With his trademark pie eyed grin and hooded eyes it’s no wonder that James Franco first became famous for his portrayal of Daniel Desario in the highly acclaimed, although tragically short-lived TV series, Freaks and Geeks, alongside other up-and-comers including Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Linda Cardellini, and Busy Philipps.
Despite being typecast, particularly in the early years of his career, as a slacker/stoner or spoiled rich kid, he’s one of the most motivated celebrities in Tinsel Town. Although he’s only been in the limelight for just over 15 years, the star can be seen working tirelessly on project after project, being able to claim over 134 acting credits, 36 director credits, and 25 writing credits over the years. The momentum that he’s built surrounding his academic, cinematic, and theatrical pursuits, doesn’t seem to be slowing, as he increases the breadth and depth of his personal projects.
Even though he is a self-proclaimed work-horse, in just about every aspect of his life, there is something about him that is super relatable. Franco maintains his sense of humour, and his ability to laugh at himself, which adds to his charm. In 2013, 3.1 million US viewers tuned in to watch The Comedy Central Roast of James Franco, in which he was comically celebrated and lambasted by roasters including Aziz Ansari, Jonah Hill, Sarah Silverman, and Andy Samberg, and took it all, on the chin, with aplomb.
James is never boring and he continues to keep us talking. Let’s take a moment to dive into the myriad of unusual facts about Mr. James Franco.
James Franco, born in Palo Alto, California on April 19, 1978 is the eldest of three brothers. His heritage is Russian-Jewish on his mother writer/editor Betsy Levine’s side, and Portuguese and Swedish on his father, Doug Franco’s side.
His family upbringing was very academically focused and his parents weren’t exactly thrilled when he dropped out of UCLA, where he was majoring in English, to pursue acting after his first year of studies. His parents refused to financially support this decision, and the former vegetarian bit into his first meaty roll working at McDonald's to help support his acting aspirations.
Franco has written about the experience in an “Ode to McDonald's” for The Washington Post, "I was given the late shift drive-thru position. I wore a purple visor and purple polo shirt and took orders over a headset. I refrained from reading on the job, but soon started putting on fake accents with the customers to practice for my scenes in acting class."
14 Breaking The Law
It smelled like teen spirit for the Palo Alto High School student Franco while growing up. When James was in junior high he and a group of friends would shoplift high end colognes and perfumes, and re-sell them to his classmates to make some extra cash. He was arrested for underage drinking, graffiti, crashing cars, and for the smelly-resale scam. These series of arrests led to him temporarily being placed under the protection of an alternative legal guardian as a ward of the state, but he was lucky and given a second chance to clean up his act by the judge. Of the time period Franco says, “It was teen angst. I was uncomfortable in my own skin. I was shy. I changed my ways just in time to get good grades.” Ironically the actor became the face of Gucci cologne in 2008, so presumably he still gets his scents at a discount.
13 Team Edward
Franco is an avid reader and has confessed to reading the entire Stephanie Meyers Twilight series. James Franco fully disclosed that his Twilight loyalties lie with Team Edward. Perhaps his affections for the brooding vampire have something to do with his own name. James’s family affectionately calls the actor “Ted,” a shortened version of Teddy Bear, a nickname based on the shortening of his middle name.
As a writer and cunning linguist, Franco says his favourite word of all time is “scotch” simply because he likes the way it sounds. A linguistic pet peeve is reading a book or story peppered with the expressions “I thought” or “he said."
In-between filming of The Interview, James was preparing for his oral exams in English Literature at Yale and spent most of his spare time reading Edgar Allan Poe’s The Philosophy of Composition and The Narrative of Pym of Nantucket (a Moby Dick-type story).
12 What He’ll Do For A Role
Franco likes to immerse himself into the characters he’s playing and is willing to make personal sacrifices for the roles he takes on. To better embody the Rebel Without A Cause James Dean in the 2001 TNT cable biopic the young rising star took up smoking two packs of cigarettes each day to prepare. Not previously being a smoker, he butted out the habit shortly after. His commitment to the craft paid off when he earned a 2002 Golden Globe Award for best actor for his performance in the pic.
To get ready for his role as a drug addict in City by the Sea, he decided to live on the streets for several days. In preparing for his role for the 2006 film Flyboys, Franco took to the sky and earned his pilot’s license, and he shadowed a male prostitute to help prepare for his role in Sonny. He has also trained in horseback riding and sword fighting to prepare for the film Tristan & Isolde, but unfortunately many of the scenes he worked so hard to prepare for were cut from the film.
