Dave Franco, million-dollar smile and all, bounds into a small café in the middle of a commercial block of West Hollywood on the first cool day of autumn. What was he wearing? Jeans? A sweater? Who cares. A synecdoche for the 27-year-old actor would be “the teeth and lips and chiseled jaw.” We find a table outside, sit, and order some eggs. “Giraffes ejaculating,” he says, as the waitress plops our food in front of us. He had been given the following improv cue: What is the most surreal thing you can say, right now? Don’t think.
Franco has made a career out of accepting his own dares, specifically a series of ultra-raunchy videos he wrote and starred in for the humor site Funny or Die. The the one where he takes an ex-girlfriend’s suggestion to “go fuck yourself” literally and ends up lustfully pounding his own bottom was particularly popular. “I give the special effects guy so much credit, because my initial idea was to just find a guy who looks like me and film the back of his head,” he says. “But to superimpose my head on somebody else’s body makes the whole thing unique.” This bizarre waggishness has familial roots, the Palo Alto native says, explaining that his two older brothers—artist Tom and actor James—exposed him to certain things “sooner than I should have known about them.” The resulting twisted sense of humor is on full display in a two-part series of skits for the site in which he and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (with whom he costarred in Superbad and Fright Night) play a game of sexual chicken, delivering come-ons to each other until there’s no choice left but to laugh or vomit. They do both.
“Every meeting and interview I have, people mostly want to address the Funny or Die videos, which I’m happy to do because I feel like they’re an accurate representation of my humor, as twisted as it may be,” he says. “I’m actually excited to talk about them, whereas an actor, at least when you’re first starting out, does a lot of jobs that you wouldn’t necessarily choose to do.” He’s bagged only a handful of onscreen roles, which is surprising when one considers the impressive roster of projects he’s worked on—Superbad, Milk, Greenberg, Fright Night, 21 Jump Street, and now the romantic zomb-edy Warm Bodies, due out in February. More often than not, Franco plays a bully or an asshole who gets killed off somewhere around the 30-minute mark. (In Warm Bodies, he plays Teresa Palmer’s militant boyfriend whose brains are eaten by Nicholas Hoult’s semi-dead emo-zombie boy.)
But all that is about to change. Franco’s following film, Now You See Me, about magicians who use their sleights-of-hand to rob banks, finds the young actor playing alongside Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Morgan Freeman, and Michael Caine. “My friends were like, ‘How the fuck did you sneak into that role?’” He has every right to be excited. The film has Franco primed to launch, but he’s still trepidatious. “My costars have been acting for 20, 30, 40 years,” he says. “That they still doubt themselves and their abilities makes me feel comforted, but it’s also a little disconcerting that in 30 years I still won’t be comfortable.”
While he waits for Now You See Me’s 2013 release, Franco has more pressing matters on the docket—more screenwriting exercises, which he hopes he can build into an Apatow-like comedy film clique with his buddies. His next Funny or Die video takes on the classic bathroom-humor game, Would You Rather? “Once you make the decision of which route you’re going to take, there’s a weird effect where you’re now in this dream of it actually happening,” he says. “It’s more of a short film rather than skit.” Franco offers an example: “Would you rather watch as your dad fucks your mom doggy-style and never break eye contact with either of them the whole time, or jerk off to a picture of your mom while she watches you do it?” He stares at me, waiting for a reaction. And, somewhere in the world, a giraffe ejaculates.
Photography by Doug Inglish