By Nina Terrero
Updated March 08, 2014 at 04:56 PM EST
Theo Wargo/WireImage


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James Franco seems to have hit a rare stride in life — that is, he’s found happiness. That’s right: The laid-back thespian who epitomizes an off-beat brand of Hollywood cool has settled into a stage where life is “good.”

It’s not exactly what one might have expected from the characteristically aloof Northern California native, but Franco shared plenty of surprises at a TimesTalks event on March 7 in New York City, offering insight on everything from life, film, and even academia. Taking the stage to discuss Of Mice and Men — Franco’s Broadway debut — with co-star Chris O’Dowd, the 35-year-old actor dropped a few interesting and laugh-out-loud gems worth sharing.

On the effect quirky stoner comedy Pineapple Express had on his career — and life

“It’s weird to think that Pineapple Express changed my life, but it did,” Franco said of the 2008 film. The actor admitted that at that point, he had filmed a number of dramatic films that he “just hated.” Feeling dissatisfied with the direction his career was headed, Franco dove into comedy with Pineapple Express, and he hasn’t looked back since. Good for him, we say — and even better for us fans.

On the difference between film and Broadway

“Words,” Franco says, are the biggest difference when comparing theater with film. On camera, it’s up to the actor to use behavior to convey character; on stage, the actor uses words to define character, explained the Spring Breakers star.

“Especially in an established play like this where nothing is changing,” Franco said, “you have to make sense of it. … And the character can form to that.” Deep, Franco, real deep.

On his lack of stage fright

What nerves? Franco said he’s not feeling the pressure when it comes to making his highly anticipated Broadway debut in author John Steinbeck’s iconic masterwork. Unlike co-star O’Dowd – who admitted he’s not above the possibility of an anxiety-induced nightmare or two – Franco said he’s picked up a special trick that allows him to dismiss any expectations that may be placed on his performance.

“I think the way I developed a thick skin as a performer or taught myself to handle situations like this is just to have faith in the project,” explained Franco. “When I sign on to a project like this, I’m going to make damn sure I’m working with great people. And I think Anna Shapiro is the best director of theater around.”

On his busy – make that really busy – schedule

Franco – who is currently in rehearsals for Of Mice and Men Tuesdays through Sundays – flies to California every Sunday night in order to assume the responsibilities of a classroom teacher. That’s right: The PhD candidate teaches screenwriting and filmmaking classes to eager students at USC and UCLA every Monday. But Franco seems to take his rigorous schedule in stride, explaining simply, “I really like the academic environment.” Plus, there’s that total happy thing he’s got going on. (Think he listens to that Pharrell song?)

“It sounds a little cheesy, but I teach because it is a way to give back,” explained Franco. “I have a lot … I have a good life. I’m really satisfied. I want to help spread the love, I guess. I’m happy – I’m really happy.”

Episode Recaps

Check out the complete video of Franco and O’Dowd in conversation with New York Times reporter Melena Ryzik here.


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