The actor talks about sharing his insider ''Spider-Man'' knowledge with little brother Dave in the latest installment of his Funny or Die Web series, his place in the Judd Apatow crew, and what it was like kissing Sean Penn in ''Milk''
James Franco (Spider-Man) and younger brother Dave (he of the 10-second Superbad cameo) have teamed up for a series of Web videos on FunnyOrDie.com, where they put on display their special brand of brotherhood. Dubbed ”Acting With James Franco” and taped in the Los Angeles apartment they share, the clips feature a cheerfully preening and impatient James doling out pearls of thespian wisdom to an uncomfortable and unconvinced Dave. In the first installment, which claims to have attracted over 120,000 views since going up last month, James teaches the art of crying on camera through the anguished sense memory of his childhood cat’s sudden death. The second video, which debuted yesterday, sees James giving a practical lesson on the intricacies of greenscreen acting in a multibillion-dollar-grossing comic-book trilogy.
When he’s not giving his brother a hard time on the Web, James Franco has been busy with roles in two highly anticipated movies: Pineapple Express and Milk. Last week, EW.com spoke to the siblings about the Funny or Die videos, their upcoming projects, and their place in the vaunted Judd Apatow network.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did the idea for the Web series come about?
JAMES FRANCO: Basically, it’s real. I’ve been working a little bit, but not as much as usual. Spider-Man might be over, so I thought I’d see if I can impart some of the wisdom I’ve learned over the years.
DAVE: James’ original idea was for us to do a reenactment from Spider-Man where we do the upside-down kiss, but I wasn’t about that.
JAMES: Well one of the lessons he has to learn is that as an actor you just got to go for it. And he just has not learned that lesson.
DAVE: You know, he’s not the greatest teacher, so…
JAMES: I beg to differ. Lots of people went to see that Spidey thing. [In the new Funny or Die episode,] I do impart some secrets about greenscreen acting, and I don’t think there are many schools around that are teaching that. Besides the fact that how many people in the world acted in front of a greenscreen on a Goblin Glider? I would say maybe one other person: Willem Dafoe. So the stuff that I’m teaching in these segments is very unique and privileged.
Have you guys ever worked together before? Two-man play in the living room?
JAMES: We did a play, actually.
DAVE: The A–hole, which he wrote. He put all our best friends in it and it was pretty much an excuse to bring all our insecurities out and rip on us for two hours.
JAMES: I guess he’s kind of reading into that, because it wasn’t supposed to have anything to do with any of the actors in it.
DAVE: My name was Dave in the play.
In the first video, James, you’re teaching Dave how to Method-act and cry on camera by channeling the pain of your cat’s death. Do you actually use sense memory in your acting? And if so, do you think about your poor cat?
JAMES: Certainly. Pets have proven to be a very accessible source of emotion, and I use my cat all the time. That was a very traumatic experience. By the way, you can see a little shot at the end of the segment where Davey and I are holding my current cats, Harry and Arturo.
I’m glad the cat thing works for you, because crying on camera isn’t easy. Jack McBrayer, who plays Kenneth the Page on 30 Rock, joked that Alec Baldwin squeezes his testicles. So, you know, Dave, if all else fails…
JAMES: Davey was trying that. But he wouldn’t do it hard enough, so I had to show him. He cried but they didn’t put that [in the video].
James, your relationship with those Apatow guys goes back to Freaks and Greeks in 1999. Your new movie, Pineapple Express, which Apatow produced and Seth Rogen cowrote and costars in, comes out this summer. Almost 10 years later, what’s changed?
JAMES: The main thing that really changed is it went from television to film. There’s so much more freedom in film as far as subject matter and what can be said. And then, also, the process is different because there’s more time, and so Judd has developed this way of making movies into a very improvisational process. He didn’t direct this, but he allowed David [Gordon Green] to just let us rip for long periods of time. I’d never done anything like that. And I know just on Knocked Up they shot over a million feet of film just because of all the improvisation. We didn’t really have that on Freaks and Geeks just because we didn’t have the time — we had to get the episodes out. On movies there’s just so much freedom and space to explore in front of the camera.
Apatow is well-known for encouraging his guys to write their own scripts — there’s been Rogen with Superbad, and Jason Segel with Forgetting Sarah Marshall. James, I know you’ve written and directed some films with smaller budgets, but are either of you guys working on more mainstream screenplays that you might work with Judd on?
JAMES: We have a script that Davey and I worked on. We developed it, and then Davey finished it. He’s at USC, although he has not finished yet. He’s in his fifth year.
DAVE: Someone here’s almost 30 and he hasn’t finished [college] yet.
JAMES: I will be finishing and going to New York for grad school next year. I don’t know if Davey will be. And by the way, the accumulated years I’ve spent in school have been less than four years, and he’s had over five years.
Tell me a little about this script you’re working on…
JAMES: [Dave] finished the script and I think it is up Apatow Alley, and we’ll see what happens.
What’s it about?
DAVE: We took a lot from some ’80s movies like Stand by Me, The Goonies, those kinds of films. It’s just a couple young kids going on a journey, kind of a coming-of-age story. But a lot raunchier and a lot more R-rated!
Are you guys going to act in it as well?
DAVE: I think there’d be small parts for both of us. But the central characters are all 11 or 12 years old.
NEXT: ”I know the two main questions I’m going to be asked in the next year are ‘How much pot did you smoke?’ and ‘What was it like to kiss Sean Penn?”’