James Franco Working on Superhero Project

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James Franco

The actor-director talks about that and meeting 'The Room's' Tommy Wiseau.

James Franco confirmed that he’s developing a superhero project, to which he’s attached as producer and actor. Franco did not name the character he’ll play, but there have been previous reports that Fox has been working on a Marvel Comics movie based on Multiple Man.

“I do have a superhero that I am developing,” said Franco. “I don't know how much I can say. But I will say I am producing and performing in it. It's early stages. I think probably what I can say is, like anything, there's a need to develop more.”

Noting that he’s “developing all kinds of movies” through Ramona Films, the company he created with his brother, actor Dave Franco, he added: “Our bottom line MO is, how can we push this into new ground? A little bit, but still make it entertaining? [But] what I love about what Simon Kinberg and Fox and the X-Men people have done with Deadpool and Logan — it took a while to get there, maybe 10 years — but they are going to go hard R. And we're going to take this superhero thing and really just push it into a new genre. So we’re working with Simon Kinberg on an X-Men property.”

Franco, who’s drawing kudos for his new movie The Disaster Artist, about actor-writer-director Tommy Wiseau and the making of The Room, often considered the worst picture ever made, spoke in November at Loyola Marymount University’s School of Film and TV, where he took part in the ongoing interview series The Hollywood Masters.

He recalled his early dealings with the eccentric Wiseau. “I talked to him first on the phone,” he said, explaining that “I had to get his life rights. And I was a little worried. He wasn’t very good at listening. I knew I wanted to play the part, and my brother play the other part. But I didn’t know how Tommy would feel about that. And then finally, he’s just like [imitating him], ‘So who play me?’ And I didn’t want to say me, in case he didn’t like that idea. I didn’t have the contract yet. And I was like, ‘I don’t know, Tommy, who do you think?’ And he’s like, 'Well, how about Johnny Depp?’”

Franco, who said he “hit a wall” creatively not long ago, also said he’s cut back on the sheer quantity of projects he takes on. “Here's the lesson that I had been told so many times: be present. Be present. Be present. And I’d think, why be present? Why? So I can look at the trees and enjoy the trees? I achieved everything I dreamed about. I had played roles I was proud of. I had directed movies I was proud of. And it was like, ‘Oh wait, I'm still working as hard as ever. And not only that, I'm doubling down, I'm doing 5 billion projects. When is this ever going to stop?’ And then you realize that's the wall — just the revelation, no, you have a great job. But if you use it to fill that hole, it's never going to fill it, ever. I needed to step back and reestablish my relationship with my professional life.”

A transcript follows.

STEPHEN GALLOWAY: How are you? Who are you? (Laughs.)

JAMES FRANCO: Good question. I don't know. You know, I remember thinking around the time, you know, about 10 years ago when I started getting into sort of everything, I guess, that there had been a point in my life when I wasn't an actor. I was just a teenager growing up in Palo Alto, California, who loved movies. Up until I was about 17, I knew I wanted to act. I knew there was something about film and performance and that kind of storytelling that I was just drawn to. But it was very — I was just scared, you know, scared of trying it. That I might fail or might embarrass myself. It was just fear, you know, of trying it. And then once I did it, realized, 'Oh, this is it.' You get that whatever your interest is when you find that, you just can't get enough of it. That's sort of what it was for me when I started acting. But for years there was always the question, what are you? And it felt weird to say, an actor. I had to put it on my passport, like, what's your profession? It felt weird to write actor for a long while. Until the world just thinks of you as an actor, and I sort of felt that way 10 years ago, where it was like 'yeah'. There was a point when I wasn't an actor, and I just worked really hard at it, and then oh yeah, I was an actor. So, why not just apply that to these other things? Now, granted, maybe I applied it to many things at one time, but — so I don't know that's all to say I don't know what I am.

GALLOWAY: If you had to choose one of those things, which would it be? Because you've been working on a Ph.D. You've written short stories before...

FRANCO: It does seem like the past seven to 10 years, if you looked at it from the outside, it seems like chaos, like, what is this dude doing?

GALLOWAY: No, it is chaos.

FRANCO: Like he's doing movies and soap operas and everything, going to teaching and everything else. It did seem like there was -in my head it felt like there was a connection. That I was following my interest, and that as weird and as disparate as a lot of those pursuits might have seemed from the outside, that even doing something like going on General Hospital and exploring that world and then that turning into a meta thing, actually didn't seem that different than doing something like the Disaster Artist, where again, where exploring the making of a film that is called the best worst film ever made. And doing it as a way to sort of, you know, it's a comedy, but underneath that, it's also a very earnest and serious way to study the artistic process. And so, as crazy as all my activities might have seemed, it at least felt like there was some sort of underlying connective tissue...

GALLOWAY: You said earlier this year you felt you had hit a wall.

FRANCO: Yeah. You did your research.

GALLOWAY: Thank you.

FRANCO: Well, I hit a wall personally, meaning, you go through phases, you know? There was another wall or another transition period 10 years ago, when I went back to UCLA, and then went on to graduate schools and all that. That was the result or fix for an earlier wall or just transition period. And I think my guess is, everybody goes through it. I mean, there's certain names for it. I can't believe that I could possibly be at my midlife crisis, but I am 39, I feel like...

GALLOWAY: That's young for a midlife crisis.

FRANCO: I just hope that I've gone through it now, that I don't have to go through it again, because it can be hard.

GALLOWAY: What triggered it?

FRANCO: Here's what it is. When you're young and you're a creative person, you hear from a lot of people, not everyone, but a lot of people, like, oh I won't live past 30. Maybe it was the earlier era, but like, you know, I'll be-it's sort of the James Dean, sort of rock star kind of approach to it. Like I'll just go all in, and go out in a blaze of glory kind of thing. Not that I had a death wish or anything like that, but it was like, I'll just go all in now, and it doesn't matter, you know, when I am older it doesn't matter. Well I am 14 years past when James Dean died, you know what I mean?

GALLOWAY: He was that young?

FRANCO: It's like, time to grow up, you know, time to get rid of that James Dean stuff, even though someone like Tommy Wiseau [the real-life character Franco plays in Disaster Artist], he is what happens when you don't get past your James Dean phase. He actually thinks he is James Dean, I think. He directly quotes Rebel Without a Cause in his movie, you know. “You're tearing me apart, Lisa.”.

GALLOWAY: By the way, is he still alive?

FRANCO: Tommy? Oh yeah. I would be surprised if he's not in here somewhere. Actually, LMU boasts the composer of the music of [Wiseau’s film] The Room. I just met him, he was a great guy.

