Interview: Dave Franco – Unfinished Business.
Dave Franco joins an all-star cast – including Vince Vaughn and Tom Wilkinson -for director Ken Scott’s outrageous comedy Unfinished Business.
Franco plays Mike Pancake, a young, naïve recruit to Dan Trunkman’s struggling company (Vaughn) who, along with the third member of the team, Tim (Wilkinson), set off on a business trip to try and secure a crucial deal that will shore up their futures.
But the trio find themselves up against ruthless opposition, what starts out as a short trip to Portland, Oregon ends up in vibrant, bohemian Berlin where Dan, Mike and Tim have a series of hilarious setbacks as they chase their dream.
With a G8 summit in town – and a sex fetish event drawing even more exotic characters into Berlin – they mingle with the exotic inhabitants and each, in his own way, will change forever.
“I think it’s great,” Franco says of the film. “I think it’s really fun and I think it’s got a nice balance of raunchy humour, but somehow manages to have a heart as well.”
“Especially with a comedy, you don’t have to take it too seriously, so you just want to be loose and to have a good time.”
Franco, the youngest of three boys, was born and raised in Palo Alto, California. He made his acting debut in the TV series, 7th Heaven before starring as a regular in the hit television shows, Privileged and Scrubs.
Firmly established as one of the best comedic actors working today, his films including 21 Jump Street, Warm Bodies, Now You See Me, The Lego Movie and 22 Jump Street. He recently finished filming Zeroville,directed by his brother, James.
Q: Are you pleased with the finished film?
A: I think it’s great. I think it’s really fun and I think it’s got a nice balance of raunchy humour, but somehow manages to have a heart as well.
Q: Tell us about your character, the excellently named Mike Pancake?
A: Mike is the novice of the group, and the role he serves within the company is that of the eternal optimist. When things are looking grim, he’s the one to always put a positive spin on the situation, and keep everyone motivated, and that’s a very important person to have around.
Q: He has a lot of new experiences over the course of the film. Tell us a little bit about his journey…
A: Absolutely, yeah. Mike has never been on an airplane before – let alone been out of the country – so he’s obviously experiencing a lot of firsts on this business trip. Throughout the movie, he’s very wide-eyed and taking in everything around him, and as it progresses he starts to find himself, and becomes somewhat of an equal in the group. At first it appears that he’s not really bringing much to the table, but by the end they couldn’t have gotten a handshake without him.
Q: What was he like to play?
A: It was the most character-y role I’ve ever played, which was exciting, but also somewhat terrifying, just because I really put myself out on a limb with this guy. He has a mild form of autism, so I wanted to portray that accurately, and I didn’t want to overdo it or offend anyone. So I did a lot of research going into this movie. I read a lot of books on autism and watched some documentaries, but what was really the most helpful was sitting down with a couple kids who have autism, and just picking their brains and hearing their stories.
Q: He is an innocent abroad but he’s very charming too..
A: Absolutely. I hope he’s an easy character to root for because he’s very sweet and loyal and just has a very positive outlook on the world, and it’s hard not to get behind a character like that.
Q: He goes on a sexual discovery, too. Tell us about that..
A: Yeah, that’s a big part of Mike’s journey, and he’s very successful (laughs) – much more so than you might expect from a character who’s never even been out of his hometown. He ends up sleeping with multiple women, and I think what they’re attracted to is what we’re talking about: his sincerity and his sweetness. His sexual journey is an entire movie within itself. He’s not only losing his virginity, but he’s trying to do it in a way that would even be risqué for a character in 50 Shades of Grey.
Q: As you said there are some ‘raunchy scenes’ in the film. Do you ever worry that a joke might overstep a line?
A: I think in general you’ve just got to go for it, and if it ends up crossing the line then you cut it out of the edit, but I don’t think you should ever restrict yourself in any way. You should never be afraid that you’re going too far while you’re filming. Like I said, you can always cut it after the fact. I think in general you’ve just got to trust your instincts. It’s a lot easier to do that when you’re surrounded by genuinely funny people like Vince Vaughn, who will let you know if something is working or not, and who is very collaborative, and who, a lot of times, would pitch me lines that were funnier than the line that I was already saying. It was a very safe environment, so I never felt stupid for trying any particular joke.
Q: Do you think that ultimately, funny is funny?
