Well known for his works as teen heartthrob on the NBC series Freaks and Geeks and films like Never Been Kissed (1999) starring Drew Barrymore, James Franco has the dark, refined looks of a classic movie star. Indeed, he was cast in the TNT film James Dean playing the screen legend himself, for which he won a Golden Globe Award for his performance in 2002.
Born on April 19, 1978, Franco has lived in California throughout his life. After high school, he studied acting intensely under Robert Carnegie, Jeff Goldblum, and Tony Savant. He also spent time training at the Playhouse West in North Hollywood.
Soon after landing the role as dark and pessimistic Daniel on Freaks and Geeks, where the teenage crowd found his performance accessible and realistic, Franco would earn a series of roles in teen-oriented motion pictures. Along with Never Been Kissed, he appeared in Whatever It Takes, on the set of which he met girlfriend Marla Sokoloff, a fellow actor. In a film about a group of "bad" students called Mean People Suck (2000), Franco appeared in the role of Casey, and then starred in Blind Spot in 2001.
After retaining heartthrob status with his award-winning performance as James Dean, he would appear in Deuces Wild (2002), a '50s-style gang drama. That same year, he played the part of Harry Osborn in the live-action rendition of Stan Lee's superhero comic Spider Man, also starring Tobey Maguire, Willem Defoe, and Kirsten Dunst. The following year would find an emerging Franco in his most dramatically challenging role to date, as a murder suspect who happens to be the son of an NYPD police detective (Robert DeNiro) in City by the Sea. Impressed by Franco's turn as flm legend James Dean, DeNiro personally lobbied to have Franco cast in the film. Franco would continue to work with talented collaborators, landing a role in Robert Altman's ballet movie The Company in 2003. He returned to the role of Harry Osbourn in Spider-Man 2 a year after that. 2005 was a busy year for the young actor who directed an adaptation of his own play, The Ape, and starred in a couple of historical dramas. Neither The Great Raid nor Tristan & Isolde made much of an impression with audiences, but the films showed an actor willing to try new things. He was back in theaters early in 2006 with the Naval Academy/boxing movie Annapolis. That fall he again appeared in theaters in the World War 1 drama Flyboys, directed by Tony Bill. He also agreed to reprise the role of Harry Osborn one more time in Spider-Man 3.
Having long nurtured an aptitude for painting, Franco had his first public exhibition of his work in 2006, with a show at a Los Angeles gallery. He also began writing and directing his own short films, like 2007's Good Time Max and 2009's The Feast of Stephen. Around this time, Franco made the unexpected decision to enroll at UCLA as an English major. After receiving special permission to take on a heavier than normal course-load, he received his degree in 2008, and promptly began working on his MFA at Columbia University in New York, which he completed in 2010. He next enrolled as a Ph.D. student in English at Yale University.
All the while that he was completing his higher education, Franco was living up to the description often given by his co-stars and collaborators as having a superhuman ability to complete numerous projects at once. In 2008, Franco found an awesome vehicle for his comedic chops with the action-stoner-comedy Pineapple Express, pairing him with Seth Rogen as an adorably friendly weed dealer. That same year, he earned accolades for his performance as Scott Smith in the Award Winning biopic Milk, opposite Sean Penn. Even stranger, in 2009 - at the height of success - Franco decided curiously to join the cast of the daytime soap opera General Hospital, as a performance artist, not unlike himself, named Franco. He would later refer to the role as "performance art," but the tongue-in-cheek nature of a heart-throb Hollywood star joining the ranks of daytime TV only added to Franco's fun and mischievous image. He would also appear on the show 30 Rock that year as himself, in an episode in which the actor carries out a fake relationship for the press, in order to draw public attention from rumors that he's in love with a Japanese body pillow.
Franco would make appearances in films like Eat, Pray, Love and Date Night over the coming years, but his next big splash came in 2011, when he starred in the gripping thriller 127 Hours. Playing a mountain climber who becomes immovably wedged in an isolated crevice, the almost completely solo performance earned Franco yet more praise from critics and fans, as well as numerous nominations from the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild Awards, and more. Never standing still after even the biggest victory, however, Franco was soon onto the next project, reteaming with his Pineapple Express director and costars for the 2011 fantasy-stoner-comedy Your Highness. ~ Sarah Sloboda, Rovi