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James Franco Biography

Home > Actors > F > Franco, James > Biography

Birth Name: James Franco
Born: 04/19/1978
Birth Place: Palo Alto, California, USA

Born in Palo Alto, CA on April 19, 1978, James Edward Franco was the firstborn son of Portuguese-Swedish father, Doug Franco, and a Jewish mother, Betsy Levine. Voted the student with the "best smile" during his senior year, Franco graduated from Palo Alto High School in 1996 before enrolling at UCLA as an English major. Much to his parents' disapproval, however, Franco dropped out of college after his freshman year to pursue a career as a professional actor. After an intense year of training under the tutelage of noted drama coach Robert Carnegie at the Playhouse West in North Hollywood, Franco found an agent and began auditioning for small roles in film and television. Franco first appeared on the big screen in the charming teen comedy "Never Been Kissed" (1999), starring Drew Barrymore. The following year, Franco solidified his appeal with a starring role in "Whatever It Takes" (2000), a modern-day update of the classic play, Cyrano de Bergerac. As the popular, but sensitive jock, Chris Campbell, Franco won the hearts of teenage girls all across America - especially one in particular. During the filming of the movie, Franco met and fell in love with his longtime girlfriend-to-be, actress Marla Sokoloff.

Franco's best-known work up until that time, however, was on the short-lived high school comedy series, "Freaks and Geeks." In it, Franco portrayed Daniel Desario, a nihilistic outsider with a troubled family life. Forced to grow up quickly and see the world with a resigned fatalism, the actor's brooding take on the character won over former good girl Lindsay (Linda Cardellini) on the show - not to mention the admiration of young viewers. Following the show's cancellation, Franco was cast by director Mark Rydell in the title role of his biopic, "James Dean" (TNT, 2001). The critically lauded biopic would mark a watershed moment for the young actor, both personally and professionally. As a testament to his dedication, Franco - who was, in fact, a Dean look-alike on film - became so immersed in the character of the tragic icon, he went from being a non-smoker to smoking two packs of cigarettes a day, mirroring the legendary Dean's penchant for excess. The role brought Franco significant acclaim. In addition to receiving an Emmy nod and a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for his work, Franco took home the Golden Globe Award in the category of Best Actor in a Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television. Most importantly, "James Dean" made the actor a household name.

Having firmly established his acting credentials, Franco next turned his eye toward more commercial fare. In 2002, Franco hit the proverbial jackpot with roles in two high-profile features. The first - the depressing mystery-drama, "City by the Sea" (2002), was a box-office misfire, but afforded Franco valuable screen time opposite heavy hitters Robert De Niro and Frances McDormand. His follow-up, however - director Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man" - was a colossal hit both commercially and artistically. Cast as Peter Parker's best friend and romantic rival, Harry Osborne, Franco created one of his most complex characters to date. An outwardly confident, but inwardly emotionally fragile individual, Franco's Osborne would find his screen time increasing in subsequent sequels. The young actor returned as a bitter, more driven Osborne in "Spider-Man 2" (2004), also directed by Raimi. While still not a true villain, per se, it was Franco's character that would set the wheels in motion for the hero's battle with the film's true heavy, Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina).

Balancing his commercial projects with more prestigious ventures, Franco appeared in director Robert Altman's ballet-themed ensemble comedy, "The Company" (2003). Though filmed in 2002, his next film, "The Great Raid," was released in August 2005. In it, Franco played Captain Robert Prince, leader of the 6th Ranger Battalion team that went 30 miles behind Japanese lines to rescue 500 POWs from the notorious Cabanatuan prison camp during World War II. Through a steely gaze and clenched jaw, Franco played his character straight - minus his trademark nuance and intensity. Ultimately a failure, "The Great Raid" took in a paltry $3 million its opening weekend. Franco had scant better luck with his next big picture, "Flyboys" (2006) - a turn-of-the-century "Top Gun" adventure that bombed at the box office. Despite occasional missteps, Franco could always depend on the Marvel Comics universe to keep him front and center. Still obsessed by his irrational hatred for Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire) - whom he blamed for the death of his father (Willem Dafoe) in the first movie - the exacting of Harry's revenge served as a major plot point for the film. Having inherited his late father's vast wealth and state-of-the-art weaponry, the movie's sub-plot dealt with Harry assuming the identity of the New Goblin, one of three super-villains out to kill everyone's favorite web slinger. Directed once again by the gifted Raimi, "Spider-Man 3" (2007) was billed as the last outing for the film's principal cast of Maguire, Kirsten Dunst and Franco.

