I’ll say this with no shame: I love me some Dave Franco. I’m fully on Team Dave Franco (not that there’s a competing team). I was fortunate enough a few years ago to spend a great deal of time with him on the set of 21 JUMP STREET, both in between takes and during meal breaks. After that, I ran into him at various film festivals over the years, and sat down with him three years ago for a proper interview for the original NOW YOU SEE ME, his first name-on-the-poster starring role, which he was exceedingly proud of.
Starting out in smaller film roles in SUPERBAD and AFTER SEX, I first got to know Franco's sense of comedy and acting style after an extended run on "Scrubs" as the consummate hipster douchebag Cole. Around the same time, Franco was making comedy shorts, most notably the "Acting with James Franco" videos with his brother James, followed by a series of three hyper-sexual videos with Christopher Mintz-Plasse called “You’re So Hot,” as well as a really funny and gross one with Alison Brie called “Dream Girl.”
Great supporting work followed in both JUMP STREET films, FRIGHT NIGHT, both NEIGHBORS films, WARM BODIES, and UNFINISHED BUSINESS, all of which have raised Franco's profile and made him a substantial comedy player. Franco also continues to be one of the nicest, funniest people I've ever interviewed. We cover NOW YOU SEE ME 2 (where he returns as the card-flipping Jack Wilder), a bit of NEIGHBORS 2, and a lot about upcoming works, including the recently renamed THE MASTERPIECE (formerly THE DISASTER ARTIST), based on the making-of-THE ROOM memoir by actor Greg Sistero, whom Dave Franco plays in the film, opposite brother James as THE ROOM creator Tommy Wiseau). Please enjoy my chat with Dave Franco…
Capone: I’m sure I’m not the only one to ask this, but why isn’t this movie called NOW YOU DON’T.”
Dave Franco: It’s interesting you ask that, because people struggled enough with remembering the name of the first movie, so now that we’ve created something of a brand around that name, I think we need to just run with that. That being said, a standalone movie called NOW YOU DON’T—no one is sitting there saying, “My favorite movies of all time are THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, THE GODFATHER PART II, and NOW YOU DON’T” It’s just weird, right?
Capone: In all fairness, this is not a standalone movie.
DF: No, but I’m saying just the title itself.
Capone: I hear you. So did you have to learn any new tricks this time around? You’re still flipping cards.
DF: Still flipping cards, but I wanted to up the ante in some way, so I learned different ways of throwing cards, as opposed to the normal way. I can flip them out of the deck so they spin at you, and I can spin a card up towards my face and catch it in my mouth. Again, tricks I will never again use in my real life, but hopefully they look cool on screen.
Capone: That scene where you guys—and I realize it’s not all real—are in the lab, and you’re throwing that chip around is your card flipping to the tenth power. It all comes from your character, and you have to teach everyone.
DF: Right, right, exactly. That scene was a monster. We shot that over the span of an entire week. Ultimately, it’s on screen for four minutes [laughs]. We spent weeks rehearsing that. It’s like a giant choreographed dance. It seems to be the scene that most people are talking about, though, so hopefully it’s all worth it.
Capone: I thought maybe at this point you’d actually be able to murder someone with a card.
DF: I can do some pretty serious damage. Again, not necessarily something I should be proud of, that I’m that proficient at throwing cards, but like I can fuck someone up., especially with like a credit card or a room key at a hotel [laughs].
Capone: In the last film, you were the outsider. You were the guy who was the fan of the group, who gets to join the group. In a way, it mirrored your situation being in the movie. You even told me three years ago, some of these people didn’t know who you were.
DF: Absolutely. This is a very nice way of saying “They have all been nominated or won an Academy Award, and who the fuck are you?” [laughs] Trust me, I’m of the same mind set. Again, I’m so happy to be part of this group. I don’t take that for granted, and what I love about every single actor in this movie, though, is that no one has an ego, and at no point did they treat me any differently. They always treated me as equal. It’s a cool thing to take a step back, to see the poster and see how many incredible actors there are on the poster and just realize what an opportunity I’ve had to work with these people.
