Interview: Dave Franco Creates Magic in ‘Now You See Me’

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CHICAGO – Dave Franco is James Franco’s brother. Since that’s now out of the way, Dave Franco is also a writer, actor, regular on the “Funny or Die” website and co-star in the newly released film, “Now You See Me.” Franco plays a streetwise magician, and in his career he keeps bringing the magic.

Dave Franco is seven years younger than the elder Franco, and like him was born in Palo Alto, California. After making his acting debut at the age of 21 on the TV show “7th Heaven,” he’s had notable roles in the films “Superbad,” “Charlie St. Cloud,” “21 Jump Street,” and the recent “Warm Bodies.” He was a series regular on the 9th season of the popular TV show “Scrubs,” part of a retooling of that sitcom. “Now You See Me” is his 13th film, and he has billing as a co-star, part of the “Four Horsemen” magic act with Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher and Jesse Eisenberg.

Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco
Dave Franco [left] with Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher and Woody Harrelson in ‘Now You See Me’
Photo credit: Summit Entertainment

Dave Franco came to Chicago on the release day of “Now You See Me,” and spoke to about the film, his career and yes, the brother connection. In doing your research and preparation for the film, what did you find most fascinating about the art of magic performance?

Dave Franco: We saw a lot of magicians perform, and I was trying to pinpoint what sets the best magicians apart from the second best. When you look at these magicians that are at the top of their game, they are all technically sound. The ones that stand out are the ones that have the personality as well, just naturally likable people. We try to portray this in the film, but there is a new wave of magicians, who are not the people in the silly costumes or making grand gestures. They are relatable people, who are funny and you want to root for – those are the magicians that are successful now, and the blueprint for our characters. I assume that as you’re evolving through your career, that you pick up inspiration on every set. What did you pick up on the ‘Now You See Me’ set, with its high level ensemble cast?

Franco: Just being around that cast, you see that they all doubt themselves, in a very endearing way. They have all proven themselves as name actors, but they still want to give the best performance possible, and it’s really inspiring. Especially the veteran guys who have been doing it for over forty years, but they do still try to give the best performance. Had you ever met Michael Caine before?

Franco: No. He was great, a storyteller and a really nice guy. He wants you to be comfortable even though he’s an icon. Given the many paths that ‘Now You See Me’ went down, what major theme throughout the film did director Louis Leterrier want to emphasize, and how was that best represented in your character of Jack?

Franco: The overall theme, which is repeated throughout the film, is that the closer you look the less you see. In terms of my character, he’s the rookie magician, trying to find his place. He street smart, but wide eyed in the big time magic world. I would guess that the audience would expect that I do the most dangerous stunt in the film, which attaches itself to the theme, I guess. He has a lot to prove, and he risks more than any of them to prove it. The original Four Horseman in the Bible represent Conquest, War, Famine and Death. Did you have specific symbolic interpretations of the “Four Horseman” in your film, and what did they represent to you?

Franco: We did have the tarot cards in the beginning of the film, and mine was death, so that’s a bit of a foreshadowing in regards to that stunt I do in the film. You came onto the last season of the sitcom “Scrubs.” What was it like trying to infiltrate an ensemble that had been together that long, and would you have continued if the series had continued?

Franco: It was difficult, because technically they had a series finale the at the previous eighth season. The fans loved it, because it tied up the show neatly and had some behind the scenes stuff that went over well, and they were all crying and saying goodbye. How do you come back from that?

So they retooled the show in the ninth season, brought in four new faces, and took out four familiar faces. From the get-go, it was a bit of an uphill battle. But having said that, it was a lot of fun. On most sitcoms, they are really strict about having you say the lines as written. On this set, they gave us a lot of freedom, and allowed us to try things that were not on the page. It was the type of situation where I would come to work with very funny people, and we just tried to make each other laugh. So yes, I would have loved to do another season.

Dave Franco
Dave Franco in his Doctor Garb During the Ninth Season of ‘Scrubs’
Photo credit: Buena Vista Home Entertainment The Franco name is pretty strong in show business. How did you brother help you break in, and when did you know that you had made your mark well enough as not to necessarily be in his shadow anymore?

Franco: He definitely helped me in the beginning, especially with getting a manager, and it was a manager that knew what he was doing and cared about my career, so that was a huge thing. From then on out, though, nobody is going to hire me because I’m James Franco’s little brother, I had to prove myself.

I don’t thing the moment has happened yet. I think that moment will happen when I no longer have to answer a question like the one you asked. [laughs] You worked with director Nicholas Stoller on the upcoming ‘Townies.’ Given his track record with offbeat films [‘Get Him to the Greek’] , what surprises were in store for you when you read the script and performed on his set?

Franco: ‘Townies’ has a lot of nudity, male and female. Wow.

Franco: In the wrong hands, this film could have been a soft core porn. But with Nick Stoller at the helm, and guys like Seth Rogen involved, they make penis-oriented jokes intelligent and clever. It’s not penis jokes for the shock factor, it’s character driven penis jokes. [laughs] These guys are geniuses, and there was a lot of improvisation. They make us so much funnier than we actually are. I notice you did your latest ‘Funny or Die’ short film with Alison Brie of ‘Community.’ Since she was in the Nick Stoller film ‘The Five Year Engagement,’ did she tip you off on what to expect on that set?

Franco: She gave me heads-up on how much improv there would be, which if I was blindsided by that type of work I might have been lost. I knew what I was getting into. You like challenges in your ‘Funny or Die’ videos. What is your next challenge and who will it be against?

Franco: There are whispers that I will be doing ‘You’re So Hot with Chris Mintz-Plasse and Dave Franco,’ part three. Yes!

Dave Franco
Dave Franco in Chicago, May 31, 2013
Photo credit: Patrick McDonald for

Franco: That’s right, get excited, because this is the finale. We came up with a concept that will leave viewers very satisfied. The trilogy will be complete.

Franco: That’s right, I’m not saying the third one will be the best, but it will be out there, in many ways. [laughs] How do you reject the crap outside of just performing as a actor, given how the press pries so much into personal stuff?

Franco: I feel very fortunate to say this, but before I did anything in this business I had a very solid group of friends and an amazing family, and that is what’s important. This may sound pretentious, but I came into the business not needing these new ‘famous’ friends. Obviously you meet people along the way, that you get along with, but I started doing it because I love movies and I love the work. I have friends I’ve known since I’ve been five years old, and yeah they’re happy for me, but in the end they don’t care who I’m hanging out with or what movie I’m doing. It’s nice to have people who keep you grounded. Which Franco family secret is the key to you and your brother’s deal with the devil bitch goddess of show business?

Franco: [Laughs] I’ll give you the key. It’s doing more than just acting. If you’re an actor and that’s all you’re doing, then so much is out of your hands. You can go into an audition and do the best read for the part. But then you might not be tall enough, or your smile isn’t right. I talked to a casting director who won’t audition a fairly talented guy because he is a reminder of her ex-boyfriend. That pretty much shows how much is out of your hands.

For me, I love to write, and with the ‘Funny or Die’ videos I’ve also been producing, co-directing and editing as well. This keeps me creatively satisfied, and it allows me to be patient, and not get bored or anxious waiting for the next audition, or taking a job for the wrong reason. What question are you hoping to be asked, that hasn’t been asked in these seemingly infinite promotional interviews?

Franco: That question that you just asked. That’s a tough one. [laughs]

“Now You See Me” opened everywhere on May 31st. Featuring Dave Franco, Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Mélanie Laurent. Screenplay by Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin and Edward Ricourt. Directed by Louis Leterrier. Rated “PG-13” senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2013 Patrick McDonald,

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