In the new comedy Neighbors, out May 9th, Dave Franco plays a member of a frat who, alongside Zac Efron, wreaks havoc on Seth Rogen’s quiet family who lives next door. For the 28-year-old Franco, the role is the latest in a string of recent box-office hits (from Now You See Me to 21 Jump Street) which have helped him creep out of the shadow of his famous brother and morph into a viable screen star. This year in particular has been a big one for Franco: after voicing a role in the surprise hit The Lego Movie, his part in Neighbors precedes the release of next month’s highly anticipated sequel, 22 Jump Street. Here, Franco discusses breaking into the industry through online videos, his career-defining, seven second role in Superbad, and his brother’s obsession with taking pictures of himself, sometimes in the nude.
I saw Neighbors and I absolutely loved it, so I’m going to be bold right now. The main competition for Neighbors is The Amazing Spider-Man 2, so let me just say this: fuck Spider-Man.
Whoa! I’ll take it, man. Have you seen the new Spider-Man yet?
No, I haven’t. Have you?
No. Well, it’s so weird because I’m obviously not very old but this whole new incarnation of Spider-Man just seems so quick. The past incarnation is still so fresh in my mind that it’s too soon for me. But I don’t feel as aggressive as you!
To play devil’s advocate, kids in high school now probably don’t feel the same way. Imagine when Batman was rebooted with Christian Bale. I’m sure there were people who were like, “Oh, doing Batman again?!”
Totally! I haven’t seen the first new Spider-Man. Nothing against it, even though I know you have more against it than me.
But I really do love Neighbors, and I think it’s a really juicy comedy role for you. It’s a long way from your role in Superbad.
[Laughs] I had a strong seven seconds in Superbad.
Were you getting recognized a lot for that moment? Superbad is sort of an iconic movie now.
There’s definitely been about eight times in my life where people have yelled at me, “Why don’t you go piss your pants again?!” So, I’ll take it! To have a seven second role resonate like that.
It’s like being in an ’80s era John Hughes movie. People are going to be watching and quoting it for years.
I remember first reading the script for Superbad with the intention of auditioning for a few small parts, and knowing right away that it was unlike anything else I had ever read. I would have just been an extra, so the fact that I had a line was a big accomplishment at the time.
In the beginning of your career you were in some movies that were good, but didn’t really break out at the box office. Then you land lead roles in 21 Jump Street, The Lego Movie, Now You See Me, and now Neighbors. These are big, smash-hit films all in a row.
It’s insane, honestly. I do recognize that this is not the norm and it will never be like this again. I feel very lucky right now, because I made a conscious decision years ago to only meet about projects that I really wanted to do and I was passionate about. That could have been the dumbest decision I’ve ever made, because I could have never worked again. In the meantime, I’ve kept myself busy and I was able to be patient because I was doing these Funny or Die videos, and I was happy doing them as long as it took until I read a script that I really loved. I’m not saying I have the greatest taste in the world, but at least I go in with the right intentions and I knew that these movies at least had a chance to be something unique, different, and exciting. For all these movies, I give 100 percent credit to the filmmakers and everyone around me because you have to work with good material and work together. I’m obviously going on a cliche diatribe right now.
Your videos for Funny or Die are hilarious.
Thanks man! Which one are you thinking of?
Well, the “Go Fuck Yourself” one for sure. I feel like that’s exactly the kind of video that would help you land a role in a raunchy college comedy like Neighbors.
I’m glad you said that, because I honestly believe that I wouldn’t be around and doing this interview with you if it weren’t for those videos. For example, when I was trying out for 21 Jump Street it was a really arduous process. I went in about seven times, which is crazy. At around that time, my “You’re So Hot” video went online and I found out that it kind of pushed me over the edge to get the part. It’s crazy with Funny or Die, because if you have a video on there that’s a success, more people are going to watch that than watch an independent movie. What I love about the guys over there is they want you to have your own voice, and they give you full creative freedom. I’ve developed this relationship where I can write something today, shoot it tomorrow, and Funny or Die would help pay for production costs, and a week later that video could be online. The immediacy of that is amazing, because I’ve been writing a lot longer than I’ve been acting and it’s not like I shy away from writing feature films, but it takes a long time; I’ve been working on one for years now and odds are it’ll never see the light of day. It’s impossible to get a feature off the ground these days, but with Funny or Die anything with them is easy, feasible, and gets done quickly.
You grew up in Palo Alto, California… that’s a really nice place.
It is, and I feel very lucky being from such a nice place. It’s a nice juxtaposition to LA too, because as much as I’ve grown to love LA… it can become a little much. The entire city revolves around one industry, and you can really feel that. Even this guy who works at my favorite sandwich shop. He was gone for a couple months, and when he got back I was like, “Where have ya been, man?” And he said he was off working on some indie movie, and I thought, “No, you too?!” So it’s nice to go to a place like Palo Alto and escape it all. Some of my best friends still live on my block, so it’s good to know that when I go home I have my buddies up there too.
So, you don’t have any social media, but your brother on the other hand.
Tell me more, because I’m honestly pretty naïve to it all. I don’t have an Instagram so I don’t follow him. All I know is that there’s a selfie obsession of some sort?
Yeah, well he just posted a selfie and it was pretty revealing.
What was he showing?!
Well, you can see his “V” going down to James Jr.
Do you see pubes?
Here, lemme show you.
Yeah, we gotta see this. I say “we gotta see this” after I ask if we see pubes [Laughs]. What are people’s general responses to this?
I was actually reading some of the comments last night, and people go crazy. But why do you personally shy away from social media?
To be honest, it scares me a little bit for a few different reasons. I think there would be pressure to post something interesting every day.
But I feel like if there’s someone who could post interesting things, it’d be a big time Hollywood actor.
Yeah, yeah. It’d have to be under my terms, where if I have a Funny or Die video I want to promote I could do that, and not.. “Shit, it’s been three days and I haven’t posted anything!”
Well, Leonardo DiCaprio only posts about environmental issues on his Twitter and not, “I just had a sandwich.” You can post whatever you want.
It makes me think back to when AOL Instant Messenger first came on the scene. I’d be talking to one of my friends online, and then another little window would pop up and I’d be like “Oh shit, there’s two conversations going.” And then a third window would pop up, and I’d freak out and sign out without saying goodbye to anyone. It overwhelms me in a way. At this point, I’ve made it this far and I have enough friends who have a good presence on Twitter, so if I have a video I want to promote I just have them tweet it out. I made it this far (without social media), so I’m just going to stick it out.