James Franco is ditching his serious side and is returning to his comedic roots in his latest project, Pineapple Express, which pairs him up with his former “Freaks and Geeks” co-star Seth Rogen. ComingSoon.net hung out with Franco on the set and talked to the actor about the success of the “Spider Man” movies and what it’s like taking on a role people aren’t used to seeing him in.
ComingSoon.net: You must be exhausted. You just did a crazy press tour for “Spider-Man 3” and now you’re finishing up on this film.
James Franco: We went around the world in about eight days, maybe a little more. We spent about a day in each country and did about eight premieres. It was exhausting just because it feels like what I imagine a rock tour is like, but without the adrenaline of the show. But, about half way through I realized that not every movie is going to have this much excitement and people are going to have this kind of response so I’m going to try and enjoy it as much as I can.
CS: Congrats on all of the success.
Franco: Thank you.
CS: How excited were you after opening weekend?
Franco: It was fun. I was actually here on opening night. We were working on this. I was going to go around to the theatres with everybody but I got out around 10 p.m. and we went over to Morton’s and got some of the early numbers and it was exciting.
CS: So some of the cast members went to theatres to check out opening night?
Franco: I think Tobey was the only cast member. The producers and Sam all went around. I think they went to the Arclight and The Grove and introduced the movie.
CS: I bet audiences were so surprised and stoked they did that.
Franco: Yeah. He [Sam Raimi] was behind a curtain. It might have been at the Arclight. People kind of recognized the voice and then he came out and then they cheered.
CS: So tell us about “Pineapple Express.”
Franco: “Pineapple Express” is a comedy.
CS: Don’t give us the version you tell everyone else.
Franco: (Laughing) Okay.
CS: What’s going on with the hair?
Franco: I guess I haven’t really done much comedy since “Freaks and Geeks” and this role is very different than anything I’ve done. I think the hair is really a way to push me even farther out of just what people know me for. I don’t really know what people know me for.
CS: I think a lot of people see you as a serious intense actor, but you’re so funny in this movie. Do you think people are going to be surprised or taken back a little because of the roles they’re used to seeing you in?
Franco: Maybe. They’re like, “Wow he’s funny.”
CS: Is that what you want the response to be like?
Franco: Yeah. I just hope people find it funny. Every movie has a different kind of tone and requirement and you’re supposed to laugh so I hope they do.
CS: What was it like working with Seth again after all of this time?
Franco: It’s great. As far as I know, “Freaks and Geeks” was his first professional job. He was funny on that, but you look back to episodes and they really didn’t give him a ton to do. Off camera he was always cracking us up, but on the show I don’t think he had enough to do. Since then he’s had so many opportunities to show what he can do. Especially this summer everyone will see. I think four scripts he wrote got produced this year. It’s pretty incredible to see him grow up and expand professionally. I think we’re a great team. Other people have said, “Oh this movie kind of reminds me of the action buddy movies that I watched when I was younger like “Midnight Run.” But, I see it more like an Abbot and Costello kind of thing. I keep telling him that we should take these characters and do other movies like Saul and Dale meet like the equivalent of Frankenstein or maybe like the “Saw” guy. Whatever the equivalent of that is.
CS: You’re really great at improv. Do you enjoy being able to be that free?
Franco: This movie has a lot of improvisation. It was a very very funny script, but the way that I’ve seen the Apatow Productions develop since “Freaks and Geeks” they provide a lot of room for improvisation and they shoot in a way that it can be used. David [Gordon Green] comes from a style where he improvises a lot. He’s only done dramas up until this point, but in his other movies, he uses a lot of non-actors. The way he tells the story is, it’s really about the characters and he’ll get people to talk about their own lives some times and a lot of it is unscripted. So he kind of fits into that Apatow style. You maybe saw a little of it today, but sometimes he’ll just roll until it rolls out and do it again until it rolls out. It’s a different way of working. On “Spider-Man,” Sam Raimi is really collaborative, but everything that we work out is usually done before we start shooting and then we fine tune something then go to set and usually film what we’ve come up with. On this, you find so much of it in front of the camera and you know that 90% of it isn’t going to be used so you just try everything. Some of it is and good and some of it is terrible.