When seeking direction for his acting , he sometimes speaks about himself in the third person, asking the director, “What do you want him to do?” and referring to the character he’s playing.
11 His Award of Stoner of the Year Was Just Blowing Smoke
In the 2008 film, Pineapple Express Franco played Saul Silver, the drug dealer with a heart of gold. Saul only sells weed, and does so to help pay for a good retirement home for his beloved Bubby (grandma). Originally, the part of Saul was supposed to be played by Seth Rogen, with Franco to play the character of Dale Denton. However, when Franco met up with Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen he convinced them that he really wanted to play Saul, and they decided to just roll with it.
Following the release of Pineapple Express, High Times magazine honoured Franco with the award of “Stoner of the Year.” This is particularly notable since Franco has said he no long smokes pot, mostly because, with his jam packed schedule, he doesn’t have time. He did, however, say that his first time getting high was right before a dance in the eighth grade.
10 He’s A Soap Opera Star
In 2009 he became a part of the cast of the daytime soap General Hospital with a recurring role that got audiences talking. He played Franco, a mysterious multimedia artist (much like the real James Franco) who joined the residents of the fictional city of Port Charles. The character Franco became entangled in their lives for a character arc that spanned three years and 54 episodes before concluding in 2012. His real life mother, Betsy Franco, played the artist’s mother on the show as well.
In order to help promote soap operas as legit forms of artistic expression, James Franco even penned an essay for The Wall Street Journal to discuss his role on General Hospital. Franco wrote, “My hope was for people to ask themselves if soap operas are really that far from entertainment that is considered critically legitimate.” Franco has called his role on the soap performance art.
9 He May Not Be The Best On-screen Kisser
Although James Franco made his film debut with a role in the Drew Barrymore film Never Been Kissed, the actor admittedly may not be the type of on-screen kisser that other actors rave about. While he was a part of a Newsweek panel about acting, during the topic of kissing scenes, Franco mentioned that he had previously made a home sex tape and learned his lessons on what looks good for the camera isn’t necessarily what feels the best. The actor said, “I remember when I was 19 doing that, and then watching it back and thinking ‘Oh that looks horrible’. So you have to have a lot of respect for those actors in pornography, because they are really not just doing it, they’re really selling it! It’s the same thing with a kiss. It’s not just the kiss that feels best, it’s an image. Something different is happening if it’s a good kiss.”
8 Setting The Record “Straight” On Franco’s Sexuality
For years there have been rumours about James and his sexuality. He frequently portrays gay characters and has done so in Howl (alongside Jon Hamm) and played Harvey Milk’s long-time partner opposite Sean Penn in the biopic Milk. James is a very vocal supporter of gay rights, and isn’t afraid to dress up in drag, whether it’s on the cover of Candy magazine, or when he co-hosted the Oscars alongside Anne Hathaway. Franco often pokes fun at his sexuality, and even played himself in an episode of 30 Rock, in a plot line where Jenna enters a fake relationship with the star to combat rumours that Franco is in fact in love with a Japanese Body Pillow. Spoiler alert: he is, and ends up having a drunken threesome with character Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) and the naughty pillow. In March 2015, during an interview with Four Two Nine Franco provided some insight surrounding his sexuality speaking as both “Gay James” and “Straight James” saying, “Well, I like to think that I'm gay in my art and straight in my life. Although, I'm also gay in my life up to the point of intercourse, and then you could say I'm straight. So I guess it depends on how you define gay. If it means whom you have sex with, I guess I'm straight.”
7 He Wanted To Be Spider-Man
We all have superhero aspirations at one time or another, and James Franco’s was to portray Spider-Man in the 2002 film. Although he didn’t land the role of Spider-Man he was cast in the role of Harry Osborn, the spoiled son of the villain, The Green Goblin. James Franco returned, reprising the role for Spider-Man 2 in 2004 and Spider-Man 3 in 2007.
Known for his multi-tasking abilities, James had re-enrolled at UCLA in 2006 for English, with an accelerated course load and earned a number of his degree credits for his independent study for his work on the set of Spider-Man 3.
Franco had a cameo in the 2007 film Knocked Up where he played an admittedly “jerkier” version of himself being interviewed by Katherine Heigl’s entertainment reporter character about his recent role in the Spider-Man series while she repeatedly threw-up during the questioning. Franco has said that he portrayed a less kind version of himself for his brief role simply because it made the scene funnier.