Capone: I’ve got to imagine this was a little different vibe coming into it for you. If anything, Lizzy is the outsider.
DF: Absolutely. Lizzy is technically the new kid, and the good things about Lizzy though is she’s fearless. Within a day, she was already more integrated into the group than I was over the course of the entire first movie. Lizzy was the perfect person to incorporate into the group. because she’s really funny and she adds a good amount of humor to this movie. I give her a lot of credit for this movie being funnier than the first.
Capone: In terms of the whole film, what’s different about this one than the first one?
DF: Yeah, so most people when they’re making a sequel, they just make it bigger and crazier and use more special effects. There are elements of that in this movie. There are some bigger set pieces, like the one we were just talking about. That being said, it’s also slightly different while still maintaining its essence and tone, but the difference is, in the first movie the magicians are always in control, always one step ahead of the audience, and in this one, someone’s playing a trick on us, on the magicians, and we’re trying to find out who it is and trying how to regain control. So as opposed to the first movie, where you mainly see the magicians on stage and you see their confident on stage personas, in this one, you see them more behind the scenes, a little more vulnerable, and slightly more human.
Capone: I also like that in the beginning of that last sequence in London, you all start out doing your own version of street magic, going back to your roots, especially for your character.
Capone: In fact, you’re doing the ultimate street magic trick—
DF: Three-Card Monte!
Capone: I lived in New York. I got suckered by those a couple of times.
DF: We all have, right? How much money did you lose?
Capone: It was probably 80-100 bucks before I realized I was being conned.
DF: I remember, I lost 100 bucks. They win every single time. Yeah, you’re right. In the first movie, again, the whole movie is structured around these three giant performances in these stadium-type settings. In this one, yeah, it’s something new. You get to see us in the street interacting with a different kind of crowd. Again, it’s good to see something different as opposed to try and copy the first film again.
Capone: I will admit by the final, final reveal in that mansion, I was like “How many times is this going to fold over on itself?” Admit it, you didn’t really quite get it either.
DF: [laughs] The script is very complicated. There were times where we had to step aside from set and go over everything that happened in the movie up to that point and be like “What do I think during this scene? What do you think? Do you know that I know that you know?” Conversations like that.
Capone: Now that you’ve worked with these people a couple of times, were there particular actors that you hung out with more or watch and learn the most from just acting wise?
DF: I think the main takeaway from just watching all these incredible actors is just how loose they are and how they don’t take themselves too seriously. They obviously put in all the work and they want to do a good job. With that being said, they all remember that it’s supposed to be fun, which is something good for me. I need to remind myself of that sometimes, because I do put way too much pressure on myself. So I took that away from this movie, but none of them are the type who are going to sit there and try to preach about what I should be doing as an actor or try to tell me what to do. None of them have an ego. I hope that answers the question.
Capone: Yeah, yeah. I’m was just curious if there’s one person in particular that you watch and say “Look at him/her go.”
DF: You know what? Jesse Eisenberg. Every decision he makes an an actors is interesting and it’s unexpected. He has his own energy and his own rhythm. It’s very rare when you find an actor these days who is such an individual and who brings something that no one else can bring to the screen.
Capone: In just the three years since I’ve seen you last, you have established yourself firmly as a great comic actor in the NEIGHBORS movies and JUMP STREET films. Have you been considering making the move into more serious work that way Jonah Hill did?
DF: Absolutely, yeah. There’s a movie called NERVE that’s coming out at the end of the summer.
Capone: With Emma Roberts, right?
DF: Yeah, and I’m really, really excited about this movie. Should I give a brief synopsis?
Capone: Sure, let me know what you do in that.
