Dave also discussed The Rental with Insider, wherein he also confirmed that his next project will be the Vanilla Ice biopic!
Dave Franco will be the first to say he’s doing pretty well in quarantine.
“We’re mainly feeling lucky that we like our home and we like each other,” Franco told Insider over the phone last week.
The “we” he’s referring to is he and his wife, actress Alison Brie. The two have been together since meeting eight years ago in a night that ended with them both taking Molly (more on that later).
Along with marital bliss, Franco is happy to get his first feature directing effort out into the world, the horror movie “The Rental” (in select drive-ins and On Demand beginning Friday). He doesn’t star in it, but Brie (“GLOW”) does along with Dan Stevens (“Eurovision Song Contest,” “Beauty and the Beast”), and a creepy masked man tormenting them with a hammer.
So the Franco/Brie household is a frenetic place at the moment with the buzz surrounding their new movie. There are lots of phone calls to get last-minute arrangements ironed out, press interviews, and even the occasional call for Franco from Vanilla Ice.
Taking the director plunge
Directing is not a new interest for the 35-year-old actor. Franco admits he’s been making shorts, mainly for FunnyOrDie.com, for a decade. He had always been nervous to take the leap to directing a feature film but it suddenly became obvious after writing “The Rental” with fellow filmmaker Joe Swanberg (“LOL,” “Drinking Buddies,” “Win It All”).
“Once I wrote this script with Joe, I realized that I knew these characters and this story more intimately than anyone and my nerves went away,” Franco said.
The creepy movie follows two brothers (Dan Stevens and Jeremy Allen White) and their significant others (Alison Brie and Sheila Vand) who stay at an Airbnb for the weekend. As the story evolves, we begin to see flaws in many of the characters and signs of racism from the man who oversees the property (played perfectly by longtime character actor Toby Huss).
But when the houseguests realize that cameras are planted around the rental, it leads to a bloody ending as a mystery man takes out the main characters.
As Insider’s Libby Torres wrote in her review of the movie, “the film’s power comes from how expertly it combines quotidian anxieties… with a tense game of cat and mouse.”
Filmmaker Sean Durkin (“Martha Marcy May Marlene”), who Franco said he went after to direct the movie before finally taking it on himself (Durkin is an executive producer on “The Rental”), said it was the meshing of genres in the story that grabbed him.
“It sets up this character drama but is interrupted by a slasher film, so I loved that it was doing something different but still delivers what it promises,” Durkin told Insider.
Franco said he felt like the right person to direct the story because this is a topic he thinks about all the time.
“I was inspired by my own paranoia about home sharing and thinking about how the country is divided as it’s ever been, no one trusts each other, yet we trust staying at the home of a stranger simply because of some five-star review,” Franco said, noting that he even stayed at an Airbnb while shooting the movie, and was completely filled with anxiety as the place was called “The Old Rustic Cabin.”
“My paranoia has reached its peak since filming this,” Franco said with a laugh. “Every time I stay in a rental home now I’m not thinking are there cameras here but where are they?”
Taking drugs and writing a rom-com with wife Alison Brie
One surprising way Franco and Brie prepared for “The Rental” was taking the drug MDMA (known as “Molly”) together. It’s a drug that has some history for the couple as Franco said the two took it together on the first night they met.
“Cut to eight-and-a-half years later and we’ve never been happier,” Franco said.
In the movie, the characters take the drug their first night at the rental house, expect for Brie’s character Michelle, who decides to take it the second night. She ends up tripping alone as everyone partied too hard the night before. Michelle ends up in her own world, dancing and smiling, as chaos and death erupt around her.
Franco said what Brie did in that scene mirrors their research Molly session.
“She ended up taking a lot more than me because I was in the middle of trying to find a first AD for the film so I was stressed about that,” Franco said. “It was kind of like in the film, she ended up on her own island high by herself. I ended up filming her just to see if we could take away anything from it where she could study the video later to help inform her performance. If anything it reminded her of how happy she is on Molly. And how much she loves to dance, which we incorporated in the film.”
Alison Brie high on Molly. Do we have a DVD extra in the making?
“Oh, if she is comfortable with us sharing it that would be the greatest DVD extra,” Franco said.
