ABOVE: DAVE FRANCO IN NOW YOU SEE ME.
The new heist film Now You See Me opens with a succinct tag line: “The closer you think you are, the less you’ll actually see.” The same could be said about the film’s youngest illusionist, actor Dave Franco. What you think you see from Franco isn’t exactly the full package. For one thing, the 27-year-old is less like his older brother, multi-hyphenate James, than you might assume based on their identical trademarks, from the signature lopsided grin to the smooth Californian drawl. While Franco can’t escape his looks, he’s starting to carve out a career very different from his brother’s.
A true man of the millennial generation, Dave has used the Internet to leave a strong impression on a fast growing fan base of Tumblr addicts. He’s not abashed about his shorts on Funny or Die, which see him getting romantically curtailed by his cat in one video and literally screwing himself in the next. He’s in on the Hollywood joke, which makes him much more accessible as an actor when he scores big gigs like 21 Jump Street and Warm Bodies.
Now You See Me is a different beast entirely. In it, Franco plays Jack, a rookie illusionist that comes into his own as one of the Four Horsemen, a group of highly capable magicians who together pull off the biggest heists in the world. For Franco, it was yet another opportunity to set himself apart. Dave Franco sat down with Interview to discuss nepotism in the industry, Kickstarter, and his aspirations for the future.
NIKI CRUZ: In this film, you’re not playing a high school student. How long have you waited to play someone your age?
DAVE FRANCO: My whole life! [laughs] No, it is nice. Everyone always says it’s a blessing to look a lot younger than my age, but sometimes I just want to look 27. It’s not really specified how old I am in the movie, but yes it’s clear that I’m at least out of high school.
CRUZ: Are you at a point in your career where you have a road map of what you would like to go out for?
FRANCO: Yeah, I have an idea. I think at this point, I’m trying to avoid any more asshole roles, at least for a little bit. The main criteria for me when choosing a project is a good director. I just want to work with these guys that I admire because I do want to direct my own films one day, and I want to pick their brains to see what their process is like, and see what I can take from that. In general, the few directors that I’ve worked with that I really respect have taught me a lot about who I am and they’ve opened me up as an actor. I want to take some of that to apply it to when I’m directing actors.
CRUZ: Would you want to direct full-time?
FRANCO: I would love to balance that out with writing. To be honest, I don’t see myself acting forever. I just can’t imagine myself being a 70-year-old man fighting for roles. I would love to do small parts in my friends’ movies or things that I’m directing myself. I do envision myself behind the camera as I get a little bit older.
CRUZ: I would feel a little remiss if I didn’t mention you have a brother in the industry. As far as nepotism is concerned do you feel like you’ve overcome having to prove yourself to people?
FRANCO: You tell me! [laughs]
CRUZ: I think you’re doing a good job! So far you’ve built a very different career from James. There’s a different tone to your acting.
FRANCO: Thank you. It’s been an interesting journey, because up until two years ago most people knew me as James Franco’s little brother. I made a conscious decision to distance myself from him work-wise. As much as I love him and respect him, I needed to stand on my own two feet. I have noticed a difference, or at least a change. People are starting to give me credibility, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. I’m trying to be as smart as I can. We may look and sound similar, but our personalities couldn’t be more different. He can tackle roles that I can never touch, and vice versa, and I think people are slowly starting to see that.
CRUZ: Let’s get into Now You See Me. I heard you felt like you stumbled on set with all of these great actors. Were you intimidated at first? It didn’t translate onscreen.
FRANCO: Oh, good! Definitely, that first week, I was intimidated. These are people that I looked up to for a long time. On the flip side, no one has any idea who the hell I am. I felt like I had to prove myself to them. On any new project I’m working on, the first week is nerve-wracking, but especially with these people that I admire so much and who I just want to be equal with. To be completely honest from day one everyone was so nice. They never made me feel beneath them. It was all in my own head. It was incredible to see everyone else’s process and that they still doubt themselves in a very endearing way. Even though they’ve all been working for 20, 30, or 40 years, they still doubt themselves and they want to be the best they can be.
CRUZ: What went into your research? Did you watch any David Copperfield performances?
