Thesp will play a young scientist, filming starts July 5

James Franco has signed on to star in 20th Century Fox’s “Planet of the Apes” prequel “Rise of the Apes.”

The “Milk” thesp, who beat out a number of Hollywood’s young elite actors for the coveted role, sat down with “Apes” director Rupert Wyatt this past weekend and had an amazing meeting of the minds, according to insiders.

Described as an origin story, “Apes” is set in present day San Francisco and deals with the aftermath of man’s experiments with genetic engineering that lead to the development of intelligence in apes and the onset of a war for supremacy. Franco will play a driven scientist who becomes a crucial figure in the war between humans and apes.

Visual effects house WETA Digital — which will employ some of the groundbreaking technologies developed for “Avatar” — will render, for the first time ever in the film series, photo-realistic apes rather than costumed actors.

Film, which starts lensing July 5, will bow June 24, 2011.

Peter Chernin and Dylan Clark will produce for Chernin Entertainment under its new pact with Fox. Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa, who penned the script, are also producing.

Franco stars in the upcoming Danny Boyle movie for Fox Searchlight “127 Hours.”

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more