James Franco

Comedy Impact Report '08: Bigscreen Big Shots

Although his turn as a lonely pot dealer in “Pineapple Express” has raised his comedic profile, James Franco’s greatest recent role may well be James Franco — presenting himself to the world as a clueless pretty-boy who imagines himself a master thespian.

Franco unveiled the self-parody in “Knocked Up” (especially in the “outtakes,” in which his amateur ad-libbing leads director Judd Apatow to fire him on camera) and unleashed it further in a series of “Acting With James Franco” tutorial videos on FunnyOrDie.com (“Actors sniff the jacket,” he advises, channeling Marlon Brando).

The punchline, of course, is that Franco actually is a serious thespian, and he’s very much in on the joke. Though a charter member of the Apatow fraternity from its infancy (he starred alongside Seth Rogen and Jason Segel in “Freaks and Geeks”), Franco went on to become so identified with dramatic roles that his comedic chops still catch viewers unaware.

But even a role that looks as relaxed as Franco’s lovable stoner in “Pineapple Express” takes careful consideration. “I was very conscious of not making him a cartoon,” Franco explains. “With my character, it was like, ‘God, this is a really lonely guy who just wants a friend,’ so I could always turn to that to make the character a little more real.”

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