There are downsides to being James Franco’s little brother. You have to root for the Green Goblin. Family rock-climbing vacations are always a drag. And you will probably never be invited to host the Oscars. But there are upsides, too: For one thing, you get to look a lot like James Franco. Also, presumably, you get the same genes responsible for awesome acting talent.
”People expect me to be this great actor,” says 26-year-old Dave Franco as he sips a cup of tea at a hipster-filled café a few blocks from his apartment in Hollywood. ”When I first came here from Palo Alto to be an actor, I was just like any other kid. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. But because of my last name, people paid more attention to me. They expected more from me. They assumed I would succeed in this crazy business.”
It appears they assumed correctly. On March 16, Franco stars opposite Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill in the R-rated tongue-in-cheek big-screen reboot of 21 Jump Street, the 1980s cops-in-high-school TV series that made Johnny Depp a star. Franco plays a politically correct, tree-hugging drug dealer, and it’s a more high-profile role than any of his previous work in movies (like last summer’s Fright Night) or on TV (like his 2009-10 guest-starring arc on Scrubs). For lots of people in the audience, 21 Jump Street will be the first time they see Franco’s incredibly familiar-looking face — unless they happen to be fans of Funny or Die, where last year the Franco brothers posted a series of hysterical clips of James giving Dave over-the-top acting lessons. That’s where Christopher Miller and Phil Lord, the codirectors of 21 Jump Street, first spotted him. ”There was something about Davey in those pieces he did with James that we wanted to bring to the character in our movie,” says Miller. ”There’s just something about being a younger brother — a vulnerability and a sweetness — that makes Dave really, really likable.”
Jump Street is only the beginning for Franco. He already has two other big projects lined up. He’s costarring with Nicholas Hoult and Teresa Palmer in a zombie love story called Warm Bodies, scheduled for release next year, and he has nearly finished shooting Now You See Me (with Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, and Woody Harrelson), an action-heavy heist film about a group of magicians who use their bag of tricks to pull off bank robberies. ”The last two weeks I’ve been doing this huge fight sequence with Mark Ruffalo in which we’re literally kicking the crap out of each other — my whole body is bruised,” Franco says, beaming.
Of course, being a Franco, he won’t stop at just acting. At SXSW this month, he’ll be premiering a short film called Would You that he wrote and shot with some pals. ”It’s about a bunch of friends playing the ‘would you rather’ game but all their choices end up magically coming true,” he explains. ”It becomes weirdly sexual and bizarre. My mom is in it, playing my mother. Once people see it, they’re going to be creeped out by what I made my mother do.” Seems like the kind of thing that would make his big brother proud.