GALLOWAY: I don't know if you want that on your list of credits.

FRANCO: I relate to him. He says he gets asked about that more than probably anything. And usually, if I come and do something like this, and we are talking about outside, I'll get asked about like Pineapple Express or something like that, but you don't get to choose. You don't get to choose what people respond to.

GALLOWAY: What would you like them to respond them to most? If you chose one thing you have been involved with?

FRANCO: I'm really proud of The Disaster Artist, I'm glad we are talking about that.

GALLOWAY: With good reason. What other thing?

FRANCO: Well for a long time I would have said some of the movies that I had made right after I got out of film school at NYU. I made a Cormac McCarthy film called Child of God. Incredibly dark film about a very box-office friendly topic: a murdering necrophiliac who lives out in the woods. Inspired by Ed Gein, who actually also inspired Psycho.

GALLOWAY: Oh wow.

FRANCO: Texas Chainsaw Massacre. And of my early films that I directed, I was really happy with that. I got an incredible performance out of a friend of mine, Scott Haze, who is now doing the new Venom film, he is a villain in that. And it just, for me — and working with Cormac's work and he is one of my favorite writers ever. And so that was sort of like the new phase of my career. I had been an actor, I had directed some things up to that point before going to film school, and then one of the developments after film school is like, oh, I've got enough, I don't know, confidence that I can begin to approach people that I really respect and approach some of my heroes. And that was — and I don't have to sort of hide anymore. I was really sort of shy about my directing before that. And one of the lessons that I really learned, both on Child of God and then in a new on the Disaster Artist was that film and television are collaborative mediums, you know? And I think it's one of the lessons that Tommy Wiseau — God bless him — didn't learn. Like I wrote a little piece about the Disaster Artist when I first read the book. Long before I even had the rights to the book. And I said, Tommy Wiseau c’est moi. Because he is a dreamer. Like we all are, and I assume most of the people in here are, you know, have dreams of making films, and …

GALLOWAY: I hope so.

FRANCO: Or performing in them, or writing them. We are all Tommy in that sense, and it's hard, it can be a daunting business, and...

GALLOWAY: What's been the dream that most disappointed you, the one that turned into a nightmare?

FRANCO: Oh. (Laughs.) There's a lot of them.

GALLOWAY: I am kind of shocked to hear that, because when you look at what you have done, there's so much. Any artist is allowed to fail, right? That's part of the process.

FRANCO: True. True.

GALLOWAY: But what's the one that you felt, oh God?

FRANCO: Well let me just finish what I was going to say, and I'll answer your question. Anyway, Tommy had heard no all his life. And so he thought the only way I'm going to get anything made is if I do it on my own, right? And you can't blame him for that, but then once he got on the set of that movie, and here he is, making his movie, he continued with that mindset. And so he just didn't listen to anyone. His further strange, ironic success slash ironic tragedy is that he didn't make the movie that he wanted to make, he wrote on the original poster, Tennessee Williams-level drama. So that says, you know, what he was aiming for. It turned out everybody loved it, because they could laugh at it. And then he was able to, to his credit, sort of embrace that. And still keep Tennessee Williams level drama on the poster, he just added an enjoyable black comedy. It's both I guess, now. And he will even say about The Room, "The Room is safe place," you know? "You can laugh, cry, do whatever you like, just don't hurt yourself." So he's embraced that he did it on purpose, that people can laugh at it. But I feel like, he didn't really get a chance to learn his lesson. One of the things you get from hitting a wall, or from painful experiences, is that you get to learn. If you are smart, you get to learn from those lessons. He went and did this thing. It didn't turn out like he wanted, but then, he doesn't get to quite understand. I love Tommy, but he's stuck in a Room vortex. Because he made this thing that's still playing 14 years later.

GALLOWAY: Everyone here knew that film.

FRANCO: My guess is there's a lot of Room fans in here.

GALLOWAY: So, what was the nightmare that you learned from?

FRANCO: It’s a cumulative thing, where when something feels good, or something seems to work, you just want to do more of that. Maybe that's just my nature, maybe that’s everybody, and then I take that and times it by a thousand. But, when I was doing all that activity, I had had these great experiences. I get to direct a Cormac McCarthy adaptation, that feels great. And who cares if it's not exactly commercial? That just felt good. So I want to do more of that. Instead of thinking with more of a collaborative mind. Like one of the jokes that Jonah Hill made when I did a roast for Comedy Central, was like, “James, the old adage is, one for them, one for you. James, you do none for them and seven for you.”

GALLOWAY: I think I read somewhere that you'd actually said five for them, one for me. But really it's the opposite.

FRANCO: I did the opposite.

GALLOWAY: Yeah.

FRANCO: Fortunately, the one for them was also these movies that I love. I got to do these movies with Seth Rogan and they were studio films and very successful, and incredibly fun and just as artistically satisfying in their own way, but I just went overboard. I did so many, and that was the wall, and maybe that worked for a while. I mean, part of that thinking was the early formula. When I started out as an actor, it was like OK, I want to do this, so who's to say that there's any limit to how hard I work at this? Like, why don't I just devote every single minute of the day and night to working on my acting? And it kind of paid off. Three years after high school, I was on Freaks and Geeks.

GALLOWAY: Yeah.

FRANCO: And it was like, oh, that formula works, so why don't you just do that with everything? I just had to enter a new phase: still work really hard, but now adjust the way that you are working, and do fewer things.

GALLOWAY: Do you have a private life?

FRANCO: Now I do, I didn't for...

GALLOWAY: And what do you do then? Do you read? What's your average day when you are not shooting?

FRANCO: Multiple grad schools and then all you do is work and read. That was my life.

GALLOWAY: Wow.

FRANCO: Work and read, yeah. Exciting, right? (Laughter.) 

GALLOWAY: Well that's actually my life. I kind of like it.

FRANCO: Sorry. I mean, I obviously love books. I went to school for a degree in literature.

GALLOWAY: And you were taught by Steve Jobs' sister?

FRANCO: That was at UCLA, yeah. Mona Simpson. I have a lot of strange weird connections to Steve Jobs.

GALLOWAY: What else?

FRANCO: I grew up literally six blocks away from him. I would ride my bike past that weird gingerbread-looking house all the time. And then Lisa, who is featured in the Danny Boyle film [Steve Jobs] — she wasn't in his life, as the movie shows, until she was in high school. They sort of skip over the chapter when I knew her. That movie sort of hands the story off to me for my own experience. So I'll fill in the blanks. She went to Palo Alto High School, and we were on the paper together. She was the editor, I was just sort of a weird staff writer that was not very focused. I knew journalism maybe wasn't quite my thing. So I did stories on — I remember I did one on circus freaks.

