In 21 Jump Street, Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill play two young cops who go undercover at a high school. When they attended school together several years ago, Tatum was a popular jock, and Hill was more of a nerd. But the second time around, the cool kids accept Hill into their group and reject Tatum. This happens because Dave Franco, playing one of the popular kids who sells drugs, is not your typical movie cool guy. Instead he’s more eco-friendly and anti-sports.
A group of us movie bloggers had the chance to interview Franco on set in New Orleans near the end of the shoot. He talked about the backstory for his atypical character, the comedic benefits of improv, and how it feels to still be playing high schoolers when he’s 25. He also defined what it means to be “Eskimo bros” for the innocent among us. Read what he had to say after the jump.
Question: Talk about being one of the cool kids in this movie, and then the fact that these are atypical cool kids as least for what we would think of in a movie.
DAVE FRANCO: Yeah, so. Should I describe my character first? Okay, so I play Eric. Obviously, Jonah and Channing, they’re undercover cops infiltrating this high school to stop the spread of a new drug called HFS, Holy Fucking Shit, and I play the main drug dealer at school. It’s been fun because, like you said, it’s a very atypical cool kid because rather than being the jock or the big man on campus, he’s kind of like this eco-friendly hipster. Everything he does is very environmental-conscious, but at the same time he’s selling the least organic drug of all time. So it’s this weird dynamic going on and you slowly find out that he’s totally full of shit. But it’s been fun not playing the straight asshole which I keep getting cast as. I’m not sure how to take it anymore, so.
What about the element of sort of open relationship in high school? What is your take on that?
FRANCO: I was actually trying to think back to when I was in high school and how much that actually went down, and I think it’s a little more true to life where everyone’s kind of hooking up with everyone. I think between friends even sometimes, they encourage each other to hook up with the same girls. They think it’s cool and it bonds them. I know everyone’s throwing around a term of “Eskimo Bros” these days.
What’s that? I’m afraid I’m not familiar with that term.
FRANCO: To put it lightly, it’s when you both have ejaculated inside the same person. That’s off the record. I’m not one of these people. Just for the record, I’m personally not one of those people who condone that. But, yeah, I think it’s more true to life. It goes along with who the character is—being free and open, and just down for whatever. I think there’s a line saying how everyone should be free to do what they want and who they want.
Do you have the same form for improv jokes?
FRANCO: What do you mean?
Channing and Jonah were talking about how they have a lot of room to make stuff up.
FRANCO: Yeah. Definitely. Each scene goes completely haywire for the most part. At first, it was very intimidating because you’re working with… Not to be dramatic, but you’re working with some of the biggest people in comedy, some of the best improvisers out there. It is very intimidating at first, but then you realize when you’re working with these people who are like at the top of their game, they make you a lot funnier than you normally would be, and when you make a mistake, they turn your mistake into gold. If I end up being at all funny in this movie, I give total credit to all the other actors because they’re a lot funnier than I am.
When you and your brother have done little skits, are those pretty clearly scripted?
FRANCO: Those are very improvised as well, but it’s easy when you’re working with family. Your natural dynamic comes out. How do I put it? When I think of myself, I’m definitely… I’m not like a comedian. I’m not one of those people who are like always joking in person. I think those videos… I think people maybe respond to those just because you can see that it’s genuine, and it’s not necessarily super witty or clever. It’s a real genuine back and forth going on. You could see it’s real. I don’t know. Does that make sense?
We were talking about going against expectations, but when Channing’s character and Jonah’s character go back to high school, the reality turns out to be different than what they expect. Can you talk about that a little bit? Like Jonah, you wouldn’t expect to become in with the popular kids.
FRANCO: It goes along with the idea that my group of friends is the atypical cool group of guys. I think the cool guys in most movies would not accept a character like Jonah, but we bring him in just because of a few things. First, he compliments me on everything I do, and so you like people that like you. So he builds me up. Everything he says, he’s a yes man. He’s done his research on me and he knows to play into the whole eco-friendly card and all that stuff. We’re the guys that, unless you do us wrong, we have no reason to dislike you. So Channing’s character comes in and punches my friend in the face within minutes of meeting him. So he’s written off right away in our eyes and, like I said, Jonah’s just out to please.
Does his free-spirited attitude lead him to become a drug dealer? Is that one of the motives behind it?
FRANCO: I was talking to the directors about that when we were first getting going and they don’t really explore it in the movie at all, except for maybe a look at one point. But my character comes from a… maybe over-bearing parents and, like I said, you’re never going to see any of this in the movie. It’s just subtext and background or whatever, not to be overly actor-y. He comes from a very wealthy family, and we talked about how maybe I was neglected growing up, and this was me acting out. Then I get way in over my head, and I never expected it to get this out of control.
What does this drug actually do?
FRANCO: There’s four phases to it. The first one I think is called “the gigs” where you laugh uncontrollably. The second one is you become overly confident. That’s as much as you can explain that. And then you go to the third one or the last one is actually called Holy Fucking Shit, where you just go crazy. I’m missing one.
[Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller] will fill in.
FRANCO: Yeah, they’ll be much better at that than me.
Does your character go through those?
FRANCO: No, which I’m glad to say because that would be bad if I really didn’t know the script well enough even though I went through it. So yeah, that’s why I really don’t know all of the workings cause my character doesn’t go through it.
Was there an explanation for why he sells this stuff, because it seems so uncharacteristic of the rest of his personality?
FRANCO: There really isn’t. I mean, like I said, as much explanation as I can give is kind of coming from a difficult home. And again, like I said earlier too, you do find out he’s a fraud and he likes the idea of this lifestyle more than he actually believes in it.
From personal experience, do you think that girls in high school go for guys like Eric, like badass, cool guys?
FRANCO: I don’t know what girls go for these days. I feel like the whole hipster vibe is in where you… I hope this doesn’t come across as me bashing hipsters at all, because I’m almost there myself. But you see beautiful girls with really… God, if I say this it’s going to make me sound like I’m bashing hipsters. Yeah, I’m not going to do it. Let’s just say, yeah I think the hipster thing is in these days.
What makes you so badass?
FRANCO: What makes me personally? Jesus. That’s one of the last ways I’d be able to describe myself.
Was there any ever question as to whether you guys could pull off playing your age range, or did you have to undergone like a physical transformation, or did you change something about yourself so you could look more the part?
FRANCO: I wish I could say that I did, but no, I’m 25 looking 18. To be honest, I got to the point where preferably I would not play high school age anymore. Not to be pretentious, but I would love to play characters that are closer to my age. But at the same time, I’m not complaining. Work is work. And then with something like this, though, I didn’t mind at all. It’s such a great script, and I’ll play 12 years old in this if they want me to. Everyone always says it’s probably very beneficial to look young for your age, especially in this business. But it’s like, “God damn it, I just want tos look 25 sometimes.”