James Franco, whose real name is James Edward Franco, was born in Palo Alto, California, on April 19, 1978. He is an American actor, director, and writer whose rakish charm and chiselled good looks complemented his ability to give sincerity and gravitas to characters ranging from drug dealers who are hallucinating to comic book villains.
Franco, the oldest of three children, was brought up in Palo Alto, California, by his father, a businessman, and his mother, a writer of children’s books.
Franco was a strong student but left the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) after his first year to focus on acting. He landed several roles in forgettable teen movies and forgettable television movies while attending classes at Playhouse West in Los Angeles.
He gained wider recognition after being cast as a brazen high school slacker in the Judd Apatow-produced television series Freaks and Geeks (1999–2000), which became a cult favourite.
However, Franco’s portrayal of James Dean in the 2001 television film of the same name cemented his reputation as a significant talent. He received a Golden Globe Award for best actor in a miniseries or television movie for his portrayal of the movie star.
In Spider-Man (2002), a movie version of the comic book, Franco demonstrated his skill at moulding his abilities to the broad sensibilities of the genre as Harry Osborn, Peter Parker’s best friend. He returned for Spider-Man 2 (2004) and Spider-Man 3 (2012), two other films in the series (2007).
Despite receiving mixed reviews, Franco’s flexibility was shown in movies like the crime drama City by the Sea (2002), the fictional retelling Tristan + Isolde (2006), and the World War I fighter-pilot drama Flyboys (2006).
Franco successfully captured the character’s loneliness and disaffection while playing a jovial pot dealer in Pineapple Express (2008). This stoner comedy also starred fellow Freaks and Geeks alumnus Seth Rogen and was written by Apatow.
He received more appreciation for his roles as Harvey Milk’s boyfriend in Milk (2008) and as Allen Ginsberg in Howl (2010). In 127 Hours (2010), Franco received his first Academy Award nomination for best actor for portraying a man who is forced to amputate his arm due to a climbing mishap.
Franco published several of his short stories in Palo Alto: Stories (2010) and starred in the 2013 film adaptation. In the novelistic 2013 film Actors Anonymous, autobiographical incidents were intercut with fantasies about the lives of struggling Hollywood actors.
The film Yosemite (2015), in which he also starred, was an adaptation of the 2013 book Stories from A California Childhood, a pastiche of memories from his youth that included pictures, artwork, and photographs as well as fictitious memories. His 2016 poetry collection Straight James/Gay James plays with his unclear sexual orientation.
In the end, Franco returned to UCLA, earning a bachelor’s degree in creative writing there in 2008. He then pursued several additional degrees, including a master’s in writing from Columbia University in 2010 and a master’s in film from New York University in 2011.