Nerve sees Dave Franco, a man who’s built up plaudits for supporting roles in the likes of 21 Jump Street, Now You See Me and Bad Neighbours, jump above the title. Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (Catfish), the film lands in UK cinemas this weekend, and ahead of that, Franco headed to Britain. We caught up with him in London, and here’s what happened…
I’m a bit perturbed. Coming into the interview, I read around a bit to see what everyone else has been asking you, to try and make sure I don’t ask you all the same questions you’ve been asked before…
I like that!
Well, I’ll still ask you them, I wouldn’t get carried away.
Of course. But at least you’re doing your homework though!
Well, it scared me a bit, because all I could find were videos where you and Emma Roberts were pranking the journalists coming in to do interviews.
[Laughs] I’ll warn you that that’s only a 30% chance that I’ll prank you.
I’ll take those odds. If we can get the obvious question out of the way: what is Nerve, and can you explain a little about it for our readers?
Yeah, yeah. Nerve is an online game, and you can pay to be a player or a watcher. If you’re a player, the watchers find information about you online, through your social media. And they give you dares that you wouldn’t want to do. If they find out you’re afraid of heights, for instance, they’ll send you to the top of a tall building. As the movie progresses, the dares become more life threatening, and badness ensues!
How did it come to you, then? Because this is you and Emma Roberts above the title for the first time, both shouldering the responsibility of the movie. And it feels a little bit of a left turn for you personally.
Sure. I’ve done mostly comedies up until this point, and I was attracted to it because it was something different. The role was a little more serious, the movie was a little more serious.
I guess they maybe approached me because I’d worked with Lionsgate before. You’d have to ask them, but I assume that Lionsgate saw something in me, and knew that even in my comedy I could play a role that feels grounded. And so when I knew for sure that I wanted to do… the moment I knew that I wanted to do the movie was when I initially sat down with the directors. These are the guys who are behind Catfish! And they’re really clever, smart guys. I knew immediately that they were going to make the best version of this movie. I always had high expectations for it, but when I finally saw the end product, it surpassed it.
There was so much they did in post-production that I could have never anticipated, like the graphics they put on screen, and the music that they used. It never lets up, and it almost feels like a Danny Boyle movie in that way. I’m at a point in my career where I’m able to step back and acknowledge that these directors have strong visions, and they executed it perfectly. And I’m just glad to have been part of the journey.
I’ve spoken to actors before who have taken on roles where they’ve not been entirely sure what they were going to get at the end. In one case, on told me that they sat in the director’s car beforehand and go taken through all the storyboards, just so they could wrap into it. But when you’re filming Nerve, you presumably also want to capture the whole idea of not knowing what’s going on?
We definitely had a sense for the overall tone. But I think in general, I don’t think I’ve been involved in a single movie that turned out the way I anticipated it to turn out. Just because, as an actor, there’s only so much that I can bring to a project. I do my job, I take a step back, and there’s hundreds of other people doing their job now to make the movie what it becomes. Films are a director’s medium. We’re all stemming from the director. Going back from when I first met these guys, you could just tell that they had good taste. I wanted to take that risk with them, and follow what they were going to do.
In interviews you’ve done over the years, you’ve consistently cited that there’s a list of directors that you want to work with. I get the sense that directors are hugely important to you.
More than anything for me.
That’s interesting. Many go for writers. Why is it directors over writers for you?
Directors are just, just above writers. You can’t make a good movie with a bad script, no matter who’s involved. But I just want to work with these guys who I’ve admired for years. The main reason I’m doing any of this is that I love movies. In the movies that I really respond to, they’re the ones that are at least attempting to bring something to the table that you’ve not seen before. And I feel like there’s not that many directors out there who have their own voice.
It’s an obvious example, but when you’re watching a Wes Anderson movie, from the first frame, you know it’s a Wes Anderson movie. And that’s saying something, you know?
I’d push even further. There are lots of directors who have a strong level of authorship, who go off radar. Look at someone like a Henry Selick…
[Mr Franco nearly jumps out of his seat here, so enthused is about his subject]. Totally, totally! But like, people don’t even realise he’s the guy behind The Nightmare Before Christmas! They think Tim Burton directed that movie, and obviously Tim Burton had a huge stamp on it. But Henry Selick, his stuff is incredible, But you ask 50 people on the street who is, and 49 have never heard of him!
You seen Coraline?
Dude! It’s soooo great, and so dark.
Why are films are losing authorship then, do you think? You’ve had three films at my local cinema in the last six months, there’s always been a poster of you there…
… we’re roommates, man!
But with no disrespect to the two earlier movies – Bad Neighbours 2 and Now You See Me 2 – Nerve is clearly the most directorially authored of all of them.
I know what you’re saying. This one does feel extremely fresh. We could feel that throughout the process. Where, again, you never know how it’s all going to tie together. But individual scenes felt so good, and so palpabale. And it felt like we were trying to say something too. Most movies now aren’t trying to say anything. This one, on top of all the stylistic elements, it has a good message.
