Dave Franco is willing to give everything in service to a role. For his new Netflix heroin drama 6 Balloons, with Broad City‘s Abbi Jacobson and directed by Marja-Lewis Ryan, Franco shed 25 pounds in order to transform himself into a brutal avatar of the opioid crisis that’s sweeping the country. He did everything short of shooting up: He skipped meals, went on long runs, and sent himself spiraling into a depressive episode by watching documentaries about junkies for days on end.
“You’re not yourself, you’re not fun to be around,” his wife Alison Brie told him during the peak of his preparation for this possibly career-changing role. “I’m fucking starving,” he snapped back. “What do you want from me?”
In the end, his sacrifice was worth it—Franco’s performance captures the feverish intensity of addiction, and the desperation it causes in those who experience it. Like his older brother, Franco excels at fusing his effortless charisma with the extreme circumstances of his characters’ lives.
Over the last few years, Franco has developed a close friendship with comedian and actor Jerrod Carmichael, with whom he appeared in the 2014 comedy Neighbors. Naturally, sparks flew when the pair met up for an amusing chat about what it takes to challenge yourself.
DAVE FRANCO: Alright, here we go. Thanks for doing this.
JERROD CARMICHAEL: Should I set a timer?
FRANCO: 45 minutes. Since I told you last week that we were gonna do this interview, have you thought about it once?
CARMICHAEL: No. [Franco laughs] No, not a single time.
FRANCO: That’s why I love you.
CARMICHAEL: I was like, alright, Davey’s coming over.
FRANCO: Well, I wrote out a list of questions because I’m a nerd and I like to do my homework.
CARMICHAEL: Wait, woah.
FRANCO: Just to get the ball rolling.
CARMICHAEL: You what?
FRANCO: Listen, listen.
CARMICHAEL: Wait a minute, what’s that about? [Franco laughs]
FRANCO: So, let’s see. I’m curious if you were my manager, what would you tell me to do next, and how would you manage my career?
CARMICHAEL: Oh, man. [laughs] Oh, wow. I really do think you could go in a few directions and do those well, so it’s hard to think of the specific thing. Actually, to be honest, I think 6 Balloons is that thing. I was with you while you were filming that, and how much weight you lost, how much you—
FRANCO: But what about that project?
CARMICHAEL: As much as you ran, or meals you skipped, and things you skipped out on … as disciplined as you were for that role, I think that utilizes who you are, like a lot of who you are.
FRANCO: That role scared me more than anything that I’ve taken on up until this point just because—I mean, for a few different reasons. Number one, it was completely different than anything I had done before.
CARMICHAEL: Yeah, this is a turn into a really specific, really dark place.
FRANCO: I think it’s good to be a little scared going into a project just because there have been other projects that have come my way in the past couple of years that are good in quality, but ultimately it feels like I’ve already been there and I’ve done that. It almost just feels, not easy, but like I wouldn’t have to put in too much work, and so, this project, I knew what kind of commitment I was gonna have to give to it physically and mentally, just because on top of losing 25 pounds for the role, I was doing as much research as I could. Obviously I wasn’t gonna take heroin, [Carmichael laughs] but I watched everything that I could and I read everything that I could.
CARMICHAEL: You know I was pro, like, just do a little heroin.
FRANCO: [laughing] Right.
CARMICHAEL: I was excited. I was like, just do a little, just a little bit. [Franco laughing] I don’t know.
FRANCO: Heroin’s not something you can just do a little bit of and walk away.
CARMICHAEL: Hey man, and you’re fighting it the whole movie? God damn.
FRANCO: Yeah, so if you don’t like my performance, that was the problem. I didn’t actually take heroin.
CARMICHAEL: Oh, that would’ve been crazy. Crazy spiral. [laughs]
FRANCO: But, when you watch a movie like Requiem For a Dream , you think, “This movie is incredible but I don’t think I ever need to watch it again.” And imagine watching three of those movies a day, and most of them being documentaries about real people, real heroin addicts. I was in this dark heroin tunnel.
CARMICHAEL: I know some of the things you were watching, you would fall asleep to. It affected your mood, right?
FRANCO: Definitely, yeah. I was the most depressed I’ve ever been in my life, and I’m generally a pretty positive, happy person, but I was not the most fun person to be around at that time. I remember coming home from work one day and [my wife] Alison [Brie] calling me out and saying, “You’re not yourself, you’re not fun to be around,” and I was like, “I’m fucking starving, like what do you want from me?”
CARMICHAEL: [laughs] That’s hard that it affected your personality in a real way. I only saw one scene. I think it’s incredible, really just one, without spoiling anything, just one really effective scene, with the little girl. It was really well done, and you were really, really great. It was great to watch.
FRANCO: Out of everything that you’ve worked on, what are you most proud of?
CARMICHAEL: Oh man, I don’t know. They all, in the moment you’re doing it, mean a lot. But what about you, do you feel like there’s a thing that you’re most proud of?
FRANCO: Is it weird to say the Madden commercial I did with Chris [Christopher Mintz-Plasse]—
CARMICHAEL: That was funny, man. That was really funny.
