WHEN Dave Franco first set out to be an actor, he was sure of just one thing: ‘I didn’t want to be known as James Franco’s little brother my whole life.’
He consciously paved his career path away from that of his polymath, Oscar-nominated older sibling. But a breakthrough role in 21 Jump Street led to him being typecast in a series of what he calls ‘asshole characters — but I’d like to think they are three-dimensional assholes’ in mainstream comedies such as Bad Neighbours and the Now You See Me series.
Then one day he got a text from James: ‘If you haven’t seen The Room, watch it immediately. We need to make our own movie about it.’
Dave obediently watched The Room by himself, in a motel room in Boston. ‘That is not the way to watch The Room for the first time,’ he advises, ‘because you want to turn to someone and say, “What the hell was that?” I found it very unsettling.
‘Soon after that, I attended one of the midnight screenings where you yell at the screen and thrown spoons, and I immediately understood its cult status. I’ve now seen it about 25 times.’
The Room, for the uninitiated, is perhaps the best worst movie ever made. The man who directed, wrote, starred in and mysteriously produced it with $6 million of his own money is Tommy Wiseau, an ageless eccentric with an Eastern European accent who, as Franco put it, ‘kind of looks like a vampire and refers to himself as a vampire’.
James plays Wiseau in The Disaster Artist, a film about the making of The Room, which he also directs. Dave plays The Room’s star, Greg Sestero, a pretty young wannabe Wiseau enviously nicknames Baby Face. It’s a label equally applicable to the smooth-jawed, bushy-tailed Dave.
‘People ask me why I don’t play characters closer to my own age,’ he says. ‘Trust me, it’s not my decision. People just won’t believe me as a 32-year-old man on screen yet!’
As kids, the Francos’ dynamic was somewhat similar to how it is now: the tormented artist and the happy-go-lucky young pup.
‘James was slightly more brooding and feels he went through more struggles growing up,’ says Dave. ‘He was the first child, so my parents were a little stricter with him. By the time I came along, seven years later, my parents were tired and they just let me do whatever I wanted.’
Working together as adults, however, revealed some surprises.
‘James was the happiest I have ever seen him behind the camera,’ says Dave. ‘He is like a little kid and on set he is actually very relaxed, where I am a little more “type A”. I get very perfectionist and James didn’t realise that. I need to stop being such a perfectionist because it does stress me out.’
Even having his wife, actress Alison Brie, playing his on-screen wife was a source of anxiety: ‘What if we didn’t have chemistry? It could be a disaster!’
In the face of such worries, Dave confesses that writing poetry keeps him sane. ‘Whereas in acting there is so much that is out of your control, like driving yourself crazy waiting for the next audition, writing is something you have control over,’ he says.
James is a poet too (as well as a painter/teacher/PhD student/ukulele player/you name it), while the pair’s middle brother, Tom, is a sculptor. Had acting not worked out, Dave says he wanted to be a creative writing teacher.
‘We grew up in a very strange, artsy household,’ he says. ‘My mom and dad were both painting majors in college and my mom has been writing since then and, inspired by us, she’s recently taken acting classes.’
With The Disaster Artist threatening a second Oscar nomination for James (his first nod was for 127 Hours) and opening up different roles for Dave — he lost just under two stone to play a heroin addict in his next film, 6 Balloons, a ‘very dark, very small indie’ — making a movie about the worst film ever made looks like being the Franco brothers’ best career move.
The two are now plotting a new movie, Zeroville, together, in which Dave plays post-war Hollywood legend Montgomery Clift. No news yet on whether they’re casting mom as well…
The Disaster Artist is out in selected cinemas today and on wide release from December 8