Dave Franco’s a good sport about it, but really, we can all stop asking the actor about his big brother James. He’s had enough.
“I mean, that happened three years ago,” says the younger Franco, whose new movie “Now You See Me” opened Friday, with a laugh. “More than that. Ten years ago. I love and respect him so much, and when I was first starting out, it would be weird if people weren’t drawing the comparisons and mentioning his name every time they brought me up … Maybe two or three years ago, I made a conscious decision to distance myself from him work-wise just because I want to pave my own path and I don’t want to be referred to as James Franco’s little brother for the rest of my life.
“We are very, very different. He can take on roles that I could never touch, and vice-versa.”
With recent supporting turns in “21 Jump Street” and “Warm Bodies,” and starring with Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson and Isla Fisher as a quartet of magicians/possible bank robbers in “Now You See Me,” Franco is proving he can stand on his own. He’ll also be seen next year alongside Seth Rogen and Zac Efron in “Townies.”
To play “NYSM” magician Jack Wilder, Franco—who says he’s not on Twitter because it makes him anxious, just as AIM did at first—worked with a magic consultant on set and practiced every night after shooting. “I would come back to my apartment and I would either sit in front of the TV and just practice my little sleight of hand moves,” he says, “Or I would just be throwing cards against the wall for hours on end.”
After having soup for lunch at “X-O-C-O or something,” the 27-year-old actor settled in at the Peninsula Hotel to talk about his non-thieving past, the potential of a magician-related reality show and an audition that keeps coming back to haunt him.
Click here for our music discussion with Franco
Have you ever fantasized about robbing a bank, and what’s the worst thing you’ve ever stolen?
I want to give you a fun answer for the bank, but I’m going to go with no on that. The worst thing I’ve ever [stolen]--I wasn’t a horrible kid in terms of that kind of stuff. I think I’m going to go with a Milky Way from 7-11. Which in hindsight, it’s like 50 cents. What the hell was I doing? I can literally probably find 50 cents on the ground outside of 7-11.
Did you get caught?
I did not.
Did you feel guilty while you ate it?
I think so! I was about to say, I think I felt horrible about it. I probably didn’t even finish it.
Why do you think magic has a nerdy stigma to it?
I saw this documentary about magic—I forget what it’s called now. It was about all these young magicians pretty much discovering magic and how it plays out in their life. A lot of them, the common thread was that they were kind of antisocial and they didn’t have a lot of friends and it was a way to make people appreciate them and be in awe of them. That makes sense.
When Jack comes on screen in the film he says, “I am the next great magician.” How do you think a reality show called “The Next Great Magician” would do?
I think that’s a good idea!
[Laughs.] You’re shocked! I think it’s a pretty good idea. Everyone loves magic, right? I would assume on a show like that you would get a lot of these young magicians who are trying to bring something fresh to the game. I’m all about it. You could have people from all different fields of magic. Just like the characters in this movie: You have an escape artist, mentalist … I don’t know how you would judge them against each other though, the people in the different fields, but I like the idea. I think you’re onto something, man. You almost said it as a joke, but I’m in. [Laughs.]
People are comparing this movie to “Ocean’s Eleven.” Who do you match up with in that movie?
I think it’s the Matt Damon character. If I remember correctly, he’s like somewhat of the newcomer and he has to prove himself and find his place in the group, and that seems right in line with my character in the movie.
How do you compare to Matt Damon?
Not well. Actually, he’s one of these guys who I actually really do look up to in the sense that he can go from doing a big comedy to an independent comedy to this action franchise [and] serious dramas. He kind of does it all and you really believe him … I’m not the audience for this movie, but in “We Bought a Zoo,” you even watch him in that and he’s so grounded. It’s like he can do no wrong in my book.
You talked about feeling like the odd man out in “Now You See Me.” I know the cast treated you well, but was there anything that made you feel like at first that they didn’t know who you were? Or were there moments that made you feel like you didn’t belong in this movie for even a second?