GALLOWAY: That's so interesting. Did you meet any?

FRANCO: No, I didn't.

GALLOWAY: Just read.

FRANCO: Zero research. (Laughter.) I was not as good as you.

GALLOWAY: But I know you've researched some roles. What show was it you did where you went to Baltimore to somebody's high school?

FRANCO: Freaks and Geeks. That was when it was acting, and then it was like, oh this is my thing. Everybody else was like, this is fun. Wow, we get to do this awesome show with great writing, and I was like the kid that was like, oh, Paul Feig went to you know high school just outside of Detroit, I'd better go visit that high school. So I actually like went there, met his AV teacher, met some kid that was like summer session. Met some kid that was there, I think, because he was in trouble and had to make units or something and I was like, oh, that's maybe my character’s inspiration. A little overboard. Like I don't know how that helped. I don't think we even mentioned Detroit in the show.

GALLOWAY: I want to take a look a clip from Freaks and Geeks.

[CLIP] (Applause.)

FRANCO: It's funny, I watch that stuff and I mean it was such a good show, and we had these incredible writers, Judd Apatow, Paul Feig, Mike White. Great, great directors on there, and everybody was so well cast…

GALLOWAY: So...

FRANCO: The whole cast has gone on to do incredible things, and I just did not see it at the time, it was like my first real thing. I had done two guest-stars before that on Pacific Blue, which was like Baywatch on bicycles (laughter) and this thing called The Profiler, and so it was my first thing. I just assumed everything is going to be that great.

GALLOWAY: It was a good experience?

FRANCO: It was great., I didn't realize it at the time, but I met the guy that I would go on to collaborate with for decades with Seth Rogan. One of my closest friends. I did not think that would happen, either. Seth and Jason and I would always be like, “Well, in the writer's room it's all geeks. They don't understand the freaks.”

GALLOWAY: Oh. (Laughs.) 

FRANCO: And it became a big thing.

GALLOWAY: Who influenced you the most then?

FRANCO: From Freaks and Geeks?

GALLOWAY: Yeah.

FRANCO: Undoubtedly Seth and Judd. Again, if you had asked me that, I wouldn't think about it, and I just listened to Judd Apatow's interview with Marc Maron on WTF. And it's interesting, because they are both like comedy nerds, right? And they just grew up watching comedy constantly, and that was their thing, you know? Like some kids have sports. And I guess I was really trained in a way where I looked at Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando, and James Dean. Now, coincidentally, or maybe not so coincidentally, that's strangely what Tommy Wiseau was looking at. Brando and James Dean, like the composer just told me, like, before his first meeting with Tommy, Tommy was like, “Yeah, watch Streetcar Named Desire, because that's the movie that I made." (Laughter.)

GALLOWAY: Wow.

FRANCO: And so, those were my early influences, but then I did this show at a very formative time both my life and my career, I was 20, 21, when I did it. I guess they say your brain's still developing and everything, and so, there was something about even though I didn't grow up as a comedy nerd, that got into me. The comedy side got into me, and after the show was cancelled sadly, I was actually, weirdly, it's weird to admit, but like at the time, when it got cancelled, everybody was devastated. I remember going to the office to get my stuff, and running into Jake Kasdan, the director of the pilot and multiple episodes, and he looked like he was going to cry. He was so devastated, and secretly, I was like, yes. Because I didn't know how good I had it. I stupidly didn't know, it does not always line up like this. Hardly ever does it line up like it did. But I didn't know, and I thought, oh yeah, now my movie career will start, and then I went and did like a VH1 TV movie... (Laughs.)

GALLOWAY: But you did pretty quickly after that get the Spider-Man role.

FRANCO: It picked up not long after. But I did a VH1 thing, and I did this movie called Deuces Wild where Scorsese was actually an executive producer, took his name off, because he hated it so. I remember being on the set of Deuces Wild, thinking, wow, Freaks and Geeks would be really great right now. (Laughter.) 

GALLOWAY: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

FRANCO: But somehow the comedy DNA came in. Then I played James Dean, I got some recognition for that. Then I did a series of these weird-of these dramas that just didn't work out. Everybody had good intentions, they just weren't great. And then I ran into Judd on the way to the Austin Film Festival, and he was just coming out with 40-Year-Old Virgin. Freaks and Geeks had been cancelled. Undeclared had been cancelled. And it was a big thing for him to direct a film, and it was finally a hit. And people forget that Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared didn't find an audience for a long time. And he was riding high, and he said, "I don't know why you left the comedy world, dude. Come back. Go the comedy way." They were getting ready to do Knocked Up. He is like, “You should do something with Seth.” And was like, I thought my career was supposed to do this, and when I surrendered to that, then I did Pineapple Express, and it's weird to say like Pineapple Express was the movie that taught me...

GALLOWAY: You said it was the turning point for you.

FRANCO: It was a turning point — and it's maybe is indicative of my career — that year I did Pineapple Express and Milk, which were two very different movies. Those two polar opposites have shaped or been indicative of how my career would go ever after. I've gotten to work with a lot of my heroes. Gus Van Sant was a hero. And that's how I do it now.

GALLOWAY: When you prepare for a role in a comedy or drama, do you prepare differently?

FRANCO: Actually, not really. I just have one main thing that I look for. How do I ground this character emotionally? So, if we take those two films, Pineapple Express or Milk. Milk, I look at the script. What is my part in this overall picture? Don't look at it as an actor, like, what am I going to get out of it? What am I going to add to? How am I going to help tell this story? OK, this is the story of [Harvey] Milk. You know, my character's name was Scott Smith. The movie wasn't called Smith. It's called Milk.

GALLOWAY: Mm-hmm.