DF: So, the movie is about an online game. It pops up in a city for 24 hours. It’s now in New York City, and you can pay to be a player or a watcher. If you’re a player, the watchers find information about you through your social media, whether it be Facebook, Instagram, or whatever, and they use that information against you to give you dares that you would not want to do. So if they find out you’re afraid of heights, they’ll give you a dare putting you at the top of a skyscraper. So as the movie progresses, the dares become more life threatening, and I’m telling you, these directors the guys who did the documentary CATFISH [Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman], they killed it. It’s one of these movies in the wrong hands, it’s another young-adult movie that’s slightly cheesy and schmaltzy and trying to hard. This one—and you know how hard I am on myself—they nailed the tone. It feels fresh. It’s not just for teenagers, and I can’t wait for people to see it.
Capone: One of my oldest friends since I’ve been doing this job is Greg Sestero.
DF: No way! Are you serious?
Capone: We’ve been talking about his book, “The Disaster Artist,” since before he started writing it.
DF: How did you guys connect in the first place?
Capone: It’s a long story about how THE ROOM entered my life, but it boils down to the fact that Tommy comes to Chicago pretty regularly, and eventually he started bringing Greg with him, and that’s how we got to know each other that way.
DF: Holy shit!
Capone: So I could have spent the entire hour talking about—well, now it’s not called THE DISASTER ARTIST. It’s THE MASTERPIECE. Why is it THE MASTERPIECE?
DF: So I think the main reason for the title change is because, if it’s called THE DISASTER ARTIST, you play into the idea that this movie is horrible. And I think when you call it THE MASTERPIECE, it helps the audience relate to the mindset of Tommy and Greg, who are making this project that they hope and think will potentially be the movie that makes them famous. What else you got?
Capone: I’ve been a little nervous, because I’m afraid you guys are going to make fun of the whole thing.
DF: No. It’s beautiful, man. I’m telling you. I just saw a rough cut, and it’s funny, but it’s not a full-on comedy. It’s definitely very grounded humor and treated very seriously. My brother, he kills it. He should win many awards for this role. I’m really proud of this role too. I’m so glad it turned out well, because I grew my hair out long, dyed it yellow, and parted it down the middle.
Capone: When are we going to see this? What’s the plan? Are you looking at Toronto?
DF: I think the idea is one of these festivals, either at the end of the year or early next year. But they already have had a few screenings. But I can’t wait for you to see it, man. For the people who not only know the movie and love the movie, but have read the book, I really think that you’re going to love it. I still can’t believe you’re tight with Greg Sestero. How good is that book? It’s so weird and funny, but strangely inspiring. That’s the tone that we want for the movie.
Capone: I also wanted ask about the other film that you did that your brother directed, ZEROVILLE, in which you play Montgomery Clift. I know someone else who’s making a Montgomery Clift biopic soon.
DF: I just heard about this.
Capone: I think Matt Bomer’s is playing him.
DF: Exactly, exactly. He’s going to be great.
Capone: Tell me about that movie.
DF: Yeah, so to be honest, I”m only in one scene.
Capone: I figured it was just like a bunch of little celebrity cameos.
DF: But it was really difficult because of how small my role is and because of who I’m playing. I’m playing this iconic actor, and I want do the role justice, so I spent weeks doing all this research and homework, trying to figure out his mannerisms and the way he talks and everything, for two minutes of screen time. I haven’t seen it yet, I hope it comes across well, because again, I have put a lot of work into this, but we’ll see.
Capone: Let me ask about NEIGHBORS 2 real quick. Almost every scene that you’re in, you’re playing it really serious. You’re the grownup version of the guy from the first one—you’re in a relationship, you’re trying to do an adult job. You’re almost making Zach look more ridiculous by being a grown up.
DF: Exactly. That’s the most dramatic role I’ve played [laughs].
Capone: You’re confronting him and saying, “Hey, you need to get your life together and grow up.”
DF: Exactly, exactly. When I’m doing comedy, my brand of humor is playing things as real as possible, putting me in a crazy scenario and playing things as real as possible, as opposed to these comic geniuses like Ike Barinholtz, who can just rattle off a million jokes a second. So when you give me a character that is a little more serious and is supposed to be the straight man opposite Efron’s crazy character who’s unwinding, it just ended up being this very dramatic arc in the movie, but it was fun for me. Again, I always like to mix it up, especially when you’re doing something where your character changes so much and you have something different to play.
