“Freaks and Geeks”
Before James Franco was a household name he played Daniel Desario in the short-lived TV dramedy “Freaks and Geeks.” The cult hit by Judd Apatow and Paul Feig performed poorly on TV, but Vanity Fair notes the show was “the wellspring of a dominant force in 21st-century comedy: the School of Apatow. Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, and James Franco-in their first roles or first roles of note, like nearly all their young castmates-got their start there.” Desario, for his part, is the leader of the “freaks.” A trouble-maker and selfish figure on the outside, Desario hides his insecurities and struggles with an unhappy life at home.
On a resume of famous roles, it’s hard to beat the overwhelming popularity of Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” trilogy, in which Franco played Harry Osborne. Harry is at times Peter Parker’s best friend, at times his competitor for the affections of Mary Jane, and eventually Peter’s greatest threat as Spider-Man’s sworn enemy the Green Goblin. The role made Franco a famous face– to the extent he wasn’t already– but his best work as an actor was still ahead of him.
Franco stars in Danny Boyle’s biographical, life-and-death tale of adventurer Aron Ralston, who becomes wedged in a crevice on a solo trek in April 2003. One of Franco’s most visceral and captivating performances, the film earned him a Best Actor nomination at the 2011 Academy Awards. Franco shows he has Oscar skills to go with his blockbuster chops– a fact which continues to define his multi-faceted career.
“Oz The Great and Powerful”
The recently-released fantasy prequel to “The Wizard of Oz” is an undisputed box office king, taking $145 million domestically in its first two weeks. Franco, who was a supporting player in the lucrative “Spider-Man” series, is front and center here. Oscar is a man of cheap tricks, swept up in the destiny of a magical foreign land. Not surprisingly, it is up to Franco’s character to meet the challenge of destiny and save the land of Oz from the hands of a wicked witch.
But despite box office success, “Oz the Great and Powerful” is far from Franco’s greatest work. The New York Times notes “Mr. Franco looks pretty pained in most of his scenes… Whether embarrassed by the material or just uneasy performing in such a computer-generated atmosphere, he never finds a way to make the wizard pop.”
Harmony Korine’s latest is part party movie, part crime thriller, part nightmare, and James Franco steals the show. Sporting cornrows as a rapper/gangster named “Alien,” Franco does what only the very best star/actors ever succeed at: he vanishes into the role. This performance isn’t about the makeup and wardrobe that transform Franco physically. Rather, Franco embraces the psychology, mannerisms, and hyper-violence of his character in a way that haunts and amazes. With a March 22nd wide release, it remains to be seen how audiences will receive such a dramatic departure from Franco’s usual, redeemable characters. But I for one am convinced that this is among his best work to date.
For James Franco, blockbusters and independents will always both be part of the equation. But that’s not what it’s about. His 2007 interview with Collider revealed a unique perspective on project selection that does a lot to explain his diverse career: “It’s not really a case of doing a big blockbuster versus an independent; it’s really about doing movies that I believe in… I just want to be involved in projects I really believe in.”
Which of Franco’s roles is your favorite to date? What kind of role would you like to see him tackle next?