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James Franco: Working with Bryan Cranston like 'playing jazz music'

James Franco likens working with Bryan Cranston to playing jazz

James Franco is an overachiever.

The actor, director, screenwriter, producer, teacher and author has dabbled in countless productions, winning accolades along the way. The Oscar winner's latest film role as an eccentric tech millionaire in Why Him? is playing to his strength as a comedian.

In the comedy opening here Dec 29, Franco plays Laird who goes to great lengths to impress his girlfriend's (Zoey Deutch) father Ned (Bryan Cranston).

Franco, 38, opens up about sharing screen time with Cranston and why he took on the project.

What first appealed to you about this project?

(Director) John (Hamburg) brought it to me. I knew John - he was my professor at New York University when I was there for graduate film-making - so I was interested. I met Bryan for the first time backstage on the last episode of The Colbert Report. He came up to me backstage and said: "I've got this script Why Him?, maybe we should discuss it."

That got us kind of talking and e-mailing. Eventually we met with John and really talked out the script and went over the whole thing together... John directing and starring opposite Bryan was a great combination.

How has it been to find that level of comic antagonism with Cranston?

It has been easy. Bryan is so good that it is sort of like he just understands. It is a great feeling when you work with a partner, especially in comedy, where there is a lot of improv. When you have a partner who just sort of gets it, then it is like playing music. It is like playing jazz. Then you can roll and build off each other.

One of the key elements for me in this project was Bryan. Knowing that it would be opposite Bryan was one of the most interesting things to me, especially because I'd been doing a fair amount of comedy, mainly with Seth Rogen, and I liked the idea of having a different kind of comedic partner to bounce off and see where that took us.

Is there an element of self-parody in playing Laird? You've been unapologetic about your interests as an artist, even as you've faced criticism. And while Ned dislikes Laird for his eccentricities, he is a good guy at heart and is misunderstood.

I see the parallel, but I didn't really think of it that way. What I thought about was, if the character is obnoxious, goofball and crude on the surface, then he shouldn't be that way on the inside... In his heart, his motives are all good, and it is just really a misunderstanding on Ned's part, that Ned is looking at the surface and not seeing beneath.

I know that I can't really control my public persona, and that it is based partly on things that I do but also on the way that people view my connection to the roles I play, the magazines that feature me and whatever else.

There came a point where I stopped worrying about trying to control that, because I can't control how people see me. I just started to have a little more fun with it. I am much more at ease with it now.

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