FRANCO: So, I'm a supporting character. What is this guy's role? Well, I'm telling the story of Milk's life. This was love in Milk's life. But his political career was more important. He needed to serve that, and so this relationship couldn't work. And so, I needed to be the guy that just loved and supported this guy until I couldn't, because the political thing became more important. So if I just do that, if I just play that as well as I can, underneath everything, like, just love this guy, that'll ground the character. And then you put the other stuff on the surface: Scott Smith had died in the mid-'90's, but I went and met all of his friends and the people that knew him up until then. And there was a little bit of him in the documentary, The Times of Harvey Milk, the Oscar-winning thing. But underneath, finding what is going to ground him emotionally? It's the exact same thing with Pineapple Express. I know on the surface I'm playing this wacky drug dealer and we’ve got to find the whole thing and the hair and all that stuff, but underneath, what is going to ground this character? And it's that he is lonely, he wants a friend. And essentially, he loves Dale. It's called a bromance for a reason. And that movie is very quotable, but in the same way that The Room is still very watchable, it's like there is some sort of emotional underpinning to the whole thing. I wanted to be with Dale through thick and thin, I just wanted a friend. And that emotionally grounded that movie. The same thing with The Room. It's called the best worst movie ever made. It's not just because at every turn, Tommy made some bizarre decision, you know, to shoot the green screen in the parking lot of the rental house. Brings in Sawyer to put spoons on the walls, have the most insane dialogue ever. It's not just that. There are in the course of the history of movies, there are thousands upon thousands of bad movies that we will never watch again. But we watch this one again, and I think the secret sauce is that Tommy put his heart and soul into that thing. And audiences feel that. They feel how hard he is trying. You know, he's not making a joke out of, "you're tearing me apart, Lisa." He is doing his best to be James Dean. And that is what pulls audiences in. And so I'll do that with every character.

GALLOWAY: I'm not sure I agree with you about The Room.

FRANCO: Have you seen The Room?

GALLOWAY: I've seen parts of it.

FRANCO: Oh, see, you don't know, dude.

GALLOWAY: No, that's fair.

FRANCO: You speak of what you do not know. (Laughter.)

GALLOWAY: Touché, I totally agree with you. So once you have just grounded, do you cover your script in notes? Do you work with a coach? What kind of acting training did you have?

FRANCO: I started acting in high school. I was scared. My girlfriend at the time was in the theater program. She was doing a play with a guy, he had written the thing. And there was a romantic scene in it, and I was just really jealous. It was the prick I needed, the little bur under my saddle to just get me to do it, because I always wanted to be an actor, and I was just scared. So I was like, “All right. I'll show you, and I'll join the drama club.” (Laughter.) I had performed in a play, a German play, Wozzeck. My teacher picked very strange plays.

GALLOWAY: Yeah.

FRANCO: And I played Wozzeck, and one of the things I learned from that play — that character, not that I wanted to murder my girlfriend, but I did have some jealousy, and that character murders his wife in there. And I felt I could get some of these feelings out through acting, you know? Oh, his is how you do it. You can channel feelings into performances.

GALLOWAY: Yeah.

FRANCO: I understood that even in those early days, oh wow, this is great. I'm able to channel things in my real life into these imaginary circumstances. And that was my early rudimentary understanding of acting, but also one of the things that was very appealing about it. And that I could do that. That I had a little bit of a facility for it. And I got cast as the lead in the two final plays of my senior year. We did Dostoyevsky's The Idiot.

GALLOWAY: Wow.

FRANCO: I played Prince Myshkin. But I had braces, I got braces three times, because I didn't wear my retainer.

GALLOWAY: Oh.

FRANCO: So there's a lesson for you kids. (Laughter.) And so I had braces at the time, — I actually had video of that performance. And I didn't want anybody to see my braces. So I did Prince Myshkin like this the whole time. (Laughter.) And then I went to UCLA, but I hadn't applied for the acting school.

GALLOWAY: Yeah.

FRANCO: So I left UCLA because they said I would have to wait two years to even apply for the drama program, and that sounded like an eternity to me, so I left and I went to an acting school in the valley called Playhouse West, and I stayed there way too long. I mean, I stayed there eight years. I stayed there after I won a Golden Globe.

GALLOWAY: Wow.

FRANCO: I was still going to acting school. “Dude, you need to get out of the nest.”

GALLOWAY: What was the essential thing they taught you?

FRANCO: The best thing I got out of that place was how to relax and be in the moment. It was sort of [Sanford] Meisner-based and there's a lot of weird misunderstandings of Meisner, and repetition and all that stuff, but that's basically an early technique to get you to be present. To connect to the other person. And that's the other key. Once you have an understanding — like I was talking about before — of the character's emotional needs or grounding, then to just be there. That's what I believe. Just be there, you know, in the circumstances. And just live that as honestly as possible.

GALLOWAY: Do you find it hard to relax onscreen?

FRANCO: No, not at all. I would say maybe for the past 20 years, the most that I've ever been present is between action and cut. I was doing everything but live my life. I was always working so hard. And the only time actually I was present was when I was acting.

GALLOWAY: That's interesting.

FRANCO: It's sad, but, yeah.

GALLOWAY: I'm sure you have explored why you are driven like that. Do you still feel driven that way?

FRANCO: Yeah. I had to a lot of therapy. Oh yeah.

GALLOWAY: Did it help?

FRANCO: Oh yeah.

GALLOWAY: Oh good.

FRANCO: Now I enjoy life. Now I can actually be here with you, enjoy this. Because, here's the lesson that I had been told so many times. Be present. Be present. Be present. And I think like, why be present? Why? So I can look at the trees and enjoy the trees? Who cares? I got things to do. (Laughter.) I got things to achieve. And then, at a certain point, if you're lucky, or, lucky-slash-unlucky, you do achieve all those things. I achieved everything I dreamed about. And I had worked with my heroes. I had a career. I had played roles I was proud of. I had directed movies I was proud of. And it was like, oh wait, I'm still working as hard as ever. And not only that, I'm doubling down, I'm doing 5 billion projects. When is this ever going to stop? And then you realize that's the wall — just the revelation, no, you have a great job. But if you use it to fill that hole, it's never going to fill it, ever. I needed to step back and reestablish my relationship with my professional life, and just learn how to be present. I had had organized everything in my life to fuel my acting. Just to be the best actor or actor-director I could be. And then after a while, if I am not living life, I had a limited amount of things to draw upon for my art. And so, I had to slow down and just say, “James, dude, you've done the footwork, you've done all the training. You've done all the mechanical training. Now you need to learn how to be a person, or you're not going to understand what you're portraying.” So now I like play tennis, I surf...

GALLOWAY: You do? Really?

FRANCO: I force myself to. It's hard. I play ukulele. People were like, why the ukulele? I knew that if played the guitar, it would be like, well you better play that thing so you can be a rock star. And there's no danger of becoming like a ukulele star. (Laughter.) It's just something I can do and enjoy it.

GALLOWAY: Do you enjoy acting?

FRANCO: Yeah. I love acting.

GALLOWAY: Did you love working on Spider-Man?

FRANCO: Yeah. You say that like maybe I wouldn't?

GALLOWAY: Well I thought it was a difficult experience. Those huge studio films are such just machines.

FRANCO: They are machines...

GALLOWAY: And you don't seem a machine-type person.