FRANCO: [laughs]—is the thing that I’ve done that I feel like is the closest to perfection.
CARMICHAEL: You guys were telling me about it while you were there, and I couldn’t believe it was a real thing.
FRANCO: That’s why I love it so much, it’s because they let us get away with so much.
CARMICHAEL: You were just doing whatever you wanted.
FRANCO: Yes and no. I mean, it was a very collaborative thing, where everyone came in with insane ideas, and we tried everything. And I give the brand a lot of credit for allowing us to keep some of the weirder moments that you would not expect in a national commercial, but…
CARMICHAEL: [laughs] It was insane.
FRANCO: It’s insane, yeah. So, at this point, I think that Madden commercial is the thing to top, for me. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about some of the projects I worked on earlier in my career, like the Funny or Die videos. I think about how, in some ways, I had a lot more courage and more balls back then because I felt like I didn’t have anything to lose. So I would come up with these insane ideas and then go out and shoot them, not caring about what anybody thought because worst case scenario, no one would watch them, and they would just disappear. But best case scenario, people would watch them and see that I was coming at these topics at a different angle, and from a different perspective, and they would think, “This person is doing something different, this is interesting.” But now, I tend to overthink things, and—
CARMICHAEL: What’s the biggest source of, dare I use, anxiety or caution?
FRANCO: Part of it stems from the fact that I am a perfectionist to a fault. I’m never fully satisfied with what I’m working on and I’m always gonna see issues in anything that I work on.
CARMICHAEL: Are you very hard on yourself?
FRANCO: Very, very hard on myself, and I’m trying to get better at that. I think I slowly am, but I don’t know. I’m trying to let go and I’m trying not to beat myself up so much. When I was first starting out, I was obviously so happy to be working at all, but it got to a point where I was only working on projects that I didn’t believe in, and that I was telling my friends and family, don’t go see this project that I just worked on because I was not proud of it. And so that’s when I decided to take things into my own hands, and that’s what led to these Funny or Die videos, which are very weird and depraved and bizarre, but they were at least an accurate representation of my sense of humor at the time, and so I was proud of them. And, even though it was on a much smaller scale, I was happy to put them out as a representation of the type of material that I wanted to work on.
CARMICHAEL: Do you like travelling and going away to work, or do you prefer home?
FRANCO: I like both. I used to like travelling a little more than I do now, just because I really do love home, and I like being with my wife. I feel pretty domesticated these days, and I’m very happy about that. I mean, my idea of an exciting weekend is staying in and watching documentaries with my cats. Speaking of, did you see Wild, Wild Country?
CARMICHAEL: What’s that?
FRANCO: You don’t know what it is?
FRANCO: It’s a new thing on Netflix about a cult leader in the ’80s in Oregon, and that’s all I should say ’cause it unravels in a pretty amazing way.
CARMICHAEL: Not a fake one of the famous cult leaders, just a…
FRANCO: I mean, it was pretty big, to the point I was surprised I had never heard about it. But, check it out, it’s worth it. I know you specifically are very tough, critical, so when you tell me that you saw something that you loved, I immediately seek out that thing.
CARMICHAEL: I love when we overlap.
FRANCO: Of course. And I feel like we overlap more often than not. Like, Phantom Thread .
CARMICHAEL: Listen, man. I’m obsessed. [Franco laughs]
FRANCO: Which you saw five times in the theater?
CARMICHAEL: Six. Six times in the theater.
FRANCO. Six. You’ve never done that with anything before, right?
CARMICHAEL: I saw Good Time  maybe four or five times. There are a few things, because I remember a lot of a movie, so it’s hard to get me to go back to a theater.
FRANCO: My pet peeve is, when a movie ends, the person you’re with immediately asking you, “So what did you think?”
CARMICHAEL: Yeah, yeah. Give me a second!
FRANCO: I need a little time to process. At least let me walk back to the car.
CARMICHAEL: Are you a person—will you go first? That’s my favorite thing, when you’re like criticizing anything, music, film, whatever. Just like, alright, let me start.
CARMICHAEL: That’s my favorite, the people that’ll lead, ’cause you’re throwing yourself out there. Just like, “I don’t give a fuck what the rest of you say, this is how I feel.”
FRANCO: That reminds me of something else that you do, which I really admire, is if you’re in a meeting with someone, you won’t ask them, “What movies have you seen recently that you loved?” You’ll ask them, “What movies have you seen recently that you hated?” Because that makes them more vulnerable.
CARMICHAEL: Yeah, it’s a small town, you might talk shit about somebody. [Franco laughs] You might have to talk about one of my friends. You don’t know who knows who, so, automatically, we’re both a little vulnerable. It’s important, more than who you’re dating, you should be very honest with who you are working with or potentially working with. Like all of that has to be out the window, that is a hindrance. The love fest that you do when a microphone is around has to go away, and we have to be very, very honest with one another. [Franco and Carmichael laugh]
FRANCO: That being said, fuck you. You’re not my friend. This is an awful interview.
CARMICHAEL: [laughing] I love you, I love you.
6 BALLOONS IS NOW AVAILABLE TO STREAM ON NETFLIX.