Probably. Let me think. As I say this answer maybe something will pop in my head, but to be honest, it’s a really friendly cast. Literally, every single person, they never talked down to me. They treated me as an equal, even though I’m clearly not. It was in my own head. It was literally self-conscious stuff, where even though they were all treating me as an equal, it was like, “All right, I should be doing more. Literally, just do everything you can.” I think I’m a perfectionist to a fault sometimes.
You tested for Edward Cullen in “Twilight” and said you were glad you didn’t get it. Want to show me what that audition was like, so we know …?
What is your next question on the list? [Laughs.] It’s so funny that people … I mean, this was how many years ago now, six years ago when I auditioned for this part? And people still bring it up. It’s so crazy.
I’ll play a part of the scene too if you want, just to draw it out of you.
What do you got? Give me something and see if I can react.
(Attempting to act) “Edward, I just have to be with you.”
I can’t do this. [Laughs.]
How much has that impacted what you audition for now? Are you against going for a big franchise?
I wouldn’t say I’m against it. It would definitely have to be the right role and the right director. I would say it’s not my ideal project that I’m going after, but I would never say no flat-out.
We need more superheroes that are our height.
I’m with you. Is there anyone out there that you can think of?
I don’t know comics that well, but there has to be someone.
Tobey Maguire’s probably like 5’8”-ish, but that’s a while back now. You’re totally right. You’re totally right. Yes, I forgot what the initial question was, but I should be a superhero. [Laughs.]
What are your powers going to be?
Um, let’s go with throwing playing cards. I don’t know! … I should play Gambit [from X-Men]! There you go. Spinoff Gambit movie.
Would you ever want to play a part that adjusts the way you look? It’s so easy for actors to get typecast. “He looks like this type of person.”
Definitely, definitely. One hundred percent, the answer is yes. There’s a role that I can’t talk about right now just ‘cause it’s something I really want and it’s not mine yet and if I got it, it would be a transformation in terms of the fact that I would probably have a haircut that I gave myself. It would be very bizarre, and I would probably put on some weight and I would dress in suits that are five sizes too big. I like the idea of doing something like that.
What he remembers about his Lolla experiences the past two years in Chicago: “That’s a good question. [Laughs] I remember the weather being pretty damn good and walking away from this city and being like, ‘This is the greatest city on earth.’ And my buddy who lives here, he’s like, ‘[Bleep] you; come here in the winter.’ We had a good time at Lollapalooza.”
Who he’s listening to now: Vampire Weekend, the National, Charles Bradley, Laura Marling
On the new wave of magic: “There’s these two guys, I’m not going to remember their names; I saw them perform at the Magic Castle in L.A. There seems to be this new wave of magic, where instead of the top hat and the silly outfits and the grand gestures it’s these relatable people who are actually really funny and just likable, and you want to root for them. I think that’s the new wave, and those are the guys that seem to be at the top. The guys who are obviously very technically sound, but you like them too.”
What people most often ask him about James Franco: “It’s either, ‘What advice has he given you?’ or, ‘Being related to him, has it been beneficial or has it hindered you in any way?’”
On “Townies”: “Let me start with it was by far the most improv I have ever had to do. It was very loose on “ Jump Street” but nothing like this. Literally, every single scene was improvised. Which was intimidating at first. Sometimes you come into work and you’re tired or you’re sick and you’re just mentally exhausted and it’s just like, ‘Guys, I can’t do it today. Just feed me stuff.’ And they would. And that’s the great thing about Nick Stoller and Seth Rogen is they’re so naturally funny and they will give you so many [set-ups]. And that was amazing and then the role itself, it’s fun. On the surface [the role is] what you might expect from me. It’s like a frat boy who’s, whatever, he’s the vice president of the frat and he’s kind of cool I guess, but that being said he’s got a good journey. All the guys in the frat are dumb, but I get to play the smartest of the dumb kids, and I get to play the nicest of the meaner kids, and I have a heart in it but at the same time I have those frat boy qualities as well. So it feels like there’s a lot going on with this character.”
On the “21 Jump Street” sequel: “I’ve heard whispers that there might be a cameo but at this point logistically it’s going to be tough for them to take me out of jail and make me an intergral part of the story but I’ll be as involved as they want me to be.”
Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U
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