Capone: Let me back up to THE MASTERPIECE again. Do you have a history with THE ROOM the way some people do, or was making this movie the beginning for you?
DF: Not really. I had seen clips before I first heard that my brother wanted to do something with it, but obviously when I signed on to it, I did as much research as I could, I sat down with Greg as much as I could, and just dove into that book and then I was sold.
Capone: I will say, you’re maybe not as towering as he is…[Sestero is 6 ft. 2 in. tall; Franco is 5 ft. 7 in.]
DF: No, no. Greg Sestero is about a head taller than me. It’s not something that takes you out of the movie, hopefully.
Capone: I know how excited Greg was to have Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber adapting his book.
DF: They’re incredible. It’s incredible that not only did we make this movie, someone allowed us to make this movie—you love it, people love it, but it’s a cult following. So not only did we make it, but we made it with some of the greatest screenwriters out there right now, and some of the greatest actors our there, and so again, we took it very seriously and we want the fanatics to walk away saying they had an amazing time.
Capone: It kind of has to happen that way. People love that book as much as they love the movie. You’ve also made a movie with Alison Brie [THE LITTLE HOURS, written and directed by Jeff Baena, who just made JOSHY], who starred with you in one of my favorite shorts of yours “Dream Girl.”
DF: Yeah. She’s also in THE MASTERPIECE.
Capone: She is? Everyone’s in THE MASTERPIECE. But you guys keep working together, which is awesome.
DF: Yes. It’s amazing.
Capone: Actually, I help program this film festival here in Chicago, and JOSHY was in that festival.
DF: How good is that movie?
Capone: I love that movie.
DF: So, same director. A lot of the same cast. So we first worked together on THE MASTERPIECE, and we played boyfriend and girlfriend, and I was really anxious going into it, because what if we didn’t have onscreen chemistry? Then that’s weird. And luckily, it was so easy and it was so fun working with her, and I hope to work on everything with her here on out. We have a good track record. What I love about this movie—let me talk about it real quick. Actually, I’m trying to think if I can talk about it. I’m sorry.
Capone: That opening sequence in JOSHY that ends up with her—I won’t say it—but it sets the tone for that movie, that it’s funny, but at any moment it could get really dark. Is that a vibe that’s in this new one?
DF: It’s not quite the same vibe, but what I love about Jeff the director is that he does take on these tones that are definitely off center. Our movie, THE LITTLE HOURS, it’s comedic but it’s like nothing you’ve really seen before. I can’t even compare it tonally to any other movie. Again, we were filming in Tuscany and it was—
Capone: It’s one of those movies. Travelogue film.
DF: [laughs] Regardless of how the movie turns out, and I do think it will be great, it’s going to look stunning. We were in these incredible castles. Literally, you point the camera in any direction, and it’s the most beautiful scenery you’ve ever seen.
Capone: You started out making all of these shorts for Funny or Die.
DF: That’s the reason I’m doing any of these movies. I swear to god.
Capone: Are you finding time to sneak those in every once in awhile?
DF: Hopefully, I’ll always be doing those on the side. But I’m telling you, when I was first starting out as an actor, I wanted to work on anything. You just want the experience, you want to just meet people, but after awhile you realize everything you’ve worked on is nothing you’re proud of, and I’d tell my family and friends, “Don’t go see this movie.” It got to me after awhile, so that’s when I started doing these videos for Funny or Die, where even though it’s on a much smaller scale, it at least felt true to who I was and to my sense of humor. I’m telling you, those videos have helped me more than anything else in my career.
Capone: They are so great.
DF: Exactly. Where else can make a short about a blumpkin and another one about how much I want to have sex with Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and those have paved the path of my career.
Capone: There you go. Alright, man. Thank you so much. It was good to see you again.