As brothers James and Dave Franco finally star together, they speak to Laura Harding about new film The Disaster Artist.
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 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.
“Not only is it easy, it’s probably stuck with me forever,” he laughs.
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. He’s laughing and it sort of makes sense because the character would sometimes laugh at the ridiculousness of my character but it’s definitely just Seth laughing at how crazy it is.”
Now the brothers have worked together so successfully – James was named best actor at the Gotham Awards and the film won best adapted screenplay from the National Board Of Review – they plan to do it again.
This means they will join Hollywood’s illustrious collection of successful sibling double acts. It includes Stranger Things creators the Duffer brothers, Fargo and The Big Lebowski filmmakers the Coen brothers, and indie darlings the Duplass brothers, who are responsible for The Skeleton Twins, Safety Not Guaranteed and The Overnight.
Those are tough acts to follow, James says. “I like all the brothers that work together!” he exclaims. 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. They also hope to direct together, although there have been some roadblocks.
“We wanted to direct this together but we discovered that the Directors Guild of America has some pretty strict rules about it,” Dave says. “But we are going to do everything we can to make it happen.”
The Disaster Artist (15) is out in cinemas now.
Probably the best known and most successful of recent years are the multi-award winning Coen Brothers. Over the course of their long career they have made many seminal movies including Fargo, The Big Lebowski, The Hudsucker Proxy, Miller’s Crossing, O Brother, Where Art Thou? and more recently No Country for Old Men, Inside Llewyn Davies and Bridge of Spies. Their latest film Suburbicon is out now.
The Farrelly Brothers – Peter and Bobby – are known for their hit comedies Dumb and Dumber, Kingpin, There’s Something About Mary, Shallow Hal and Me, Myself & Irene.