A: I think so. It’s interesting, though, because comedy, more so than most genres, evolves pretty quickly. We’ve gone from broad, slapstick humour to somewhat more grounded humour in the past decade, and people in general, they’re not as open to silly, over the top, comedies. I mean, I do agree that ‘funny is funny’ but I don’t know. There also is a new wave of these comedies that do have a heart, like I was saying about our film, where people want more than just gross out gags. They want a real story, and they want real human characters that they can latch on to.
Q: Nick Frost’s character could have been cartoonish, but there’s a lot of heart there.
A: I really love Nick’s character. He doesn’t have a significant amount of time on screen but he really makes the most of it, and he has an entire journey with this guy. it could have easily just been a character who fulfilled a gag, but his actions are motivated by loneliness. He talks about how he has put on weight in recent years, and how men don’t see him the same way they used to, and all he really wants is just one kiss, and he was surrounded by thousands of men in a very sexual setting, and he couldn’t get that. So yeah, it’s a somewhat sad character, but he kind of prevails in the end.
Q: When you’re shooting a comedy, do you know if it’s going to be funny there and then? Or do you have to wait until editing?
A: It’s often pretty funny on the day. I think the best comedy comes from actors having the freedom to improvise and really find things in the moment that weren’t originally in the script, and so a lot of the time that comes from just trying to make each other laugh. That being said, my particular brand of humour is somewhat different. I don’t consider myself a comedian – I’m not a joke type of guy – and so my humour comes from trying to find the truth in an absurd situation and just play is as real as possible, so a lot of the time you’re not necessarily laughing at that type of humour, just because it’s more character based and it might make sense more in the context of the whole movie.
Q: How was working with Tom Wilkinson? This is a very different kind of role for him.
A: I loved working with Tom. I was so excited when I first heard that he came on board, just because some of the humour in the movie could have gone in a different direction where it felt very broad and over the top, but then you bring in an actor like Tom Wilkinson who is such a professional, and is so real, that no matter how big a gag is, he finds a way to ground it, and make it feel real, and so I learned a lot just from watching him. I’m excited for people to see him in a different type of role. People in general see him as this two-time Academy Award nominee and in this he’s taking bong hits and dancing with naked women and having pillow fights and it’s a different side of Tom and he killed it, as always. Tom’s character is in an unhappy marriage and he just got fired – at the beginning of the movie he gets fired for being too old – and he’s kind of in a rut. He uses the trip as a platform to turn his life around, and to try to find love again, and he finds it in a very unlikely place.
Q: Vince and Ken Scott had worked together before. So did they have a kind of shorthand coming into this film?
A: Yeah, Vince and Ken get along very well, and Ken is great at allowing Vince to play to his strengths, and really allowing him to be loose and be free. As for Vince, it’s always intimidating at first to work with someone that you’ve admired for so long. I didn’t want to be the person in the scene to slow everything down, but what I quickly realised, working with someone as funny as Vince, is that no matter what I say, no matter how dumb the joke is, Vince will take that dumb joke of mine and turn it into gold. He is just such a quick-witted guy that he makes everyone around him better, so it felt like a very safe environment.
Q: Vince’s character, Dan, is very relatable just trying to do right by his family and survive in a cut throat business world. Do you think his character is the moral core of the story?
A: I think with all three of these guys, they are down on their luck but they never feel bad for themselves. All of their intentions are very pure, and it’s easy to get behind that. It’s much harder when you have a character who is at a low point in his life and feels sorry for himself. That doesn’t apply to any of these guys. They’re fighting as hard as they can, against all odds.
Q: What was it like making the film in Berlin? The city is very much a character itself in the film – it’s bohemian, vibrant and for these three guys very much a contrast to the America they have left behind…
A: Berlin is a huge part of the movie. I had an incredible time filming in Berlin. It’s a very artsy, progressive city, where it feels like anything goes and there’s no judgment. It’s one of the few cities that I’ve been to that I could actually see myself living in.
Q: Your brother James just directed you for Zeroville. How was that experience?
A: I only worked one day on that film, but it was really fun. I love working with him in that capacity, where he’s directing me, just because he’s the happiest I’ve ever seen him, behind the camera. He’s like a kid on set, he’s having so much fun, and he’s a very collaborative director, where he wants the actor to feel as comfortable as possible, and obviously he’s an actor himself so he just knows how to direct performance in a very nuanced way.