Franco and Brie enjoy working together on projects. They have previously been in movies “The Little Hours” and “The Disaster Artist.” If Franco had ended up starring in “The Rental,” it’s likely Brie wouldn’t have been in it (“She would have been playing my sister-in-law, which felt a little uncomfortable,” Franco said). But Franco instantly thought of her when he knew he was going to just direct.
“She’s so talented and really made my job easy,” Franco said. “She would nail it on the first take every time. I would go up to her and just say, ‘Hey, we got that, do you want to move on or play around?’ I think what makes her really special as an actor is her ability to balance heavy drama with moments of levity. Sometimes in the space of a single scene. It was just really impressive to watch her seamlessly navigate back and forth between conflicted emotions; it’s not something many actors can do.”
Since being stuck in quarantine together at home due to the coronavirus, the duo has continued to work together. Franco said the downtime gave them a chance to do something they’ve been talking about for a while: writing a rom-com together.
“It’s for me to direct and for her to star in,” Franco said. “It’s a genre that we love but we felt like people have really been yearning for a smart elevated comedy so we started to think about ‘When Harry Met Sally…,’ ‘Sleepless in Seattle,’ and ‘Pretty Woman.’ We’re hoping it’s the next one we get to collaborate on.”
Durkin said that’s the talent of Franco — he’s open to dabbling in different genres.
“I’m really excited for the versatility of his work,” he said. “I think he’s got a wide range of interests and you can see it in this film. The humor, the scares, he’s exploring a lot of elements.”
After a decade of professional distance, Dave talks about working with brother, James Franco
As the sibling of well-known actor James Franco, Dave says he hopes “The Rental” is just one more indication that he doesn’t need his brother to make his own mark in the industry.
By the time Dave was getting his start into acting in the early 2000s, his brother was already a bonafide star. James had starred in the TV series “Freaks and Geeks,” had won a Golden Globe for his performance as James Dean in a TV movie on the iconic actor, and was just about to star in a third “Spider-Man” movie.
“That is something that I’ve struggled with my entire career,” Franco said of being in the same business as his brother. “When I was first starting out as an actor I made a conscious decision to distance myself from my brother in terms of work because I wanted to pave my own path.”
A decade into the business, the Francos finally decided to do a project together: a celebration of one of the worst movies ever made, “The Room.”
Directed by James, 2017’s “The Disaster Artist” found acclaim for its look at the loyal friendship between “The Room” creators Tommy Wiseau (played by James) and Greg Sestero (played by Dave). The brothers are fantastic together as Dave’s Greg portrayal is the perfect straight man to James’ outlandish Tommy. James would win a Golden Globe for the performance and the movie would earn a best adapted screenplay Oscar nomination.
“At that point, it just felt like the right time and the right project,” Dave said of finally working with his brother. “But since then I continue to push myself and take risks and hopefully ‘The Rental’ will continue to help people recognize that I’m my own person.”
Franco declined to comment about the allegations against his brother by several women who say they were sexually exploited at his acting school.
Dave Franco is now preparing to play Vanilla Ice
While Franco was excited about his directing debut and even has an idea for a sequel to “The Rental,” his excitement amped up when he revealed he’s getting ready to play Vanilla Ice.
That’s right, the 1990s sensation is getting a biopic and Franco is playing him.
“We have been in development for a while but we are inching closer and closer to preproduction,” Franco said.
The news was quietly released in early 2019 through trade publication Production Weekly and included the longline: “From a high school dropout selling cars in Dallas to having the first hip-hop single to top the Billboard charts with ‘Ice Ice Baby,’ a young Vanilla Ice struggles with stardom, extortion attempts, and selling out as he makes music history.”
Franco said if the project is done right, it will very much be like “The Disaster Artist.”
“With that movie, people expected us to make a broad comedy where we make fun of Tommy Wiseau, but the more real we played it, the funnier and heartfelt it was — that’s the tone we want for this one as well,” Franco said.
But due to the coronavirus any start date on filming of the movie is a mystery. Because of that Franco said he’s not at the point where he’s constantly listening to the “To the Extreme” album or watching the Vanilla Ice movie, “Cool as Ice,” but he said he has had phone calls with Ice, whose real name is Rob Van Winkle.
“Rob is such a sweet and intelligent guy and he’s been super helpful in the process of getting all the details correct and making us privy to information the public doesn’t know,” Franco said. “Just talking to him I can’t help but think about the rabbit holes I’m going to go down to get ready for the role.”