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The Look

Mr Dave Franco

Having come of age around comedic kingpins including Messrs Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill, the 29-year-old now stars in Unfinished Business

If you’re one of those people, whose only newsfeed is social media, then you might conclude on reviewing the scant available evidence, that Mr Dave Franco is dating his Neighbors co-star Mr Zac Efron. He’s not. That’s just a rumour started by his older, more social media-savvy sibling, James, who posted a doctored HollywoodLife article showing a photo of the duo cosying up at a basketball game. Having said that, they did share a suspiciously authentic on-screen “bromance”.

Dig a little further and you might wind up at Funny or Die, the comedy site for which Mr Franco has created a handful of short movies. There’s the “You’re So Hot” trilogy, a series of spaghetti western-style showdowns in which he trades increasingly filthy sexual exchanges with Mr Christopher Mintz-Plasse before facing off in a game of what the Urban Dictionary refers to as “gay chicken”. Or the unsentimentally titled “Go F**k Yourself”, which employs a little camera trickery to show him doing… well, exactly that.

Scour the internet for long enough, and a slightly more holistic rendering emerges – one of a crass, funny and transgressive young comedian. But, while in person he can be all of these things, this is not the real Dave Franco. Unlike his brother, who helms a high-profile personal brand that seems as if it must take dozens of man-hours a week to maintain, Franco the Younger has gone out of his way to remain something of a man of mystery. It’s an aura that he might not be able to maintain for too much longer, though. Such as that favourite neighbourhood restaurant that only the insiders know about, he’s just one rave review away from blowing up.

The fuel required for lift-off is there for all to see: scene-stealing appearances in Neighbors (watch out for his flawless impersonation of a Meet the Fockers Mr Robert De Niro). Or in 21 Jump Street as the obnoxious eco-warrior and high-school drug dealer Eric Molson. He’s also picking up parts in more serious movies; he’s in London right now filming the follow-up to the 2013 heist movie, Now You See Me. None of this should come as any great surprise to those who have followed his career over the past few years – but one person who does seem genuinely surprised is Mr Franco himself.

“I honestly have no idea how I’ve ended up in this position,” he laughs. In person, he’s warm and likeable. He jokes. He tells stories. He asks questions. He does not try to have sex with himself. He drives the conversation along with phrases such as, “I’m curious why you’d think that,” or, “It’s funny that you should say that.” His voice, a strained Cali twang that emanates from somewhere in the back of his throat, makes him sound as if he’s forever on the brink of laughter. When he laughs – which he often does – it comes out with force, like a cough.

“What can I say?” he continues. “I’ve been surrounded by a lot of people that are way, way more talented than me. I’m just fortunate to have somehow infiltrated their world. They make me look a lot better than I actually am.”

Does he ever feel intimidated?

“Totally! Absolutely. Especially on comedy sets. I’m not a joke-a-minute guy; my strategy is just to play it straight. And I’m surrounded by these people for whom comedy is just in their blood. But when you work with these actors who are so inherently funny, you can’t fail. They’ll turn whatever you say into gold.”

It’s a little hard to reconcile Mr Franco’s slick, savvy on-screen persona with the side he’s revealing now – one that’s self-effacing almost to the point of self-doubt. A cynical explanation would be to say that he’s selling himself short in order to second-guess that old “nepotism in Hollywood” question. It was his older brother James’ manager who first introduced him to acting when he was a sophomore at the University of Southern California. At that point, he didn’t have much of a plan. He’d migrated south from his hometown of Palo Alto and chosen a psychology major because “when you’re unsure of what you want to do with your life you either major in psychology or communications”. Mr Franco will be the first to admit that acting was thrust upon him.

But the analog Mr Dave Franco, as opposed to the digital one, is far too genuine a guy to mistake this expression of humility for anything other than exactly what it is. Besides, take a look at the people he’s talking about: Mr Seth Rogen. Mr Judd Apatow. His brother. And Mr Evan Goldberg, the writer-director-producer who often collaborates with Mr Rogen. These are guys who have risen out of the primordial soup of stoner comedies to become, individually and as a group, some of the most influential men in Hollywood right now. Of course you’d question your right to be working alongside them; anybody would. “They’re… inspiring,” he sighs. “Plenty of people talk s*** and say, ‘hey, we should totally make a movie about this’. How many of them actually get out of their seat afterwards and do it?”

He’s particularly complimentary of Mr Rogen. “He has a hand in everything. Acting, directing, producing… and not just in comedy. He’s in the new Steve Jobs movie, too. I have huge respect for how hard he’s working.” He shudders a little at the mention of The Interview, though – that Rogen-Goldberg project that triggered a minor diplomatic incident last December after the pro-North Korean hacker group Guardians of Peace broke into the servers of the movie’s parent company, Sony Pictures, and released a slew of sensitive emails. Sony responded by pulling the plug on the movie. Hollywood erupted in protest. The President stepped in. Suffice to say, it all got a little out of hand. What was Mr Franco’s take on it all?

“Man, I can’t even…” he sighs, shaking his head. “I’m already scared of social media. If Twitter scares me, imagine how I feel about this! And the fact that people were joking that this was going to start World War Three… it’s still a crazy thing to even joke about. Wars have been started over dumber shit than this. I don’t know what to say. I still don’t.” The whole thing sounds as if it was just a little too close to home for him. The movie did star his older brother, after all.

Troubling matters aside, Mr Franco is every bit the optimist that his west coast demeanour, constant grin and cacophonous laugh seem to suggest. He has every right to be, too. Parts are rolling in. He’ll soon be appearing alongside Messrs Vince Vaughn and Tom Wilkinson in the raucous business trip movie, Unfinished Business – and he gets to go to work alongside people that he considers friends.

“That’s the dream,” he says. “When you’re able to attach your friends to a project – ideally one that you’ve written, produced and directed – then there’s that feeling of control in an industry that can often seem as if it’s operating outside of your sphere of influence. That’s why I love what guys like Seth are doing. They’re taking things into their own hands. They’re gonna run this town one day.”

He has a point. When he says “guys like Seth”, he’s talking about the industry players of the future. Hollywood’s Young Turks. The New School. And Mr Franco should know. He’s one of its rising stars.