FRANCO: They are machines. Here's the thing though, and it kind of falls into that one for them, one for me kind of you know, approach or formula where, in fact, those first three Spider-Man films, they were directed by Sam Raimi, who is an incredible guy, and incredible director. They starred Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst and Willem Dafoe and Alfred Molina, and you know, all these great actors. And I think that and the first X-Men film, directed by Bryan Singer, those were really the-those early superhero films that kicked off this idea that there could be great acting. Now there-you know, the Tim Burton Batman films, yes, but they hadn't-that was still-like if you look at those, they weren't-it's not the effects hadn't really caught up yet. Right? And so, X-Men and Spider-Man, sorry to go on, but you asked. (Laugh.) 

GALLOWAY: No, no, I want to hear it.

FRANCO: And that was where it was like, OK, we've got the effects. But Sam was so smart, he's like, “We can't just lean on the effects. I want to bring in real actors, and a real screenwriter, Alvin Sargent," who had written Ordinary People.

GALLOWAY: Julia.

GALLOWAY: Yeah, and to do-to treat this with respect, and treat the scenes between the action and all the effects with the same kind of attention as everything else. And so it really set the template for everything that we see now in these superhero films. And no, I had a great time on that. I actually rehearsed and talked about that character almost more than some of the straight dramas that I did.

GALLOWAY: Is there a superhero you would like to play?

FRANCO: I do have a superhero that I am developing.

GALLOWAY: Your own superhero?

FRANCO: I don't know how much I can say. But I will say I am producing and performing in it. Or will perform in it. It's early stages. I think probably what I can say is, like anything, there's a need to develop more. I have a company with my brother now called Ramona Films. We're developing all kinds of movies. Our bottom line MO is, how can we push this into new ground? A little bit, but still make it entertaining? So that separates it from what I was doing alone, me making a Cormac McCarthy film, pushing in to the new frontier of necrophiliacs.

GALLOWAY: Yes. (Laughs.) There's not an old frontier in necrophilia, so…

FRANCO: There's not many. Maybe some film nerds could name some necrophiliac films, but maybe we don't want to hear them. But I was missing the entertainment component, right? And that's the other thing, we want to make movies for audiences, and that kind of thing. What I love about what Simon Kinberg and Fox and the X-Men people have done with Deadpool and Logan — it took a while to get there, maybe 10 years, but they are going to go hard R. And we're going to take, you know, this superhero thing and really just push it into a new genre. Deadpool's almost like an action romantic comedy. And Logan's like a western, you know?

GALLOWAY: Absolutely.

FRANCO: So we're working with Simon Kinberg on an X-Men property...

GALLOWAY: Which character?

FRANCO: I don’t know. I don’t want to lose it.

GALLOWAY: You don’t have to tell us.

FRANCO: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

GALLOWAY: Which character? [LAUGHTER]

FRANCO: It’s in the X-Men universe.

GALLOWAY: I was looking at the list of your favorite films.

FRANCO: Where’d you get that list? (Laughs.)

GALLOWAY: You can find it if you dig deep on the dark web, you know?

FRANCO: It depends on when I did the list.

GALLOWAY: I think it may have been films from Criterion, and they are not doing the superheroes, but your No. 1 pick was Spirit of the Beehive.

FRANCO: That is definitely no longer my favorite film. But I love that movie. I haven’t even seen it in like eight years. The films that in high school really started making me thinking about film in a different way were the Gus Van Sant early films, Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho. I started thinking about acting in a different way, I started thinking about that whole package, and growing up in Palo Alto I didn’t really understand — I saw the credits, “directed by,” and I sort of understood oh Steven Spielberg directed this. But I didn’t really understand just how it worked. I just knew that I was drawn to these Gus Van Sant films and I couldn’t get enough of them. I would watch them over and over again. But the other things on that list, I’m sure, were like the Dardenne Brothers, The Son or The Child. That’s [when I was in] film school. If you watch Child of God that was very Dardenne Brothers-inspired. Hand-held and following and long shots and all this stuff.

GALLOWAY: Is there a film you have seen recently that’s really knocked you out?

FRANCO: The Wrestler, and I think you just had Darren Aronofsky in here. And that’s very much inspired by the Dardenne Brothers. Oh, I go to movies every week. I just saw Lady Bird. Loved it. And The Florida Project. Even Thor: Ragnarok, that was fun. I did a triple feat over at Arclight.

GALLOWAY: Those three films in one day, that’s hard to imagine. I want to turn to a film you did, with an extraordinary challenge because it’s pretty much you on your own and not even with dialogue. It’s 127 Hours. So let’s watch a clip.

[CLIP.] (Applause.)

GALLOWAY: I was very tempted to show the scene where you cut your arm off.

FRANCO: Well, when we were taking it around to festivals and it got to that scene, it was “the movie where the dude cuts his arm off.”. [I was] feeling trapped, sitting in that audience and just anticipating that. I think getting to know that character in such an intimate way — basically he is like pouring his heart out to the camera. I mean Danny’s so brilliant. That was his way in, he had wanted Simon Beaufoy to write it. And Simon’s like, “I don’t know. I don’t have a way in.” Danny actually wrote out a very rough thing and then when they came upon the idea of the video camera, which [Franco’s character] Aron Ralston actually had and used — and I saw the real tapes.

GALLOWAY: Did he film himself cutting off his arm?

FRANCO: No.

GALLOWAY: Back to necrophilia —

FRANCO: No, he didn’t do any necrophilia things with his arm or anything like that. (Laughter.) But he’s speaking to the camera and it was a device where you could have this character pour his heart out. And not only that, it’s almost like an old-fashioned Shakespearean aside, directly to the audience. Because he’s speaking to the camera. But there’s justification for it.

GALLOWAY: A soliloquy, yeah.

FRANCO: So the audience got so enmeshed and engrossed with this character that by the time he’s cutting off the arm — we see violence in movies all the time, we see people getting shot in trailers now, and in Pineapple Express people get blow away — it’s insane, the violence in that movie. But, you know, just one limb getting cut off is so different.

GALLOWAY: It’s real.

FRANCO: Because of the way it’s presented and how close you are aligned to this character as an audience member. And then the sound design and all that. They had built these prosthetic arms that were incredible. It just had everything in there, all the muscle and fake blood and nerves and veins and everything. So I could just go at it. So I am going at it. And I am actually really squeamish with blood. I hate, hate, hate needles. I have been known to pass out. I remember in high school, they did the blood drive and I was like, “Yeah, I got to give some blood,” and they go and prick your [thumb]. I got in there, I thought they were going to give just one needle full, I go in and there’s all these people on beds giving like Coke cans full of blood.

GALLOWAY: Yeah, I used to do it.

