Interview By: Rocco Passafuime
For any actor, regardless of their level of talent, the balance between acclaim and success is often a tricky tightrope to walk. One such actor to brave such time-honored territory is James Franco.
Franco started his career on the short-lived TV cult hit Freaks & Geeks, before venturing out into critically acclaimed films such as Tristan & Isolde, Annapolis, and City By The Sea. But his profile heightened considerably with his role as Harry Osborn in the Spider-Man films.
Now James hopes to break out into the realm of comedy. He reunites with Freaks & Geeks collaborators Seth Rogen and producer Judd Apatow in the new comedy Pineapple Express.
The now 30 year-old actor plays Saul Silver, a stoned marijuana dealer who must now go on the run with one of his clients after the latter witnesses a crooked police officer commit murder. He first discussed with us how Seth Rogen, who co-writes the film with partner Evan Goldberg, who both did the megahit Superbad, managed to convince a Hollywood studio to invest in such an unusual film.
“They pretty much had wanted a Superbad sequel while that was being filmed,” James recalls, “They [only] had one note, ‘no blood on the face’, for some reason.”
Franco also adds that he was thrilled at the prospect of working once again with Rogen and Apatow after having done a cameo in Knocked Up.
“I was dying to get Seth for Annapolis,” he claims.
Considering the odd coincidence that Franco and Rogen’s characters in both Freaks & Geeks and now Pineapple Express are both potheads, we asked him whether he felt Dale and Saul were grown-up versions of their Freaks & Geeks characters.
“Not really,” James says, “I mean, I’d say all those characters smoked weed, but that’s about the only similarity.”
Another thing about working with Rogen and Apatow again that was exciting, James says, was the amount of improvisation they bring to their films.
“The original script
Considering he’s known more for his cocktail drinking in the Spider-Man than his pot smoking, we asked whether James felt he had less experience with being in the shoes of a pothead than his co-star.
“Well, I certainly smoked my fair share when I was younger I don’t know,” Franco says, “It’s just not a part of my life, but I met a lot of pot dealers before we did the movie and even hired one on the crew. It was a particularly good model if I ever needed a list of different silly pot names or anything like that. I could go to that and he had a list of names right at his fingertips.”
Despite the possible media perception that Franco is at a point in his career where the risk could be run of having his success in the Spider-Man films, he says he felt little self-consciousness in the transition from a brooding young millionaire to a pothead.
“No, I was pretty much not thinking of Spider-Man for once in my life,” he says, “I was actually thinking Ryu from the Street Fighter games. I think doing this movie was actually a great experience for me. The Spider-Man movies aside, I was really unhappy with a lot of movies I done and this was a
One of the unusual aspects of Pineapple Express is how it combines the stoner and action subgenre. James says that he was ready for anything after having elaborately flown on a glider as the Hobgoblin in the last Spider-Man film, when he learned the actors all had to do their own stunts for this film.
“Well, I knew the budget on this,” he explains, “It was like the most expensive pot movie ever made, but the cheapest action movie ever made. The budget was probably like a day’s work on Spider-Man. So what that translated to was doing the action scenes in a very short amount of time and the actors doing their own stunts, which was done for comedic reasons. We are not as skilled at fighting as stuntmen and all that, so I think when we fight, it looks more awkward, but it also a meant a lot more injuries.”
“I just knew that going in that Seth has never really done an action movie and thinks it was really cool,” James adds, “It’s just the concept that when [Seth] actually, when he writes a scene where he runs or he’s fighting for a whole scene, that actually means days and days of doing it. Seth kind of took to that pretty well. We did a lot of the hand-hand action scenes before the guns and we all got hurt doing it. I anticipated some injuries and there were some that I busted my head open and Seth sprained his finger and Danny [McBride] busted his head open.”
James espouses plenty of praise for co-star Danny McBride, who plays Saul’s dealer Red in the film after an impressive turn in the indie comedy The
“Even then, a lot of Danny’s movies hadn’t come out,” Franco says, “I’d seen like The Foot Fist Way and [director] David [Gordon Green]‘s movie All The Real Girls, but that’s probably the most fun I had, working with Danny.”
However, Franco says there were moments where Danny McBride’s enjoyment on set became distracting.
“David Gordon Green had to leave the set because he was laughing so much and ruining all the takes,” James recalls.
With the stoner comedy, traditionally considered a low-rent exploitation venue, becoming more ambitious with films like Half Baked and the Harold And Kumar movies, we asked James whether he felt Pineapple Express was poised to continuing the ever-ongoing dialogue on the legalization of marijuana in the U.S.
“It’s opening the door,” Franco believes.
Franco also believes that what makes Pineapple Express work so well, not only as a stoner or an action flick, but as a comedy, is that it does not impart any strong moral judgment on the viewer.
“It’s not like my character is the best role model,” he notes, “We felt it would be phony at the end, too. There was a version like that and I don’t think it would have been believable at the end we were like we really shouldn’t smoke weed anymore. It would be like reading Spider-Man comics and saying, if you read comic books, you’re a fucking nerd.”
One thing is certain, James Franco is an actor poised to continue onto greatness regardless if he plays a comic book villain or a pot dealer. His next role is as Scott Smith in Milk, which tells the life story of San Francisco city supervisor and gay civil rights activist Harvey Milk, played by Sean Penn.
“We finished it. It was a great experience,” Franco says, “Gus Van Zant and Sean Penn are two of my heroes and to work with them was incredible. I tell people if you like Pineapple, you’ll