Following a supporting turn as Sergeant Dan Carnelli in "In the Valley of Elah" (2007), he played a laconic pot dealer who goes on the run with one of his clients (Seth Rogen) after witnessing a murder committed by a crooked cop (Rosie Perez) in "Pineapple Express" (2008), which earned him a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical category. Then in the dark romantic comedy "Camille" (2008), he was a conniving petty thief whose marriage of convenience to a sweet, naïve girl (Sienna Miller) and honeymoon to Niagara Falls results in her death, though neither will let that stop them from having a good time and falling in love. Franco next delivered a strong co-starring role in "Milk" (2008), playing the lover of the openly gay activist and San Francisco County Supervisor, Harvey Milk (Sean Penn). Though most of the critical and award plaudits when to Penn for his powerful performance, Franco earned his share of accolades when he received an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Supporting Male. In the fall of 2009, the established film star elicited plenty of head scratching within the blogosphere when he took a guest starring stint on the soap opera "General Hospital" (ABC, 1963- ). While the actor expressed an interest in doing something new and challenging by taking on the grueling shooting schedule of a soap opera, other reports suggested that Franco's daytime run as a mysterious assassin was part of a documentary film project about the actor.

Following a guest starring turn as himself to carry on a fake romance with Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski) on an episode of "30 Rock" (NBC, 2006- ), Franco had a supporting role opposite Julia Roberts in the dramatic adaptation "Eat Pray Love" (2010). He next portrayed Beat Generation luminary Allen Ginsberg in the experimental film, "Howl" (2010), which explored the 1957 obscenity trial following the release of a famed book of poems. Franco went on to deliver arguably the best performance of his career to date in director Danny Boyle's "127 Hours" (2010), playing real life mountain climber, Aron Ralston, whose arm became trapped under a boulder while climbing alone in an isolated Utah canyon and led to five days of struggling to survive before amputating his hand. Both gut-wrenching and inspirational, Franco's performance drew high praise from critics and earned the actor a slew of award nominations for Best Actor, including Golden Globes and Oscar. Meanwhile, Franco was tapped to co-host alongside Ann Hathaway the same Academy Awards for which he was nominated - an obvious effort by the Academy to draw ratings from the younger demographic. Derided by critics, the decision to use the two actors proved to be a disaster, as Franco seemed distant throughout most of the ceremony - some thought he was actually stoned - leaving an ill-suited Hathaway to carry the night. Back on the big screen, Franco starred in the surprising hit prequel, "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" (2011) and played the dashing Fabious in the medieval stoner comedy "Your Highness" (2011). About this time, Franco's five-year relationship with actress Ahna O'Reilly came to an end.

Always busy, Franco starred in one movie after another, playing a wealthy lawyer connected to the porn industry in the indie film "About Cherry" (2012) and the former student of a playwright (Winona Ryder) suffering from paranoid delusions in the psychological thriller "The Letter" (2012). From there, he was one of several actors to play poet C.K Williams at various stages of his life in the student-made experimental film "Tar" (2012). Of course, Franco was seen in major studio films as well and enjoyed being the star of 2013's first blockbuster hit, "Oz the Great and Powerful" (2013), a prequel of sorts to "The Wizard of Oz" (1939), where he played Oscar Diggs, a womanizing con artist and stage musician who finds himself magically whisked away on the wings of a violent storm to the Land of Oz, where his ambitions are stymied by a war between three witches (Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams). Though receiving mixed reviews, "Oz" earned a big $80 million haul during its opening weekend. Meanwhile, he delivered one of his best and most bizarre performances in Harmony Korine's "Spring Breakers" (2013), where he played a Florida drug hustler who tries to seduce four unassuming college girls (Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine) on spring break. Franco cleverly tweaked his public persona in "This Is The End" (2013), a broad comedy about the apocalypse written and directed by his longtime pals Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. The film starred Rogen, Franco, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson and Danny McBride as fictionalized versions of themselves trapped in Franco's garish Hollywood Hills mansion during the end of the world.