LOS ANGELES—“It’s been a blessing and a curse,” declared Dave Franco about being the brother of James Franco. In a recent interview, the youngest bro of James was asked how tough it was for him to be an actor, too. “At first, James helped me get a manager, which I don’t take for granted. It’s a big thing. But then, no one’s going to hire me just because I’m James’ little brother—I have to prove myself!”
The 27-year-old, who is in the cast of the thriller, “Now You See Me,” added, “In a weird way, it was almost harder for me at certain points…there’s like a magnifying glass on me, because of who my brother is. I was this young actor going to these auditions. I was falling on my face and embarrassing myself. But, people remember it, and they’re like, ‘This kid sucks!’ I had a deeper hole to dig myself out of. In the last two or three years, I made a conscious decision to try to distance myself from my brother, work-wise.”
“I love him to death,” Dave said of James, who is seven years older. “I respect him so much, but I want to carve my own path. I don’t want to be known as James Franco’s little brother for the rest of my life. I have since noticed a slight change. At least half the people I meet now know me as Dave, which is fine. I’m slowly getting to the point where I can be my own person.”
Dave grew up in Northern California with a liberal family steeped in academic and artistic interests. “It was a strange household,” admitted Dave, who is blessed with his brother’s good looks. “We have a weird, artsy family. We have another brother, Tom, who’s five years older than me, and two years younger than James. Tom is a crazy artist, as well. He does a little bit of everything, but his main thing is sculpture. My parents (Doug and Betsy Franco) were painting majors in college. My mom has been a writer for 40 years now. They encouraged us to get into the arts, which is very fortunate, because a lot of parents encourage kids to go down a path that’s safer overall.”
Dave elaborated on why he fondly calls his family “weird.” “It’s a very open family,” he said. “For example, it seems like every holiday season, we have new traditions. Like last year, I was hanging out with my friends down the block, and I came home. My family was in a circle in the living room. My mom decided that we were all going to perform a one-act play for no one other than ourselves. We paired up. I was paired with my grandma. Each pair would read a couple of pages then we would pass along the play. So, I was doing this sexually explicit scene, where I was telling her how much I want to have sex with her. It’s a good example of how open and weird we are.”
On what was it like to grow up with James and Tom, Dave shared, “They tortured me. It was pretty bad and not so bad—nothing horrible. Their main form of torture was to zip me up in a sleeping bag. I was locked in there, then they would tickle/torture me! You’re punching and trying to get out. They’re tickling you and you’re screaming, crying and have nowhere to go. And they happen to be the best ticklers in the world! Most brothers go through this.”
“When they left the house and went to college, that’s when we started getting along,” Dave volunteered. “Maybe it’s because we needed the space from each other, or I was getting older—and we could relate on more levels. At this point, we get along really well. But, even though they treat me as an adult now and see me as an equal, I still have that little-brother mentality where I’ll always feel like I still need to prove something to them.”
Last time James was updating us about his academic and artistic activities, we got exhausted just listening to him rattle off his hundred and one pursuits. Dave was asked about his own interests. “No one’s going to touch the amount of endeavors that James is going after,” he said. “I want to make my own films. I’ve been writing a lot longer than I’ve been acting. It started in high school. I took an independent study class where I was writing poetry. I would meet up with my favorite professor once a week and we would go over the poetry I had written that week.”
He continued, “I genuinely just love to write. When I started to get into acting, that’s when I started writing screenplays. I made these short films for funnyordie.com. My friend, who I grew up with, and I do everything—I write and act in them. We both direct and edit them. I can’t tell you how much those videos have helped me get to where I am now.” Indeed, his “Funny or Die” videos were popular draws on the Internet comedy site. Dave’s other credits include parts in “Scrubs,” “Charlie St. Cloud,” “Superbad,” “Fright Night,” “21 Jump Street” and “Warm Bodies.”
In director Louis Leterrier’s “Now You See Me,” Dave plays a bank-robbing magician, alongside Morgan Freeman, Mark Ruffalo, Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Michael Caine and Isla Fisher.
“It’s a pretty fun job,” he said. “On the first day of rehearsals for this movie, for example, I’m locked in a room. They give me a stack of playing cards. They prop up a banana, and they say, ‘Just try to throw cards at it. Try to cut the banana in half.’ I was sitting there for three hours, trying to cut a banana in half. You step back, and you’re like, pretty silly thing to do, but this is part of my job, and it could be a lot worse. I could be sitting behind a desk crunching numbers.”
Instead, Dave, who loves sports, gets to kick ass in fight scenes. He said, “To be able to use some of those skills in acting, to get physical and to kick Mark Ruffalo’s ass, is a fun job. Obviously, there are hard parts about it, too, with the long hours and being away from your loved ones.”
Dave claimed that when he was growing up, he did not plan to follow in James’ footsteps. “I had no intention of doing any of this,” he admitted. “I was a shy kid growing up. I eventually moved to LA to go to school at USC. My brother’s manager pushed me into an acting class. I watched the first people onstage. They started screaming, crying and hitting each other. I remember thinking, I don’t want to be part of this! But, I don’t know why I stuck it out.
“To put it in a very cheesy way, it brought me out of my shell. It was like nothing I’d ever done. I’d never been that vulnerable in front of strangers before. I can’t say that I loved it at first, or even for a long time, because I was so nervous every time I was going to class or an audition. It took years for me to finally realize that this is supposed to be fun—that I should just try to relax, let some of my real personality come through and stop trying to force things.”
“It’s been a crazy journey,” Dave said of his adventure in Hollywood, which began with his TV debut in “7th Heaven” at age 21. “But, I feel very fortunate that not only am I working at all, but that I’m able to work on movies that I also believe in. I can’t be the choosiest person in the world, but I’ve been trying to be patient and wait for projects that I am really passionate about. In the meantime, I make my own films. So, I’m happy to do my own projects until these scripts that I am really passionate about come along my way.”
Dave is now filming the comedy, “Townies,” with Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Lisa Kudrow and Christopher Mintz-Plasse, his frequent “Funny or Die” collaborator.
Not surprisingly, Dave, with his writing and directing credits, hopes to be more active behind cameras. He said, “I don’t want to act forever even if I have the opportunity, and even if I’m lucky enough. I can’t imagine being 70 or 80 years old and still be fighting for roles. I want to be involved with movies for the rest of my life but I want to be behind the camera—and a bit more out of the spotlight!”
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