FRANCO: And I was like, “Oh my, God.” And then they go in and they prick your thumb to see if your blood’s going to clot. By the time they went and pricked my thumb, I was so terrified of those huge bags of blood, they pricked my thumb and I passed out. I wake up, they’re handing me some orange juice, they’re like, “Son, you don’t have to give any blood today.” So when I am doing the thing, even though it’s fake, it’s like, “Aah!” And I think there’s a behind-the-scenes — my friend actually shot the behind-the-scenes, and between takes I am saying to Danny, “I’m getting a little light-headed here.” But I could go at it for 30 minutes and it was all in there. I just cut and cut and cut at the fake arm.

GALLOWAY: And they shot with multiple cameras?

FRANCO: For that, we only had one camera at a time, for the film nerds. They had these special cameras that were on gyros. So there were two DPs, Enrique Chediak and...

GALLOWAY: Was it Anthony Dod Mantle?

FRANCO: Anthony Dod Mantle. Yeah. So they could hold the cameras with one hand. And Danny designed the set. Normally, when you build a set on a stage you build in the flyaway walls, right?

GALLOWAY: Yes.

FRANCO: So that the cameras can come in at any angle you want. He said, “No, I don’t want any flyaway walls.” They had gone to the actual canyon and scanned it with a laser. So it was exact in this film. He was like, “I don’t want any flyaway walls because I want the DPs to have to work around in the real environment and it’ll give us a certain kind of feel.” But they had these cameras that they could hold with one hand and they were on gyros so they would be steady. And so while I am doing it for 30 minutes, they are just getting all their different angles at once. And we could do these incredibly long takes. And they were also attached to a hard drive. So they could just shoot endlessly. And so I am going, going at it and we do it and there’s a moment where I get the nerve, right, that’s the moment.

GALLOWAY: Someone’s going to faint.

FRANCO: That’s the moment. So we did it at Telluride and all of a sudden there’s a commotion in the audience and we are like, “What?” Because it was the first time we showed it to an audience. And all of a sudden, I see this guy going out on a stretcher and we are like, “Oh, man. Oh, man.” Little did we know at every single screening somebody would pass out. It just got to the point where we’re like, “All right.”

GALLOWAY: Did they cut anything out afterwards?

FRANCO: No, no. We already got it. That was Danny’s idea, to get the release at the end. The audience needs to go on a journey with this dude. It’s a rite of passage for the audience. And the ending’s really powerful with the music on and all that. But you need to go through that moment with the character to get there. So he didn’t cut it out, and by the time we got to Toronto, it was like a 1,200-person theater, we are up on the upper level, and we are just like waiting and there were like three [people who] passed out.

GALLOWAY: Wow.

FRANCO: We had done it and I cut through a lot of the fake muscle and everything and did the nerve, but he needed a different angle on the nerve. And so instead of just going and getting the whole other new prosthetic arm, they were like, “All right, just redo the nerve.” And it’s just the guitar string. So that’s actually what I’m cutting, the guitar string. But it just shows you movie magic. The context and the fake blood and then the music and the sound and everything.

GALLOWAY: And the editing is spectacular.

FRANCO: Boom! It makes people pass out if you just cut a guitar string.

GALLOWAY: This is a clip from 127 Hours.

[CLIP] (Applause.)

FRANCO: I’m just going to tell you two random things. It was intense, you know. I knew going in like this isn’t a script like any other script I’ve ever done. And it wasn’t just new for me, it was new for Danny, the director and the DPs. Because normally you’re used to a film with multiple actors. So you have a general understanding of how to cover certain things. And when you only have one actor it’s like how do you cover that, what do you cut to when you have a guy stuck in one place? How do you create drama? And one of the ways is, it’s fantasy, and you think he’s going to escape. But the things I remember being the hardest are — I am watching those scenes where I am going down the little river — and it was so cold. As an actor, just being cold is the hardest thing. The emotional stuff, I had been training for years; that was my bread and butter — yeah, get really upset. Oh yeah. I’ve geared myself my whole life towards doing that. But just being cold, you know? And a little trivia. You know, when I was driving [in the movie] that’s Park City. That’s Sundance.

GALLOWAY: Oh, how funny. (Laughs.)

FRANCO: I am going down the main street of Park City.

GALLOWAY: When you do scenes like that, a lot of your performance has to be helped in the editing. Do you talk to Danny in advance and say, “How are you going to cut this together?”

FRANCO: I have two answers and obviously I give very long answers. We found on that movie, because Danny was also figuring it out — and one of the brilliant things about Danny and what makes him such a great director is, he gives himself challenges, OK? So here’s a movie, one guy in one place. He knew he wanted to do a story about that. Before he found this book, Aron Ralston’s story, he had some other story, I think a true story about some guy, a hostage or someone being handcuffed to some radiator. It was some other true story. And it was like Danny had the bug, he wanted to do a story about a guy trapped in one location. But he knew that he was going to figure it out as he went. You know, he left things open, he got the idea of two DPs to maybe have two different shooting styles. No, the DP’s just found as they went along a very similar way of doing it. But we found early on in that movie, and we shot pretty much in order, right after the arm gets trapped, there is a scene where the character is trying to pull himself out with brute strength and so Danny said, “OK, bash yourself against the rock, push, pull, kick, do everything you can to get out, obviously except pull your arm.” I was holding on to something. There was like a little bar in the rock.

GALLOWAY: Oh.

FRANCO: “So do everything you can to get out and don’t stop until I say cut. And really try and do it.” And I’m like, “OK, you know I’m going to get kind of bashed up and bruised.” He said, “Uh, yeah.” And I’m like, “OK, I’m going to go for it, and I won’t stop until you say cut, but I just, man, I hope you get it all because I’m really going to go for it.” And he was like, “All right, all right.” So I went for it and just kept going and just, you know, throwing myself against it and when he finally said cut, I was just exhausted, but I kept going, it had been like 21 minutes of just that, and I was sweating, I was crying, everything, and he is like, “Well, I think we got it.” And he said, “I’m probably going to use about 90 seconds of that, but I’ll give you the rest and you can go and get stoned and watch it with your friends.” (Laughter.) And two things came out of that. We realized that’s how we could do the whole movie, that a lot of the movie is just the character trying to figure things out. And because the cameras could shoot endlessly, you could just have me do it and really do it and really try to throw the lasso over the [rock], really try to do all these things and basically have my own experience, and do everything that Aron Ralston actually did in real time. Everything except deprive myself of water. He said he lost like 40 pounds from dehydration. But that’s a little dangerous.

GALLOWAY: Yes. Yes.

