In this new animated short, James Franco reflects on how his youthful indiscretions led him to pursue acting

By Michael Miller
October 30, 2015 06:40 PM

Before James Franco became the actor/artist/bookworm he is today, he was selling stolen bottles of cologne to his high school classmates – and getting busted for it.

The Interview actor opens up about his bad boy days growing up in Palo Alto, California, in a new animated short created for the “California Inspires Me” series, a collaboration between Google Play and California Sunday Magazine.

“By the time I got to high school I didn’t have a ‘thing,’ ” Franco explains in a voiceover. “So I ended up just getting into a lot of trouble.”

“Like in 8th grade we started stealing cologne,” he says with a laugh. “We had like thirty bottles of cologne each in our lockers at school and then we could sell cologne at the dances.”

But Franco says his illegal activity was eventually reported to the police. “It was like a big bust.”

After getting in trouble again for a graffiti-related offense, Franco says he eventually became “a ward of the court.”

The experience made him realize he needed “a big change,” so Franco pursued his interest in film. Citing the late River Phoenix as an early influence, he decided to try acting and dropped out of UCLA, where he had been studying English.

His parents were not happy about his decision and refused to support him financially, so Franco started working in the UCLA kitchen, even though he was no longer a student.

His big break came after auditioning for Paul Feig and Judd Apatow for Freaks and Geeks. He landed a role alongside fellow newcomers Seth Rogen and Jason Segel. “What they did on that show is that they just found a bunch of people that they liked and they wrote the characters around them,” he says of creator Feig and executive producer Apatow.

After the show got cancelled, Franco continued acting but he wasn’t happy with the direction of his career, he says. Six years later, he reconnected with Apatow, who nudged him away from drama and back into comedy with a role in Pineapple Express.

“All in one year everything changed,” he says. “I feel like LA or California as a whole contributed to that feeling that I could do what I wanted.”

While Franco says he’s still a bit scatterbrained when it comes to choosing projects – a trait he attributes to his father – he says his varying interests are all connected, at least in his mind.

“But maybe it looks like I’m just a mad scientist gone off the rails,” he laughs.