping me get TV and movie roles. If you have a successful video on Funny or Die, more people will potentially see it than an independent movie, which is insane.
And you’re going to be directed by your brother in a film based on the making of the so-bad-it’s-hilarious cult classic, The Room.
It does have a cult following, obviously, and who knows if our movie will be able to reach a wide audience, but it sounds like people are very open to us making a movie about the making of The Room. It’s based on The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, and it’s a very touching and unsettling book. I play Greg Sestero, who is one of the actors in the movie and was technically the line producer who wrote the book, and it’s this strange meditation on jealousy, as well as these two guys who needed someone to lift the other up during these hard times. It’s a strangely touching book about people who want to be accepted.
And James is playing Tommy Wiseau.
James is playing Tommy. His entire life has been leading to this role. He was born to play this. I was around him recently and he busted out the accent, and it was spot-on. I think I’m most looking forward to the football scene. It’s going to be the culmination of our relationship—awkwardly throwing this football back-and-forth for no apparent reason.
Do you have a favorite scene in The Room? There are so many hilarious ones to choose from. There’s this one shot during a sex scene where [Wiseau] put up this piece of glass that clearly has fake rain dripping down it and tried to set this mood with a voyeuristic shot from the outside, and I don’t know why it gets me every time—maybe because he uses the exact same shot from a sex scene later on in the movie.
Is the real-life Wiseau associated with your film?
No. We’re trying to keep our distance because we want to make it our own film. We want to be around him to a certain extent because we love this guy, but at the same time, it’s a fine line to walk.
Your part in 22 Jump Street is hilarious. Was it scripted, or did you guys freestyle?
Yeah, it was scripted. I remember talking to the directors before there was a script at all and we were trying to figure out a way to logically bring my character back in the mix, since the first film ends with my character going to jail. They thought of the twist of having Riggle be my prison bitch and the idea of him loving it and me hating it, and it felt funny and natural. I would be an extra in their movies if they asked me. They took a huge risk on me putting me in 21 Jump Street in a significant role, and at the time I didn’t have many huge credits, so I feel like I owe them a lot. I went in to audition for the role six or seven times, and I found out that a big reason why I got the role is that at the end of the audition process, my video “You’re So Hot” with Chris Mintz-Plasse was released, and the directors claim that’s what pushed them over the edge.
Not a lot of people probably remember your first movie role—as the pants-wetting soccer player in Superbad.
I got the part in Superbad while I was still in college [at USC], and at the time, I’d done an episode of 7th Heaven. I remember reading that script and, although I was green at the time and had no idea what the hell I was doing, I could recognize it was a great script. I auditioned for the role of the bully that spits on Jonah at the beginning of the movie, but I guess the kid who pisses his pants seemed like the more fitting role for me. It’s interesting to look back and realize that that was my initiation into this group of geniuses who have stayed together and are responsible for the best comedies of the past decade. Evan Goldberg, who’s Seth Rogen’s producing partner, claims he’d been looking for the right role for me since Superbad and it took him eight years to get me in Neighbors, but apparently I made an impression with my two lines in Superbad.
I really enjoyed Neighbors. How did you land that role? Did it have anything to do with you starring with Zac Efron in the masterpiece that was Charlie St. Cloud?
[Laughs] There was no correlation there. I think we’re both trying to forget Charlie St. Cloud ever existed. They claim that they originally wrote the part with me in mind, which was very flattering, and when I read the script for the first time, there wasn’t a ton for my character to do—he was a generic frat guy who blended into the background. So I had a meeting with [Seth and Evan] and was honest about how I felt, and they’re the most amazing collaborators in the world, so they said, “What do you want to do with the part?” and literally two days later, they sent me a new draft of the script incorporating everything we talked about, and I said, “I’m one hundred percent in.” The reason why these guys are so successful is because they have no egos, and specifically tailor the parts for the actor.
I spoke with Nicholas Stoller about the fight scene in Neighbors between you and Zac, and he claimed Zac broke his hand on a mantel.
Well… he can claim it was on a mantel, but I’m 98 percent sure it was upon impact of my balls. It was a typical stand-off where we’re holding on to each other’s balls and we were wearing cups over our junk, and I really do think that he came in hard and literally fractured his hand. So, regardless of what happens in my career from here on out, I can always fall back on the fact that Zac Efron broke his hand on my balls. We’re supposed to have this intense bromance to the point where a lot of people have asked, “Are you guys secretly gay for each other in the movie?” But I think that just means we’ve done our job.
Did you know Zac was struggling with drugs during filming? Whatever he was doing really seemed to help the performance.
I don’t think anyone was completely aware of what was going on. It was such a fun group of guys that everyone was hanging out and partying to a certain extent off-set, but there was nothing overtly weird that anyone saw that gave us any indication that there was anything extra going on. Plus, he absolutely crushes it in the movie, like you said, and whatever he was doing worked great for the part, and I’m glad he’s in a better place now in his personal life.
What sort of off-set partying are we talking about here? Keggers?
No, it was nothing too crazy. There was so much chaos going on in front of the camera that when we were done working, it was more like a casual wine night.
Now I’m picturing you and Seth clinking wine glasses filled with Pinot Grigio.
It’s a good image—and a very accurate one. [Laughs]
You’ve got this big film Unfinished Business coming out with Vince Vaughn, which is a pretty big deal for you since you’ve got second billing.
Yes. It’s Vince, Tom Wilkinson, and myself. I’m really proud of this one. I play a kid with Asperger’s, and it’s one of these roles that was very terrifying for me to play, and it’s going to be one of these things where people either fully embrace it, or I’m never going to work again. But I went for it and I trusted the director and hope he’ll temper the performance so it doesn’t seem too over-the-top or anything like that. It is very R-rated, and Vince Vaughn is going to be great in the movie. It’s not a full-on comedy, and is grounded in drama.
Is Now You See Me 2 happening? One of the things I dug about the first one was that it immortalized the graffiti mecca 5 Pointz in Queens, which no longer exists.
That’s right! The last I heard we’re filming it at the end of this year, but who knows. It’s a huge cast and getting everyone’s schedules coordinated will be a difficult task. But I’d love to reunite with all these guys and hope to get some more action sequences in this one.
You and Ruffalo really threw down.
Things got a little real during that scene to the point where, afterward, we were like, “Do you want to get a beer and unwind?” Things got scrappy. We went into the day really excited and early on I accidentally threw him into the fridge a little too hard and he hurt his shoulder, and then I felt a little resentment from him the following sequence where he just held onto me a little too tight, but by the end of the day we were like, “Everything’s cool.”
How do you feel the acting thing is going so far? It’s been only seven years since your debut in Superbad, but things seem to be going smoothly. You must not regret dropping out of USC.
This is going to sound cheesy and put-on, but I feel so fortunate to be not only working, but also working on projects I’m proud of. Early on, I felt very fortunate to be working at all, but I’d also be working on projects that I’d tell my family not to see, and then they’d see it anyway and say, “That fuckin’ sucked!” and I’d say, “I told you! That’s on you now!” But being able to work with all these people I really admire is incredible. At this point, I’m just trying to stay patient and am happy to only work on a movie a year if that’s what it takes to hold onto some integrity.