James and Dave Franco have finally starred in a film together after years of resistance from the younger brother. The duo talk to Laura Harding about why the time was right
It can be hard to grow up in the shadow of an older sibling, especially if that sibling is as famous and successful as James Franco.
This seems to be something Dave Franco has always been aware of. Seven years younger than his Oscar-nominated brother, it was the reason he rejected offers to work together time after time.
After the elder Franco, now 39, found fame on the critically-acclaimed but short-lived Freaks And Geeks, he followed it up as Harry Osborn opposite Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man and bagged a best actor nod for 127 Hours. He also expanded into directing, writing and teaching - he’s a film professor at the University of Southern California.
But Dave, 32, has deliberately veered away from the path trodden by his big brother, with roles in the Now You See Me films and Bad Neighbours - until now.
The pair finally team up in The Disaster Artist, directed by James, a film about the so-bad-it’s-a-cult-classic movie The Room.
The older Franco plays the mysterious and eccentric filmmaker and star Tommy Wiseau, while the younger is Greg Sestero, the ambitious handsome actor Wiseau took under his wing. “I always wanted to work together,” James enthuses. “And I thought, ‘This is the one, I hope he says yes’. I can actually remember talking to one of the other producers about it, saying, ‘I really want Dave to do this, will you talk to him?’ because he had said no a couple of times. I crossed my fingers.”
That refusal to collaborate had been a deliberate strategy on Dave’s part. “When I was first starting my career, I wanted to pave my own path, I wanted to do my own thing,” he explains.
“After a while I felt like I was standing on my own two feet and it felt like the right timing and the right project. We both really understood the dynamic between these characters and it appealed to my sensibilities.”
While the brothers are different, they are clearly close. Shut your eyes and it would be impossible to tell who is talking. Sitting side by side in a London hotel, elbows touching, they frequently speak over each other, finishing each other’s sentences.
Their voices, inflected with California accents, are almost indistinguishable from each other.
So hearing them talk now feels a million miles away from the baffling, non-specific European accent James adopts as Wiseau, to complement his heavy prosthetics.
It’s a persona he even kept up while directing. “I don’t think he knew he was going to direct in character. I don’t think that was an intentional choice, we just showed up on set and it just kind of happened,” Dave recalls.
James adds: “The first scenes we shot were all the-behind-the scenes on The Room set and were the first time I was really in prosthetics.
“Boom, I showed up on the set and it was like,” here he changes to Wiseau’s voice, “ ‘Just do the scene’.
“Then I figured I might as well keep the voice going, it will just be easier - and it just sort of happened like that. Tommy just sort of took over like a virus.”
It is still effortless for him to slip back into that absurd accent now, months after filming wrapped.
That accent made it hard for the famous friends the brothers stacked the film with, including Seth Rogen, who is a long-time close pal and James’ co-star in The Interview, Zac Efron, who starred with Dave in Bad Neighbours, Bryan Cranston, Judd Apatow, Kristen Bell and Adam Scott. Almost all of them were super-fans of The Room but some were better than others at holding it together during takes. “Dave was pretty good, Dave held it together,” James says.
“But there are a couple of scenes that I think only I notice when you can see Seth Rogen covering his face and we cut away just before he cracks up. So is this the start of a Franco brothers empire? “This is definitely the start of us wanting to work together a lot more. I don’t want to jump to empire just yet,” Dave says. “We have a new production company called Ramona so we are producing stuff together.” A few days later, it emerges that James is in negotiation to star in a film about Marvel Comics character Multiple Man with the brothers’ new company producing.
So that empire doesn’t seem so far off after all.
The Disaster Artist is out now