6 Scholastic Achievements
Two years after re-enrolling at UCLA, and because of the heavy course load he took on, James managed to graduate quickly with a solid grade point average of 3.5. Next he went on to simultaneously complete four different graduate school and academic programs: Columbia University for their MFA writing program, New York University’s Tisch School for Fine Arts for filmmaking, Brooklyn College for fiction writing, and the low-residency MFA Program for Writers at North Carolina’s Warren Wilson College for Poetry.
He received a “D” grade in a Directing the Actor class in his New York University program for missing a total of 12 of the 14 scheduled sessions because he was filming 127 Hours.
He is currently a PhD. Student in English at Yale University and has attended the Rhode Island School of Design. Franco has told the Washington Post about his studies, “"I go to school because I love being around people who are interested in what I'm interested in and I'm having a great experience... I'm studying things that I love so it's not like it's a chore."
5 He Has A Weird Obsession With Ryan Gosling
There is something that James Franco has in common with many other people, he’s got a big crush, bordering on weird obsession with Hollywood heartthrob and hunk Ryan Gosling. In 2013, he wrote a piece for The Huffington Post that was both a review of Gosling’s movie The Place Beyond the Pines and a somewhat creepy ode to the young star entitled, “Burning for Gosling," but that’s not all! In the article James writes, “But what I want to talk about is the first section, the Gosling section; I want to make love to this section.” He adds, “We still haven’t seen his face but we know it’s the Gos: the hair, the head, the strut.” Franco routinely peppers his Instagram account with Ryan Gosling related content, in fact he even made a meme of Ryan Gosling wishing him a Happy Birthday as a personal birthday present to himself.
4 No. Sleep. For Franco
James Franco thinks that sleep is for the weak and doesn’t understand people who love to sleep! He sleeps for just a few hours each night and indulges in several cat naps during the day to make it through, with an assistant who helps get him to his appointments, his classes, his meals and more, so he doesn’t need to think much about it. According to James’s younger brother, actor Dave Franco, James’s terrible sleep habits are because the star always feels like he could and should be doing something more productive than sleeping. In their shared family apartment James would only pass out on the couch in the living room when he was so tired that he could no longer physically stay awake. This is when his brother used the opportunity to take over James’s master bedroom, because after all it wasn’t like he was even using it. Franco was embarrassed after her was photographed, asleep in a college lecture hall, likely due to exhaustion.
3 He’s A Visual Artist
While it’s often assumed that Franco started to pursue art after he reached fame as an actor, the star has enjoyed painting in his spare time since high school. His first solo art show was exhibited in a five-room space of New York City’s Clocktower Gallery. The show was called, “The Dangerous Book of Four Boys,” and included artistic mediums such as photos, drawings, videos and sculptures. As a part of the promotion of the movie This is the End, Franco decided to paint a mural depicting the core group of actors in the film. All of the painted actors, with the notable exception of Seth Rogen with his typical smile, look like miserable, pained, melting wax figures of themselves. During an appearance on Conan to promote the movie, Jonah Hill was asked to comment on the particularly bad likeness of himself in the mural. Jonah said his depiction is like, “[A] grave robber from the 1400s who’s now a ghost."
2 Writer And Director Hobbies
Within his jam packed schedule Franco has also decided to dabble in writing as well as directing. He has directed two very short films that are set to R.E.M. songs, and one of these videos even features Lindsay Lohan. There have been rumours, particularly after the release of Lindsay Lohan’s infamous “sex list” (mentioning which other stars the troubled star has hooked up with over the years), with Franco prominently placed on the Lindsay list. James has adamantly denied this connection to the redhead, and even wrote a short story about someone spending a night, but not sharing a bed with a “fictional” celebrity named Lindsay. He also created a re-imagination of the sitcom Three’s Company as a dramatic short film for The Sundance Film Festival. James co-wrote and directed a film about a writer who lives with a talking ape called Ape with Spongebob Squarepants writer Merriweather Williams.
1 Awards And Nominations
In 2013, James Franco received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, at the age of 34. He has won numerous awards and award nominations over the years. He was nominated for both an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Performance for his work in 127 Hours. He was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture, Comedy or Musical for his performance in Pineapple Express. He has been nominated for three Primetime Emmy Awards, the BAFTA Film Awards, and by the Cannes Film Festival. He won a Teddy at the Berlin International Film Festival for Best Short Film for The Feast of Stephen and won a shared Best Acting Ensemble Award for his work on Milk (he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for the film). With so much great work under his belt, we have to wonder, what’s he going to do next?