James Franco, Chris O'Dowd Pair Up on Stage in 'Of Mice and Men'

James Franco and Chris O'Dowd
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd
 AP Images

NEW YORK – James Franco and Chris O’Dowd will take their first Broadway bows this season in a new production directed by Anna D. Shapiro of the American classic Of Mice and Men, adapted by John Steinbeck from his 1937 novella.

Franco will play George, the uneducated but quick-witted friend and protector of simple-minded Lennie (the role taken by O'Dowd), a gentle soul unaware of his own strength, in the tragic story of two itinerant workers seeking new opportunities in Depression-era California.

The iconic drama was last presented on Broadway almost 40 years ago in 1974, with Kevin Conway as George and James Earl Jones as Lennie. It was adapted for the screen in 1939, with Burgess Meredith and Lon Chaney Jr., and in 1992 with Gary Sinise and John Malkovich.

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The revival begins previews March 19 at the Longacre Theatre, with official opening scheduled for April 16. Complete casting will be announced in the coming weeks.

Multihyphenate Franco has been sniffing around a possible Broadway project for some time, and at one point was set to star with Nicole Kidman in Tennessee WilliamsSweet Bird of Youth. However, Franco dropped out of that production, which ultimately failed to come together.

Franco’s recent screen credits include Oz the Great and Powerful, This Is the End, Homefront and Paul Haggis’ Third Person. He appears in Gia Coppola’s directing debut, Palo Alto, which was adapted from Franco’s short stories. He also recently directed screen adaptations of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and Cormac McCarthy’s Child of God, and is at various stages of production on a film version of Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury and Bukowski, about the formative years of author Charles Bukowski.

Since his U.S. screen breakthrough role in Bridesmaids, O’Dowd has been seen in the film The Sapphires and in the HBO series Girls and Family Tree. His stage work includes the acclaimed Druid production in his native Ireland of J.M. Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World, and David Eldridge’s Under the Blue Sky in London.

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Shapiro’s previous Broadway directing credits include Stephen Adly GuirgisThe Motherf***er With the Hat and Tracy LettsAugust: Osage County, which won her a Tony Award in 2008. She currently is represented Off Broadway with her staging of Bruce NorrisDomesticated, starring Jeff Goldblum and Laurie Metcalf.

David Binder is producing Of Mice and Men with Kate Lear, Darren Bagert, Adam Zotovich, Barbara Whitman and Latitude Link. Executive producer is 101 Productions. Binder also is lead producer on another upcoming Broadway entry, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, starring Neil Patrick Harris, which opens April 22 at the Belasco Theatre.

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