Interview: Dave Franco On Playing a Heartthrob in 'Nerve,' Emma Roberts' Brutal Honesty and More

Interview: Dave Franco On Playing a Heartthrob in 'Nerve,' Emma Roberts' Brutal Honesty and More

Jul 29, 2016

Dave franco nerve

Dave Franco is kind of a secret weapon in every movie he pops up in. At first glance he may just seem like yet another handsome guy with a disarming smile, and then he starts stealing pretty much every scene he's in with some killer comedic timing. Doesn't matter if it's Fright Night or 21 Jump Street or Neighbors, he can take a little bit of screen time and make a big difference. Imagine what he could do as a leading man.

Well, now thanks to Nerve, you don't have to. It features Franco's meatiest role to date. In it he co-stars with Emma Roberts as a mysterious player in a high concept game of truth or dare that gets increasingly out of control. So not only is it a change of pace for Franco in the sense that he's no longer just a supporting player, but it's also a dive into legit thriller territory.

And we're happy to report that Franco survives the change with ease. Nerve may not have been on your radar, but it's one of this summer's most pleasant surprises. It's a slick, fast paced, engaging thriller that treats its teen characters with an authenticity you don't always find in movies based on young adult books. We spoke to Franco about how he landed the project, how he had such great chemistry with Emma Roberts and where his career is heading after this. How was Nerve first pitched to you?

Dave Franco: It's a good question because I read the script and there were some really interesting ideas in there, but I thought to myself that it could go one way or the other really hard. In the wrong hands it could be really cheesy and feel really derivative of all these other movies that have commentary on social media. But then I sat down with these directors, the guys who directed Catfish, and I immediately knew they were going to make the best version of this movie. And I knew that because they just have really good taste.

They're smart and clever and surround themselves with really talented people. Every aspect of the movie, the music, the way it's edited, it's so frenetic and almost feels like a Danny Boyle movie in that way. And then visually, the way they shot it and the neon colors they used. I'm so proud of this thing. It's one of the few projects I've been involved in where I take step back and am just happy to be part of the journey. Unlike a lot of tech thrillers, this isn't embarrassed of its own subject matter.

Franco: It's very unapologetic. In many different ways. I don't want to give anything away, but it is a PG-13 movie but it feels edgy, to the point where you stop and wonder, 'Wait, is this PG-13?'

Nerve MPAA rating Well if you take a look at the poster, the PG-13 box has got a load of things listed in it.

Franco: [looks at poster] Oh wow, yeah, it usually isn't that crammed, is it? Is it weird to play a leading man heartthrob in a teen movie?

Franco: I never thought of it that way. I guess part of the reason I was attracted to the role is that it's different from what I've done. I've done mostly comedies up until this point and this role is mostly serious, but what I love about this role and the directors is they wanted me to bring a lot of my own thing to the part, as opposed to playing the character as people would expect in this kind of movie. That would be very broody and taking himself way too seriously and I didn't want that. I wanted a little bit of lightness to him. You see immediately my character isn't like that. He's standing on tables in a restaurant singing his heart out. [laughs] I don't know if that answers the question, but it was never something I was intentionally trying to do. This feels, in a good way, like more of a performance than some of your other roles. You can see the choices being made and see the effects they're having.

Franco: Thank you, I am so happy to hear you say that. I would say the hardest part of the character is for the majority of the movie the audience is trying to figure out his intentions. Is he a good guy? Is he a bad guy? And I just wanted to make the character likable enough that in those moments that you might be thinking he's a bad guy, you want to be able to understand why Emma's character still would want to be on this journey with me. I guess it was an overall demeanor. Play it as light as possible and try to make her laugh along the way. Did you and Emma have any bonding period before shooting started?

Franco: We actually had filmed a music video together maybe five or six years ago, so we knew each other decently well. We'd stayed in touch a little bit. It's obviously very important in a movie like this where we're supposed to have instant chemistry. If you don't believe these two characters want to be together, the whole movie falls apart. I felt immediately comfortable with her.

Emma is someone who is really smart and I confided in her a lot, and I checked in with her a lot because there were moments throughout the filming where I would feel insecure about something I was doing and I would pull her aside and ask her how it was coming across on camera, if she felt it was cheesy or not. And she would be honest. It was brutal sometimes, but that was good for me. It's not often that you feel that level of comfort where you can be that honest with each other on set. I didn't know this was based on a book.

Franco: I was aware it was based on a book, but we were even told to maybe not read the book just because the directors wanted their own take on everything and we didn't want to be married to anything from the book. So I can't speak to the novel itself and the differences of what we changed. One of the cool things about your career is that there hasn't been a predictable through line. Where do you see your career now and the kind of projects that interest you?

Franco: I think the common ground between the films I have chosen in the last few years is that I want to work on projects that are at least attempting to bring something new to the table. I look back on these movies...I did a zombie romance, and I was really new at the time. I did a movie about magicians who pull off bank heists-- that's not a no-brainer. The studio had to take a risk on that and I was happy to be a part of it.

Even this movie! Every young adult movie is set in a dystopian world where everything is elevated and nothing is quite realistic, and it's sad to say, but it takes balls for a studio to make a movie about real people doing real things. That's what I love about this film.

That's my main criteria. On top of that, I want to work with filmmakers that I love and admire. The whole reason I got into this is because I love movies and I just wanted to be involved with them any way I could. I've been lucky enough to work with the Nerve directors or the 21 Jump Street directors or Nick Stoller on Neighbors, who is a comedy genius. All these guys have a point of view and they're willing to take risks and that's when the best and most original stuff comes about. What is your audition process like these days? Do you tend to seek out projects or are you still auditioning for things?

Franco: That's a good question. In general if anyone is offering me anything it's usually a role I've already played in the past. People are scared to just offer you something and just hope you'll be able to pull it off if they've never seen you do it before. If there are roles out there that are different than what I've played I am going to have to fight for those, and I am happy to. I'm still fighting for a lot of these projects that I end up working on.

It's tough. If I'm going to leave home for months at a time, it's got to be for a project I really love. Because I'll be honest, I love my down time. I'd rather sit around and wait for something I really love than jump on a project just to be working. So I don't audition as much, and that's not because I'm getting a million offers, it's because I'm becoming more selective. I love being home. I miss my friends, I miss my cats.  


Nerve is in theaters now. Check it out.


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