You’re as likely to have first encountered Dave Franco — yup, that’s James Franco’s younger brother — in his series of outrageously raunchy Funny or Die videos as his roles in films like Fright Night and Charlie St. Cloud, and TV shows like Scrubs and Greek. (In case you haven’t seen them, click here and here to watch the very NSFW videos.)
This week, Franco’s twin career paths converge at the SXSW Film Festival: 21 Jump Street, featuring Franco’s biggest film role to date, premieres Monday as at the Austin festival’s centerpiece film; and the night before, he will debut Would You, a comedy short penned by Franco and directed by Funny or Die pals Brian McGinn and Rod Blackhurst. The film is about two college buddies — Franco and real-life childhood friend Talia Tabin (Parks and Recreation) — who enter into a game of “would you rather” that starts to become true. It also features Franco’s buddy Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Franco’s mother Betsy. Though close-lipped about what specifically is in store, Franco promises Would You is just as outré as his previous shorts, even if that means placing his own mom in an apparently, er, delicate situation. Check out our interview below:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Congrats on your short film getting to SXSW. With 21 Jump Street as the centerpiece film there, you’re gonna have a pretty busy festival.
DAVE FRANCO: Yeah, it’s crazy. Worked out pretty perfectly.
How did you come to write this project?
My friends and I, who make the Funny or Die videos, we were sitting around, debating what our next project would be. We decided to make something with a little more substance, something that felt more like a short film rather than a skit. So I came up with the idea of two college friends who play of game of “would you rather” where their choices magically come true. So there’s a little bit of a fantasy element to it. Things get weirdly sexual and uncomfortable. But I think there’s still an overall feeling of sweetness that resonates. It’ll leave the viewer in limbo, questioning how they’re supposed to react to what they’ve just seen.
You know, your Funny and Die videos have been quite “weirdly sexual.” What about that particular avenue of creativity interests you?
It’s a good question. To be honest, when I make these things, I don’t think in my head, okay, I’m going to make this shocking sex video, you know? I’m just drawn to movies and projects that are original and whether or not you like them, it at least makes you feel something. And for some reason, these ideas that I’ve ended up adapting to short films happen to have sexual elements to them. I don’t know what I’m trying to say, but I guess it’s not it’s at, like, the forefront of my mind, thinking I’m going to make a sex video. I just happen to be dealing with that stuff, I guess.
So, your mother is in the film?
What role does she play?
She plays my mom. And when people see the short, they’re going to be slightly aghast at what I put her through for this one. But, for the record, I promise, she signed onto it. I did not force her to do it. [Gets louder] I will say, for the record, we do not do anything sexual with each other. [Laughing] But it’s still very bizarre, and probably shouldn’t have happened, but it did. And it’s pretty hilarious.
So when you wrote it, did you write it with her in mind?
[Laughing] Not necessarily. It’s a very uncomfortable scene, so I wanted it to be with a woman who I felt comfortable with. So I suggested my manager’s wife. And he’s like, “Well, let me think about that.” He got back to me the next day: “Well, how do you feel about me paying for your mother to fly down [to L.A.] to be a part of this, so my wife doesn’t have to?” So I was all about it.
After you premiere at SXSW, do you think this will end up on Funny or Die?
Yeah, I hope so. They’ve been so great to me over the years. If they’re willing to put it up, obviously that’s the first place I’ll go. With something like this, I want to get it out as much as possible. I’m especially proud of this project because my friends created it from within and built it from the ground up. Because of that, I feel like it’s not only an accurate representation of my sense of humor — as sick as it may be — but it just feels more rewarding because we did everything for it, you know?
This is a little bit of a tangent, but what I love about Judd Apatow’s movies is there’s strong, raunchy, in-your-face dialogue, but the films happens to look really great, too, which sets them apart from other comedies. He brings in these really intelligent guys from the indie world to helm his projects, like Greg Mottola with Superbad or David Gordon Green with Pineapple Express. The reason I bring this up is that I have a very twisted sense of humor. I write abrasive dialogue sometimes. But I’ve adopted Apatow’s method by bringing in these guys who have this indie sensibility, who make the graphic material beautiful to watch. Specifically my buddies Brian [McGinn] and Rod [Blackhurst], who directed this thing and I’ve worked with on the other Funny or Die [videos], they come from documentary filmmaking. They idolize filmmakers like Errol Morris and Werner Herzog and Wes Anderson. So they make these shorts look beautiful, and put them, I hope, on a different level.
For more on Dave Franco, 21 Jump Street, and what it’s like to be James Franco’s younger brother, check out Benjamin Svetkey’s story in this week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly, on stands March 9.