FRANCO: But I actually lost — again, I told you I diverge on my stories and everything — but I lost the weight before, and then we put in what we call plumpers. I had these things that pushed my cheeks out in the beginning of the film and then there were different sort of gradations as we went along. It would get thinner and thinner and smaller and I would look more emaciated. But that was basically the way we figured it out. The other thing, a little joke, was, “Oh maybe I’ll have my own cut. Danny, 'Yeah, maybe you should give me all that footage and I’ll do my own cut.'” And it started as a joke, but to Danny’s credit — it’s crazy, there’s no other director that would do this. I was in my film school phase, and he gave me my own set of hard drives and I cut my own version of it.

GALLOWAY: Did he use any of what you did?

FRANCO: Well, here’s the thing. Yeah. I think he’ll own up to this. There was all this stuff at the end of the movie that now is just abbreviated — you watch the movie, it’s just like music builds and it’s really fast and it does the triple screen thing again and all that. There were all these scenes: like, Aron goes back and he is in the hospital, his parents, there’s scenes with the parents, scenes with the press, and then he goes back and visits the girlfriend and she actually breaks up with him and all this stuff. There’s the scene where the helicopter; he finally finds help, he’s like, “Help,” and the helicopter comes in, right? We were filming that helicopter scene and he wasn’t planning on getting a shot inside the helicopter. I just get in the helicopter and then it flies off. And I was like, “You’re going to get a shot in the helicopter after we take off?” He’s like, “No, no, I don’t need it.” I was like, “Well, I need it for my cut.” (Laughter.) “That’s how I’m going to end the movie, you know, and my version of it in the helicopter.” Well, boom, we get to the edit and he is like, “Yeah.” And he ended up shooting in the helicopter and he’s like, “Yeah, I used your idea.”

GALLOWAY: The art of collaboration.

FRANCO: He has already abbreviated the ending. And it came out of our joke. You know, my cut is sort of unwatchable. I had this weird artistic idea that I would do the arm cutting and make it last as long as it actually did. I think it took Aron Ralston 45 minutes to cut off his arm.

GALLOWAY: Oh my, God.

FRANCO: I have 45 minutes. So yeah, nobody wants to watch that. That will go on the shelf with the necrophilia.

GALLOWAY: Right. I wanted to get to The Disaster Artist. But I can’t do this without showing my favorite performance of yours. And it had such an impact on me —

FRANCO: I have no idea what it’s going to be.

GALLOWAY: Really?

FRANCO: I think you’re going to say Spring Breakers.

GALLOWAY: Well let’s take a look.

[CLIP] (Applause.)

FRANCO: I love that film. I could watch that film over and over. Just because Harmony Korine is so incredible.

GALLOWAY: How did you create that character?

FRANCO: A lot of that came from Harmony. I give Harmony a lot of credit. He and I just wanted to work together. You know, when I was in high school Kids came out, he had written Kids. It was also a very disturbing film, but I was just fascinated with it. And it wasn’t just subject matter, it was like the way it was made, the energy of it and, you know, and I think that was also, and Gus Van Sant actually produced that. So it was like again I think it was my early sort of attraction to a certain kind of film making. And so when I finally met Harmony it was just like I want to do something with you, I’ll do anything with you. It was before we had a script or anything. And then he wrote an outline, it was just basically like, you know, these girls go down to Florida and then they meet this crazy guy and it’ll be like a Britney Spears video meets Gaspar Noe film. Like that’s what, you know. And then we just kept developing it and then he like, you know, a year into it he was like, “All right, this is who I’m going to cast, Selena Gomez," and like, you know. It was like, oh my.

GALLOWAY: Disney actress. Brilliant move.

FRANCO: And then when we went down there, he went down to Florida and one of the great things Harmony does is, at least when we made this, he said, “I look at the script like a blueprint.” And then he really is great at both drawing from the environment where he shoots a location is incredibly important for him and then the actors that he casts. And so he had gone down near Tampa and St. Petersburg, Florida and I had gone down there early and we were talking about the script and driving around just looking for inspiration and stuff like that and we were talking about that scene. And so in the spirit of what we were talking about before, like how do I get into that character, well, he gave me tons of references for the surface of the character, right? Videos, interviews with rappers and all this stuff. And then actually introduced me to this guy down there, this rapper named Dangeruss, but D-a-n-g-e-r-u-s-s. Dangeruss. And I met Dangeruss (Laughter.) and the Dangeruss story I guess Harmony was just like interviewing or meeting people, locals, to play, you know, side parts. And Dangeruss came in and he was like, he’s actually a buddy of mine now, and he has changed his lifestyle, but back then.

GALLOWAY: Has he changed his name?

FRANCO: Maybe. I don’t know. I still know him as Dangeruss. And that’s how it is in my phone. (Laughter.) And he would wear these shorts, but he would sag them so low that I remember, it would like be below his boxer short. Like you would see like skin between the bottom of the boxer shorts and the top of the regular shorts. I don’t know how they stayed up. (Laughter.) But like...

GALLOWAY: He’s waddling like a duck.

FRANCO: Well, that’s how you walk when you sag that much. And so he walks in he’s about to do this scene with Harmony and he is like, “Oh hold on a second.” And he pulls like these pistols out of his shorts, like real guns, puts them on the table, he is like, “All right, let’s, you know, let’s go now.” And he is a rapper and so I hung out with Dangeruss and then I went over to his house, his apartment, and I remember seeing a pistol on the pool table there and in my brain I had done enough movies where there’s guns around and you just think oh yeah, that’s a prop gun and there’s armor that deals with that. And then you do the double take and you’re like, “Oh wait, no, that’s a real pistol just lying on the table in his house. OK, this is who I’m talking to.” And so I used Dangeruss a lot, just for surface behavior. That’s what I learned from playing James Dean: you need the inner life and then the outer life. And they’re both very important. So this guy, my character, he’s a self-made guy and he has come up with that crazy persona. He had to create that. He wasn’t born that way. He is a self-creation. But what does he want? He’s actually a lonely guy and here in this scene he finds his soulmates. These girls, by getting aggressive with him and pulling guns on him, he should be scared, and that’s how it was in the script. He actually gets scared. And for a moment I do, but then it’s like no, this is amazing to him. And so I was like, “Harmony, I think they should blow those guns when they put the thing.” And it was like, “Yes!” Because you capture everything in that moment, violence, soul mates, turning everything, all the weird masculine, feminine, everything, it just all goes up at that moment. It was awesome.

GALLOWAY: I want to talk about Disaster Artist. This is such an eccentric subject for a film.

FRANCO: So most people that live in the LA area know The Room has been around for 14 years. It came out in 2003. Tommy Wiseau made this thing — and basically what my movie’s about — and he kept in theaters in two weeks to qualify for Academy consideration and all this stuff.