CS: Is a film like this a nice break for you?
Franco: Yeah, it’s been fun. It’s really been the most fun I’d had on a film. I’ve always wanted to do comedy. I’ve just found so many of the comedies to be so stupid and sometimes I don’t see a point to them and I don’t find them very funny. I would make a fool out of myself for no reason and I don’t think it would be funny. I think that Judd and Seth and these guys are making some of the best comedies around. They’re my friends and it really felt like a good opportunity to try it.
CS: They are also going for more of a hard R rather than PG-13 which attracts a bigger audience.
Franco: Yeah, definitely. It’s kind of like anything goes in a way. They have great comic sensibilities and taste. Well not anything goes, anything funny goes. It gives it an edge. I feel like in Judd’s two movies, “Knocked Up” and “40-Year-Old Virgin,” there’s a great edge and there’s a real gross out factor to it. But, then they also have this other side that is a lot of heart and I always tell myself how much I’m surprised at how much I’m feeling in the movies. There is this weird thing where there’s a lot of dumb comedy, but it also feels really smart too. It’s a weird dichotomy.
CS: Can you talk about the scene you were just shooting?
Franco: Well it’s pretty much like a chase movie and we’re on the run. This is his girlfriend and he’s worried that the bad guys are going to find out where she lives so we made our way out here finally after a lot of mishaps. We get in and he tells me to wait outside and then I see them drive up. I run in and she freaks out and stabs me with a fork. We have a few different rigs. There’s one that I think it’s Styrofoam or something of that nature that’s strapped up to my back. It’s apparent from the back, but when you film it from the front she can stab me and then let go and it can stay in. Then there’s another rig that’s bulky so from the back I look like Quasimodo. There’s rig that’s much thinner that she can’t stab, but we use that for the post stab. So that’s how you can attach a fork that looks like it’s in me.
CS: Can you describe your shirt to our readers?
Franco: This is actually a David Gordon Green design. There is a, I think it’s supposed to be a Great White shark although it’s a bit shaded so it’s black. There’s a kitten in it that looks serene. It’s almost like it’s sleeping. I think the shark is not eating it, but carrying it to safety. The kitten was left out in the ocean and this shark decided to put it in it’s mouth and carry it to shore.
CS: So is this your complete wardrobe for the film?
Franco: It’s very comfortable if anything. I wasn’t a huge fan of the Guatemalan pants. I have one wardrobe change in the whole movie so we tried a variety of things. Some sweatpants. The idea was to have something that I would wear lounging around the house and then he comes over and I have to leave immediately so I don’t get the chance to change. I don’t know anybody that would wear Guatemalan pants. I hear Woody Harrelson wears them. I don’t love them. But, after the test they were the most interesting. I wanted to wear hotel slippers. You know how people take those from hotels? But, there’s so much action in this that it would have been a hindrance because they would have fallen off.
CS: Seth was telling us you two switched roles. You were supposed to be the buyer and he was the dealer. Why is that?
Franco: Yeah. He wrote this script a long time ago. I think six years ago and then about a year or so ago I kept in contact with Judd and Seth a little bit and people from “Freaks and Geeks,” but I saw Judd at the Austin film festival and I had a movie there that I directed call “The Ape” which is kind of a dark comedy. He came to see it and afterwards he said, “I miss the funny Franco.” I said, “Yeah, me too. We should do something.” So we decided to look for something. I think there were a few scripts he was looking at, but he finally decided on this one and he gave me the script. They had been doing readings of this for years and I think Seth always read Saul. Then they gave it to me and they didn’t tell me what role I was playing. I assumed I was playing Dale. I thought it was really funny, but I thought, “Oh man. I really like Saul. He’s got all the funny lines.” So we met after I read it and then it became clear they wanted me to play Saul, I was surprised but I was like perfect. So that’s the best of both worlds. I think it worked out great. I would say he’s the more feminine role in the relationship.
