No one in Moravian College’s sold out Johnston Hall gymnasium knew quite what to expect when mercurial actor James Franco took the stage.
In fact, we’re not sure James Franco knew what to expect.
The actor, famous for roles in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, Milk, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and maybe most famously for his buddy roles with Seth Rogen in movies like Pineapple Express and This is the End, is nothing short of eclectic prolific.
And while he’s sometimes perceived, mistakenly so, as a “stoner” actor, the California native has been nominated for an Academy Award for his role in 127 Hours and has received his MFA from Columbia University in 2010, is a PhD student in English at Yale University and also attended the Rhode Island School of Design, among many other educational endeavors.
Franco’s educational background was of as much interest to the Moravian College student body as his more famous aspects and that was noted in the format of his visit and questions from the crowd.
Franco strolled on stage in his signature laid back demeanor to rather thunderous applause. While Moravian didn’t release any attendance numbers, there were easily a few thousands students and members of the public either sitting in chairs set up on the school’s basketball court or in the bleachers behind them.
And, even after Franco sat down, no one was still sure what to expect.
“I don’t even know where I am,” Franco quipped with a smile after taking a swig from a bottle of water, “ but it’s a nice town.”
That initial sentence was enough to seemingly relax the crowd as two student moderators thanked Franco for coming to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and for taking time to talk about his life.
Franco answered questions ranging from his choosing of roles to his working at McDonald’s after initially dropping out of UCLA.
“Do the movies that you believe in,” he said, “and work with the people that you believe in. That’s what has made all the difference for me as an actor.”
Franco spoke about how working with famed director Judd Apatow allowed him to broaden his roles.
“(Apatow) came to me during a part of my career where I wasn’t sure where things were headed,” he said. “And he said to me, ‘Why did you ever leave the comedy world? You should come back to us.”
Franco also talked about his love for education, something the students were very interested in asking about.
“I wanted to do these other things,” he said. By going to school and working with these great teachers that I’ve been talking about it enabled me to do those things.”
Franco talked about how education allowed him to better reach his potential by being around people who were encouraging him to write more or to make his own films.
“I value the purity of the academic environment,” he said.
While Franco talked about the seriousness of his journey from under employed dreamer to being on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, there were some lighter moments.
At one point, someone from deep in the crowd yelled “I love you, Franco!” to which Franco smiled and said, “Well, thanks!”
Franco also noticed how well he was being received by the crowd, mentioning how he could pretty much say anything and get some applause.
“And then, when I turned 16, I got my driver’s license,” he said with a smile.”
“Me, too!” someone proclaimed from the stands.
Franco’s nearly hour and a half visit ended with a representative of the Moravian College student body asking him that if he was stranded on an island in the middle of the ocean with food and water, what three things would he bring.
For the first time in the evening, Franco turned a bit sheepish and was almost struggling for an answer.
“Alright,” he said followed by a long pause. “I’ll bring Seth Rogen, just to be entertained. We’ll probably need a woman there to keep the human race going. I guess maybe Seth wouldn’t be happy without his wife so we’ll bring his wife.”
Sure, it wasn’t three things, but, on an evening when no one really knew quite what to expect, Franco’s honest answers and insightful advice on continuing to work no matter the odds was more than anyone could have expected.