FRANCO: Yeah, we saw Copperfield live. At the time we were filming this, I was living behind the Magic Castle in LA, and so I went there a few times. I guess the main thing I took from going to see live magic was seeing the personalities of these magicians and realizing that the best magicians are obviously very technically sound, but they’re likable people. Throughout the movie we tried to present magicians as real people who have some style and are kind of cool, rather than stereotype magicians.
CRUZ: There were no top hats!
FRANCO: Exactly! There were no funky costumes or people that were nerdy. This movie kind of feels like the new wave of what’s happening in magic.
CRUZ: I was surprised to see just how physical your role was. You have probably one of the most entertaining fight scenes, with Mark Ruffalo. How was that experience?
FRANCO: [laughs] It was a lot of fun! We put a lot of time into rehearsing that sequence. I loved it, though. I played sports my whole life, so to use those skills towards acting was a dream for me. In the middle of doing that whole sequence, I remember thinking, “Why would I want to do these dramas when I’m crying all day—when I can be flipping over tables and jumping down trash chutes?” Of course, I want to do more serious movies as well, but in the moment, it was so much fun. When I’m being physical, it completely takes me out of my head, and I can just go for it and be in the moment.
CRUZ: Speaking of fighting you’re filming Townies with Zac Efron. Did Zac really break his hand fighting you? What’s that about?
FRANCO: [laughs] Yes! I beat the shit out of Zac Efron. No, no, it was a freak accident. It shouldn’t have happened, but in the heat of the moment, he smashed his hand on the ground out of frustration during the scene, and he hit it the wrong way and fractured it, but it’s totally fine now.
CRUZ: Besides acting, you put out a short that you wrote called Would You. Since being creatively ambitious runs in your family, are you directing more shorts in the future?
FRANCO: Yeah, I would love to. With these Funny or Die videos, I do everything for them. I write them, act in them, and co-direct them with my buddy Brian McGinn, who I grew up with. We also edit them together. We’re working on a small scale of Internet videos, but we’re slowly trying to make them become a bigger thing. For example, most of our videos are almost classified as two- to three-minute skits, but with Would You, it feels like a real short, where there’s a narrative and character arcs. That was the second step for us. We took it to a few festivals, like SXSW, which was incredible. The final goal is to make features together and who knows how far down the line that will be, but we’re moving in the right direction.
CRUZ: Did you and Brian start a production company?
FRANCO: I definitely want to start my own production company at some point. I’m actually teaming up with Funny or Die to put together a TV show right now, that I can’t really talk about because it’s still in the very preliminary stages, but if it pans out this will be the first project under my production company, which I have yet to name.
CRUZ: You used Kickstarter for your Would You short. There’s a lot of controversy going on with Zach Braff’s latest Kickstarter project. It brought up the question of how and if Kickstarter should be utilized by big-name celebrities. Would you still utilize it?
FRANCO: I loved it. We hit our goal, and there was really no downside to it. It’s kind of working for everyone, right? It is working for these established stars, but it’s also still working for other people. Did Zach Braff reach his goal?
CRUZ: Yeah, he raised $2 million in three days.
FRANCO: Great. That is really cool. I have a lot of respect for that. The last film he directed was Garden State, and how many years ago was that?
CRUZ: It was in 2004.
FRANCO: Exactly. I’m sure he’s been trying to get movies off the ground since then. It’s just tough to get movies made. I commend him for taking a chance and doing everything he could to get his next movie made.
CRUZ: So it’s safe to say that the Internet is a huge factor in aiding your films now.
FRANCO: Completely. I wouldn’t be where I am without these Funny or Die videos in general. When I was first starting out, I would take roles just to get the experience, but not exactly because I believed in the projects I was doing. What I realized with Funny or Die is that I could take it into my own hands. On a much smaller scale, I think these videos are an accurate representation of who I am. As weird as they may be, I’m at least proud of them, and it showed that I do have a slightly different voice. I can’t tell you how often people bring up these videos in interviews, and I’m so happy to talk about them because we created them from the ground up.
CRUZ: Lastly, since you play an illusionist, if you could pull off a huge illusion, what would it be?
FRANCO: [laughs] Let’s see! I don’t know if this is an illusion but I would love to be able to take my card-throwing skills and be able to puncture a watermelon. Now I know I can take this question and say, “I would want to solve the economic problems in the world”—but I want to stick that card in that watermelon.
NOW YOU SEE ME OPENS IN THEATERS TOMORROW, MAY 31.