Laird in the Middle: A Conversation with the Award Winning Multi Talented James Franco for the Home Entertainment Release of WHY HIM?
James Franco is an actor, director, screenwriter, producer, teacher and author. He began his career on FREAKS AND GEEKS and received a Golden Globe Award for his performance in the biographical film JAMES DEAN. Notable film credits include OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL, SPRING BREAKERS, Harry Osborn in the SPIDER-MAN trilogy, MILK, THIS IS THE END, PINEAPPLE EXPRESS for which he received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor and 127 HOURS for which he received Academy Award, SAG and Golden Globe nominations for Best Actor. He has directed and produced several features including CHILD OF GOD, AS I LAY DYING, ZEROVILLE, SATURDAY NIGHT and IN DUBIOUS BATTLE. His small screen credits include 11.22.63 and the highly anticipated upcoming show THE DEUCE. He made his Broadway debut in OF MICE & MEN to rave reviews and directed the off-Broadway play THE LONG SHRIFT. He has been published several times in magazines and through his own books and teaches college courses at UCLA, USC and CAL ARTS, and acting classes at STUDIO 4. His production company, Rabbit Bandini Productions, has recently launched a new venture with the charity, The Art of Elysium, and together they have created the first philanthropic studio, Elysium Bandini Studios.
In WHY HIM?, from director John Hamburg, Franco plays Laird, an eccentric tech millionaire who has fallen for Stephanie (Zoey Deutch), the daughter of Cranston’s Ned Fleming. Inviting the Fleming family to spend Christmas at his Palo Alto pad, Laird goes to great lengths to impress his girlfriend’s nearest and dearest, but his eccentricities often get the better of him, and drive Ned insane.
From the film’s set at Fox Studios in Los Angeles, Franco explains his attraction to the role and working with Bryan Cranston.
What first appealed to you about this project?
John [Hamburg] brought it to me and I knew John - he was my professor at NYU, when I was there for graduate filmmaking - so I was interested. I met Bryan for the first time backstage on the last episode of THE COLBERT REPORT. He came up to me backstage and said, "I've got this script WHY HIM?, maybe we should discuss it." That got us kind of talking and emailing. Eventually we met with John and really talked out the script and went over the whole thing together. We talked about where we wanted to go. I thought, John directing and starring opposite Bryan was a great combination.
How much have these characters developed since you and Bryan Cranston were brought on board?
The character developed a bit. The setup has always been that I'm someone who is repellent to Bryan's character, but in a particular way where most of it is surface level stuff that's upsetting him, and he can't really see beneath it and understand that I'm actually a decent guy who really loves his daughter. That setup was always in place. It's just the particulars of what was setting him off, the specifics of the tattoos, the attitude that I have and all of those little things that developed. Maybe John [Hamburg] and I molded that as we went along.
Bryan said that the thing about Laird – your character – is that everything he says is truthful, and it’s just that the way he says it grates on Ned, Bryan’s character.
Yeah. I think the whole movie depends on that. I'm not somebody that is actually bad for his daughter. I'm actually good for his daughter. It's just that he has to misunderstand me. I felt like that was a little tricky because it was really important that Laird be an honest and loving person, but doing that, and then not having him come off as soft, is a challenge. If it's clear from the beginning that he's actually a really good person. If it would be obvious to somebody like Ned, then the movie wouldn't work, so he can't come off soft. Maybe it’s a generational thing with these two. Perhaps it’ll split along generational lines. The fathers will root for Ned, and the kids will like Laird. [laughs]
How has it been to find that level of comic antagonism with Bryan?
It's been very easy. Bryan is so good that it's sort of like he just understands. It's a great feeling when you work with a partner, especially in comedy, where there is a lot of improv. When you have a partner who just sort of gets it, then it's like playing music. It's like playing jazz. Then you can roll and build off each other.
One of the key elements for me in this project was Bryan. I knew John before. John had actually been my teacher, although I couldn't go to class very much because I was doing 127 HOURS at the time. [laughs] He was my directing teacher at NYU. I've known John for a long time and really liked his stuff. And I’d heard great things about him from friends of mine like Rashida Jones. She'd worked with him.
Knowing that it would be opposite Bryan was one of the most interesting things to me, especially because I'd been doing a fair amount of comedy, mainly with Seth Rogen, and I liked the idea of having a different kind of comedic partner to bounce off and see where that took us.
Why Him? is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Monday May 1, courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment