A Love Letter to James Franco

Abstract: I wrote this article about my admiration for James Franco’s lust for life. When it was first published it ranked among the most popular articles on the site.

Originally published on TNGG.

As I sit down to write this piece, I have to wonder if James Franco might take a crack at it for me. Of course, he’d probably pee on my computer as part of a performance art piece and possibly make a documentary about doing it. Sounds weird, but coming from a PhD candidate at Yale, maybe there’s something to it.

Much has been written about Franco’s exploits outside Hollywood, and there isn’t a lot left to say. Just about everyarticle on the successful actor, student and aspiring artist* begins with a laundry list of what he’s up to: attending graduate school, writing short stories and novels, directing and starring in documentaries and student films, opening galleries, and a litany of other creative projects, all at the same time.

But my interest is not so much the what, but the how and why.

When you look at what he’s accomplished, Franco seems inhuman. But he’s actually not that unlike the rest of us. Yes, he is intelligent, a quick study and bursting with energy (though frequently exhausted). However, as The New Yorker points out: James isn’t a savant or a prodigal genius either, “he’s someone of mortal abilities who seems to be working immortally hard… Franco’s work gives off a student-y vibe. It exudes effort.”

From what I can tell, it comes down to one simple thing, he gives a shit about life. In fact, I think he might be addicted to it.

This past September, Dave Franco shot an interview with his brother James during Esquire’s cover shoot. There’s an odd chemistry between them, like two friends reuniting after years apart. Here, a human side shines through not captured on The Daily Show or TODAY Show.

The warmth and authenticity of his smile grabs you. His whole body laughs, eyes squinting and cheeks up, with a grin that draws creases across his face–like a camera flash that keeps going off.

But, while Franco’s smile is infectious, his lust for life is an outright bio-hazard. It affects you on a physiological level, like he’s bleeding enthusiasm through the screen. Not the jumping on sofa with Oprah type, more like the relentless calm of a man on a mission.

Keep in mind, at any given time he’s likely just jumped off a plane from a poetry reading in South Carolina and will, right after whatever he’s doing, dash off to LA or NYU or Germany for another job, or lecture, or project. And yet he’s here, and focused. Midway through, his brother asks him about down time.

Dave: “When was like the last time you weren’t working on something? Just sitting there and doing nothing?”
James: “I don’t even know what that means.”

Saturday Night Live might poke fun at Franco’s many projects, “I like having jobs!” But it’s hard to deny that there is something special about his motivation: he’s in it for himself. In a world where we define ourselves within the confines of social scripts and the approval of others, it’s like he’s found a way to break free.

Upon receiving news that he was nominated for an Oscar–perhaps the highest achievement for any actor–Franco chose to attend his class on Byron, Keats and Yates rather than head down to New York for press.

When it comes to male role models for this generation, I’m not sorry to say that guys like Eminem and Diddy are a complete waste of space. Franco matters because he isn’t just cool. He’s like a James Dean who cares about doing well in school.

He’s a rebel with a cause beyond money or fame. He’s a rebel making the most out of every moment of life he’s got, so much so that boredom and downtime and sleep are the enemy.

I know it’s insane. But it’s the type of insanity I can get behind. The type of insanity that keeps you up late and makes you skip showers. The type that says I am going to die so I better live.

Dave: “I get out of bed when I have something to do.”
James: “Don’t you feel like there’s always stuff to do…”

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