GALLOWAY: Mm-hmm.

FRANCO: And then nobody saw it. And then he played it, he got Sunset Five on Sunset Boulevard to play it at midnight on the weekends and then these film students came and saw it and then told their friends about it and then gradually over time it became this phenomenon. And then, people like some of my friends, Jonah Hill and Paul Rudd and Michael Cera, would go and see it and it became this thing. But I didn’t catch on to it when it was happening. All I really knew about it is there was this billboard with this phone number on it on like La Brea or Highland, and then Tommy’s face looking down with his lazy eyelid and it just looked scary. And I didn’t know what it was, because most movie billboards don’t have phone numbers on them. I thought it was like a cult or something, you know.

GALLOWAY: Yeah.

FRANCO: I blocked it out, probably just filed it away like, “Wow LA is weird, just weird stuff in LA.” I had never seen The Room and then the book came out, The Disaster Artist, about four or five years ago. Greg Sestero wrote it, and I saw it on, somebody pointed it out to me and I saw it in The New York Times book review and I got it and read it immediately, and before I was halfway through I just knew — you get the hairs tingling on the back of your neck, you’re like, this is an incredible story. I love Hollywood stories.

GALLOWAY: Yeah.

FRANCO: I love stories about the artistic process. I love stories about outsiders. And here was something that had all of that. On the surface, it was unlike any Hollywood story. It was so whacky and had such wild characters that were actually real. But underneath, it’s completely universal. Everybody that’s come to Hollywood or anybody that’s pursued any kind of dream knows what it’s like to start on the outside and try and break in and how hard that can be. This has everything that I have been interested in as a filmmaker and a storyteller up to this point, but unlike maybe the Faulkner Adaptations or the necrophilia, this has the potential to have a real audience. And so this smarter collaborative side of my brain said, “James, you should probably give this to Seth Rogen to produce because he knows how to work with studios and still make the movies that he wants to make.” So I brought it to Seth. We were making The Interview at the time in Vancouver.

GALLOWAY: Oh, wow. Were you scared about that whole fallout?

FRANCO: That’s a whole other story. We’ll never get out of here. But when we were making it we weren’t scared. We were like, “This is crazy, we’re making this fun movie, you know?” So I gave him the book and then we hired these amazing writers, [Scott] Neustadter and [Michael H.] Weber, who had done 500 Days of Summer. And then once it started going, it wasn’t too hard. We got New Line to finance it, three guys at New Line were like huge Room fans. And then once we were filming, Seth, he’s much more tied into the comedy community than I am, but he’s like, “I’ve never had a movie where I’ve had more people say they were jealous that we were making this thing.” I had an incredible casting director on it. But I didn’t meet the casting director once, because we had so many people that wanted to be in it.

GALLOWAY: Describe your first meeting with Tommy.

FRANCO: I talked to him first on the phone. I had to get his life rights. I had read the book at that point. And in the book, you know, there’s Tommy before The Room and Tommy after The Room. Tommy before The Room was not a collaborative guy because understandably he was very defensive. His whole life he had been told no.

GALLOWAY: Yeah.

FRANCO: And I was a little worried. He wasn’t very good at listening. And so I needed to get his life rights, and I was like, as soon as I get those, it’s probably better if this guy isn’t around. He might try and take over directing or whatever.

GALLOWAY: Yeah.

FRANCO: I knew I wanted to play the part, and my brother play the other part. But I didn’t know how Tommy would feel about that. And then finally, he’s just like [imitating him], “So who play me?” And I didn’t want to say me, in case he didn’t like that idea. I didn’t have the contract yet. And I was like, “I don’t know, Tommy, who do you think?” And he’s like, “Well, how about Johnny Depp?” (Laughter.) And that was my exact reaction, I laughed. And he’s like, “Why you laughing?” “Well, Johnny Depp’s the biggest movie star around. It might be a little hard.” And so we keep talking, and I am trying go on to other subjects. “So maybe we’ll talk to your agent about it?” And he’s like, “No, no, I go back to before, you know, I said Johnny Depp and you laugh. Why you laugh?”

(Laughter.)

FRANCO: I’m like, “All right, Tommy, I’ll ask Johnny. And when we get going I’ll ask Johnny and we’ll see sort of what we got.” And he’s like, “Yeah, yeah. You know, you don’t go down that road you don’t know what at the end of the alley, right?" And then Greg said, “How about you, James?” And I still didn’t know what Tommy was going to think. And Tommy was like, “I’ve seen your stuff, James, and you do some good things, you do some bad things.” (Laughter.)

GALLOWAY: Oh, wow.

FRANCO: I’m like, “Thanks, man. It means a lot coming from you.” (Laughter.) And then he says, “Yeah, you know, James, maybe I’ll direct you in a movie someday.” Actually, Tommy and Greg actually made another movie after our movie, called Best F(r)iends, but the R is in parentheses so it’s Best Fiends. They asked me to be in it and two years ago I probably have been like, “Yeah. This will be crazy.” But I couldn’t do it. Paul Scheer, the comedian, went and acted in it and said it was insane. The behind the scenes crew was bigger than the actual crew. Tommy like would say, “I improvise now,” and all Tommy would improvise would be character names. That was like his improvisation. The first time I met him face to face was on the set, because the big stipulation for him was that he have a cameo in the movie.

GALLOWAY: Oh.

FRANCO: There was a whole sequence that got cut out where Greg goes to Romania, and we are sort of nudging him like, “Hey, Tommy, maybe you want to be in the Romanian scene?” Because Tommy says he is from New Orleans, the all-American guy from New Orleans, and we are like, “Yeah, maybe you’d fit in the Romanian scene. A lot of people sound like they’re from New Orleans there, you know.” And he’s like, “No, no, has to be opposite you, James.” One of the things Greg gave me was this incredible gift: to get into character, he gave me all these tapes of Tommy, because Tommy used to record every phone call he had.

GALLOWAY: Wow.

FRANCO: And he would also just drive around in his car and talk to himself on this tape recorder. So I had all these tapes. As an actor, it was incredible. It was like the audio book of a private journal. And Tommy, to be fair, knows I have them. One of the things he also gave me was Tommy doing voice lessons trying to lose…

GALLOWAY: Yeah.

FRANCO: …his accent and it's just like you listen to that you're like, "Oh dude, it ain't gonna happen." The coach is like, "OK, Tommy, don't roll the R, you know. Don't roll the R’s, Tommy." (Laughter.) So I knew Tommy couldn't play anything other than himself. [But] this is a guy with a dream.  

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