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James Franco - Biography

James Franco has starred in a number of films, from James Dean to Spiderman

James Franco - Biography© Daniele Venturelli
Bryony Gooch
US Writer
Updated: November 9, 2023
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Rarely heard from since 2019, you might wonder: what happened to James Franco? From starring in films with the likes of Seth Rogen and Julia Roberts to shying from the limelight, here's all you need to know about the James Dean actor.

James Franco's childhood and first break

Born in California on April 19, 1978, his academic strengths led him to enroll at the University of California as an English major. However, having developed a taste for the stage performing in school plays he dropped out after his freshman year against his parents' wishes to pursue a career as an actor. 

His first break came in 1999 when he was cast as a leading role in the TV series Freaks and Geeks. He was subsequently cast as the lead in Mark Rydell's 2001 TV biopic James Dean. This role was to place him firmly on the Hollywood map as it ensured him a Golden Globe Award and nominations for an Emmy as well as a Screen Actors Guild Award. 

James Franco's career

The rising star cemented his popularity with the 2002 superhero film Spiderman. Cast as Harry Osborn, the best friend of Peter Parker, the success of the film led to him reprising the role in the 2004 and 2007 sequels. James also worked hard in the two years between the two Spiderman films, co-starring in the drama City by the Sea alongside Robert de Niro in 2002 and The Company alongside Neve Campbell in 2003. 

In 2006 the actor received a Golden Globe nod for his performance as a stoner in The Pineapple Express. Although many believed he used method acting to perfect the role, James says that in reality he's very straightlaced: "I used to smoke weed, but I haven't done it in a long time. Everybody, even now, thinks, 'That guy is stoned.' It's just the way I talk, because I don't smoke weed. Somehow, there's something about me, the way I talk, that implies I'm on drugs." 

As well as a Golden Globe nomination, James won the 2008 Independent Spirit Award for his role opposite Sean Penn in Milk. His gripping portrayal of trapped mountain climber Aron Ralston in 127 Hours won the actor an Oscar nod in 2010, ensuring his star is firmly on the rise. He featured in Eat Pray Love with Julia Roberts in the same year. He became well-known for his work with Seth Rogen, with the duo appearing in eight films and one television series together, including This Is The End and The Disaster Artist.

Outside of acting, he published a collection of short stories called Palo Alto in 2010 as well as displaying his paintings in galleries in LA, in 2006. In 2013 Palo Alto became a film starring himself and Emma Roberts.

James Franco outside of acting

Often interested in education, he moved to New York and enrolled at four graduate schools at the same time. In 2010 he started a PhD in English at Yale University. Director Judd Apatow said of the star: "He's a very education-minded person. We used to laugh because in between takes he'd be reading The Iliad on set..." Speaking of his decision to go back to school, James said: "I was really tired of acting. I was putting a ton of work in and not getting as much satisfaction out of it. So I just needed something else to focus my attention on, to take the pressure off. Turns out that I love school." 

By 2017, James revealed that he was slowing down his career to focus on himself. In 2021 he paid more than $2.2 million to settle a lawsuit against him from two former students of his acting school when accused of sexual misconduct. The actor appeared on the Jess Cagle Podcast where he admitted to being in treatment for sexual addiction since 2016 and having sex with students, but he didn't address other allegations against him. That same year, frequent collaborator Seth Rogen expressed he doubted he would ever work with him again.

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