James Edward Franco (born April 19, 1978) is an American actor, and filmmaker. His first prominent acting role was the lead character Daniel Desario on the short-lived cult hit television program Freaks and Geeks. He later played the title character in the TV biographical film James Dean (2001), for which he won a Golden Globe Award. He played Harry Osborn in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy (2002–2007). He is also known for his roles in the films Flyboys (2006), Pineapple Express (2008), Milk (2008), 127 Hours (2010), Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), Oz the Great and Powerful (2013), Spring Breakers (2013), This Is the End (2013), and The Interview (2014). He had a recurring role in the ABC soap opera General Hospital. For his role in 127 Hours (2010), Franco was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor. In 2014, he made his Broadway debut in Of Mice and Men.
Franco volunteers for the Art of Elysium charity and has taught a class at New York University in feature filmmaking and production. In 2013, he began teaching a course in short film production at the University of Southern California and a course in screenwriting at his alma mater, University of California, Los Angeles. In September 2015, Franco began teaching a film class to high school students at Palo Alto High School.
Franco was born in Palo Alto, California. His mother, Betsy Lou (née Verne), is a writer and occasional actress, and his father, Douglas Eugene “Doug” Franco (d. 2011), ran a Silicon Valley business. The two met as students at Stanford University. Franco’s father was of Portuguese (Madeiran) and Swedish decent Franco’s mother is Jewish; her family were Russian Jewish immigrants, and her father, Daniel, had changed the family surname from “Verovitz” to “Verne” some time after 1940. Franco’s paternal grandmother, Marjorie (Peterson) Franco, is a published author of young adult books. Franco’s maternal grandmother, Mitzie (Levine) Verne, owns the Verne Art Gallery, a prominent art gallery in Cleveland, and was an active member in the National Council of Jewish Women.
Franco’s family upbringing was “academic, liberal, and largely secular”. He grew up in California with his two brothers, Tom and Dave (“Davy”, also an actor). A mathematician, Franco interned at Lockheed Martin. He was often encouraged by his father to get good grades and did well on his SATHs He graduated from Palo Alto High School in 1996, where he acted in plays. This led to him attending CSSSA in 1998 for theatre. In his high school years, Franco was arrested for underage drinking, graffiti, and for being a part of a group that stole designer fragrances from department stores and sold them to classmates. These arrests led to his briefly becoming a ward of the state. Facing the possibility of juvenile hall, Franco was given a second chance by the judge. “It was teen angst. I was uncomfortable in my own skin. I was shy. I changed my ways just in time to get good grades”, he recalled of his troubles with the law.
Although the idea of becoming a marine zoologist interested him, Franco had always secretly wanted to become an actor but feared being rejected. He enrolled at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) as an English major, but dropped out after his first year against his parents’ wishes to pursue a career as an actor, since he would have had to wait two years to audition for their acting program. Franco instead chose to take acting lessons with Robert Carnegie at the Playhouse West. Around this time, Franco took up a late-night job at McDonald’s to support himself since his parents refused to do so. He was a vegetarian until working there. While working at the establishment, he would practice accents on customers, an experience he remembered nostalgically in a 2015 Washington Post editorial (“McDonald’s was there for me when no one else was”)
Franco has described himself as Jewish regarding his secular upbringing, he told The Guardian that he feels as if he has “missed out on the Jewish experience”, but has been told not to worry about that by his Jewish friends and said in the same interview that he likes “the idea of religion as a source of community”. When asked if he was a “believer,” he responded “In God? I don’t know. Yes. To a certain extent. It’s a complicated question. In 2015, Franco had an official Bar Mitzvah ceremony, presided over by a rabbi.
Due to his support for the LGBT community, and his portrayal of gay characters in his projects, Franco’s sexuality has been a subject of discussion in media sources, relentlessly questioning if he himself is gay. In response to questions regarding his sexuality, he insists he finds plenty more dimensions to the characters than their bedroom proclivities. “Or, you know what,” he quipped, “maybe I’m just gay”. In a March 2015 interview with Four Two Nine magazine, Franco again opened up about his sexuality, commenting that it is not who you have sex with that defines your sexuality, but instead how you act. “In the twenties and thirties, they used to define homosexuality by how you acted and not by whom you slept with. Sailors would fuck guys all the time, but as long as they behaved in masculine ways, they weren’t considered gay”. Franco added, “Well, I like to think that I’m gay in my art and straight in my life”.
The rumors concerning his sexuality led to a Gawker article linking him to a New York Post Page Six blind item about a closeted gay actor, nicknamed “the Gay Rapist”. Despite the victim of the alleged attack denying that it was Franco, two magazines then contacted Franco’s lawyer to alert them that they might run stories suggesting his involvement, but were unable to, as at least part of their stories were fabricated. However, Gawker refused to take their article down as they were simply reporting what another outlet published and instead offered him a chance to make a comment about the speculation on its website. He declined, hoping it would die down. The actor later called the episode very offensive because he has friends who have been raped. In July 2015, a former Gawker employee admitted on his Twitter account — in now deleted posts — that he was pressured to write a series of articles about “the Gay Rapist”, and lead readers into believing the man was Franco.
After meeting on the set of Whatever It Takes, Franco dated co-star Marla Sokoloff for five year. He was later in a relationship with actress Ahna O’Reilly, until 2011. He confirmed their separation in an interview for Playboy magazine’s August 2011 issue, saying that his interest in education got between them. He received unwelcome attention in April 2014 for trying to set a date with a 17-year-old girl from Scotland in New York (age of consent in New York is 17) via social media. The woman filmed the conversation they had and released it to the public. Franco acknowledged flirting with her.