CS: But aren’t you the one who wants to be his really good friend and he isn’t having it?
Franco: Exactly. It’s kind of a love story.
CS: You almost get that kind of homoerotic feeling.
Franco: There’s a little bit of that. I’d say a lot of that is David Gordon Green’s influence. It’s definitely about two people coming together. A relationship between a dealer and his client. I don’t know from experience. The last time I bought pot was in high school, but I’ve been told that a lot of times dealers can be weird or it’s kind of a weird relationship. So at the beginning, he doesn’t want anything. He just wants my product and wants get out of there. I’m kind of a lonely guy. I really like him. We get thrown into this situation together and of course throughout the movie, we become a lot closer.
CS: Are they going to have a blooper reel of all the mishaps on set?
Franco: I know they do pretty good DVDs. They out together a lot of funny things so I would assume they would have some of that stuff on there, yeah.
CS: Who are some of the celebs coming in to be a part of the DVD extras?
Franco: I haven’t heard yet. I don’t know. I assume anyone who is enthusiastic about the subject matter.
CS: What’s coming up next for you?
Franco: I’m not sure yet. I have a couple of things I’m working on. I have gone back to school. I’m at UCLA right now. I’m just finishing up the quarter. I’ve been doing the work while we’ve been shooting, but I have friends tape a lot of the lectures. I’ll finish the quarter up and then this summer I’m going to study through ULCA in London. As far as movies, I have two movies I’m interested in, but I don’t have them yet. And then I’ll probably direct a little bit more. There’s a short that I really want to do based on a Faulkner short story. So I’ll probably do that this year.
CS: What are you majoring in?
Franco: English Literature and specializing in creative writing. It’s a great program. I’m working with Mona Simpson who wrote “Anywhere But Here.” I’m actually doing an honor thesis which is to write a novel under her supervision.
CS: Have you started it yet?
Franco: Yeah, I’m on my first draft. I would be done this year, but because of that I’ll go until next year. So I probably do a second draft. I’m working on it now and will probably be finished by fall or winter. Then I’ll have until May or June for a third draft.
CS: Why literature and not film or theatre?
Franco: I was a literature major when I went there before. It’s something that I’ve always loved. I feel like it’s something that I’ve always been interested in. I wouldn’t want to do anymore acting classes. I’d be interested in film school although I’m just kind of making movies right now. You learn a lot on set as an actor, but I’ve directed two low budget features now and there’s so much you learn just doing there. I feel like you’re kind of my student films. So I’m getting to work with better and better people behind the camera so I feel like I’m learning. Books are something I’ve always been able to escape to.
CS: So what are you reading now?
Franco: Now I’m taking a Bible is Literature course which is actually focusing on the Apocryphal so everything that didn’t make into the cannon. I’m doing a course on Shakespeare’s contemporaries so we’re reading Ben Johnson, Beaumont and Fletcher and Thomas Middleton and that kind of stuff. That’s writing that I would never emulate. I’m taking a writing workshop and then a course that helps prepare me for the honor thesis.
CS: You’re in the grad program then?
Franco: No, because I never finished. About a year and a half ago I went back just because I always regretted leaving. I’d love to start acting in roles in very small independent films and at the time I was so focused on acting that I didn’t put much energy into UCLA. Now that I can support myself as an actor I don’t know. Acting is satisfying, but I just wanted something more. It’s nice to have something other than acting just because film making is so collaborative which is good and bad. But, as an actor the final product is out of your hands so it’s nice to have something that I can control and have it be my own.
CS: So you’re just studying in all of your spare time?
Franco: Pretty much. Other than that, I play ping-pong.