I’d add something else to Nerve too. That it’s not just it has a message, it has an accessible message. This isn’t an adults-only film is it? It’s a film that the people who use the technology in it can go and see.
I’m glad you say that. Most people will see the poster or see the trailers and think that the only demographic for this movie is teenagers. And they are the main demographic still. But it’s such a universal message. We’re all obsessed with social media. We’re all obsessed with our phones. It can reach out to a much wider audience. And because the filmmaking itself is so well done, I think all types of audiences, including film nerds, can appreciate it.
I think the most prescient comedy of the last 20 or so years is Bowfinger…
It’s so funny you say that. I swear to God, that movie comes up more in my life than any other movie. Someone says Bowfinger once every month or two to me. And how many years ago did that come out?
1999. The same year as American Pie.
Bowfinger told of a world where you were being filmed and didn’t know you were being filmed. You’ve now got, with Nerve, a film about that.
I’m wondering if we can change the name of the film now, to Bowfinger 2!
Call it Chubby Rain!
Right, right, right! [Laughs]
I’m pretty sure you’ve not been asked about this before.
Chubby Rain! That would have put us above Suicide Squad!
At this rate, you might get there anyway. But, in your life, you must be surrounded by people filming you on their cameraphones?
We were filming at night in New York City. A lot of the time we were on the streets, so there would be crowds of people following us, because they were curious about what we were filming. And what we ended up doing was turning the camera around on them. As if they were watchers in the movie.
I remember specifically when we were filming the motorcycle dare [details redacted for spoiler reasons], there would be drunk people spilling out of bars. Emma [Roberts] and I are in the midst of the most intense scene in the movie, and there are these drunk people from the streets yelling at Emma, saying “fuck Nancy Drew!” [laughs] And we’re trying to stay focused!
But filming in New York was incredible. All of these elements add to the energy of the film, and we feed off of that too.
One thing I read about you is that your initial spark was in creative writing and storytelling. I’m curious: is that still alive and kicking in you, and is this film, this turn you’ve taken, part of your own personal desire to change the stories you’re telling, and develop them?
It’s an interesting question. If I wasn’t acting, I would probably be teaching creative writing. I always thought I was going to be a teacher. It served me well, even through the process of getting into the film business. I can come onto a movie, and because I have a little bit of a writing background, I can help shape these characters I’m playing. And that’s not always the case. But on movies like this, where the directors are so collaborative, they don’t have an ego, they really want to hear my thoughts, it is extremely helpful to be a writer. And it’ll always be a part of my life.
It’s kept me sane. As an actor, there’s so much that’s out of your control. If all you’re doing is acting, then most of the time you’re sitting around waiting for the next audition to come in, and who knows when that’ll be?
What I do during my downtime is I write these short films, for FunnyOrDie.com, that I act in, and my buddy from childhood directs. It allows me to be creatively satisfied, and to wait for movies that I feel really passionate about.
Is that building to something?
Maybe. Those silly short films are the reason I’m sitting here with you right now. When I was first starting out as an actor, I was taking jobs not necessarily because I loved the material, but because I wanted the experience. But after a while, I just wasn’t proud of anything I was doing. I felt fortunate to be working, but I was telling my friends and family ‘don’t go see this movie that I’m in’. It got to the point where I though I’ve got to take things into my own hands, and so I started writing short films. Even though it’s on a much smaller scale, they at least feel true to who I am.
When I was auditioning for 21 Jump Street, it was a really crazy audition process. I must have gone in six or seven times to audition. And then one of these short films came out. And the directors told me afterwards that the film was a big reason that they gave me the part. They saw that I understood comedy, to an extent. And if you go back and look at the short film, it’s called You’re So Hot, and it’s about one of my best friend – Christopher Mintz-Plasse – and myself telling each other how much we want to have sex with each other. And that silly short film got me my biggest movie at the time.
Here is the short film. It’s not safe for work!
One thing we take very seriously with our site is using the audience we have to help get messages across. I’ve read a lot about the work you’ve done to honour your friend, Brian Rozelle. You lost Brian to cancer at a horribly early age, but I got a sense he taught you some real life lessons?
I’m involved with Cycle For Survival. In terms of what I went through with my friend Brian… this is going to sound fucked up, but he said this himself. He said ‘I’m glad this happened to me, because I know how to use this as a positive’. The entire time he was struggling, he was more positive than anyone else in my life, to the point where you sometimes almost forgot he was suffering.
The couple of years that he was fighting cancer he said were the greatest years of his life. He had a different perspective on everything. He went out there, and he did everything that he wanted to do, never made excuses, and spread positivity everywhere. I think about him every single day, and when things are tough for me, I think about his outlook on life, and it helps me through.
I’ve got time for one last question. You’re obviously in the UK, and as you’re probably aware, the high priest of action cinema comes from these isles, Mr Jason Statham. What’s your favourite of Jason Statham’s movies?
Oh wow! I mean, Snatch. Yeah. I had a moment with Snatch, where there was one summer, I watched it every other day. I love that film!
Dave Franco, thank you very much!