"Well," he says, "I have been in a few fistfights. One was a draw, but the other, I was on the school bus in seventh grade and this mean sack of shit we all called Hillbilly was flicking everyone's ears. But when he flicked my ears, I pushed him, then he came back and punched me in the face, and I went and pulled some kind of Bruce Lee shit where I pulled myself up between two of the seats and kicked him in the face and he went flying back. It was amazing. It was great. Also, I used to be able to run fast, but not now. Hmm. I don't think I'd be too good in the apocalypse."
We're not so sure about that. We think McBride's got more going for him than he lets on. For one, he has seen the recent Reese Witherspoon video, where a drunken Reese stands up to a cop about to arrest her drunk-driving husband, and he says, quite rightly, "It's pretty awesome. I'd hope my wife would do the exact same thing if I was being arrested." Also, the last time he saw a doctor was in college ("It's all hocus-pocus"), and yet he's responsible enough to still go to the dentist ("That's good, right?"). Moreover, though he has slowed down some since the 2011 birth of his son, Declan, he still knows how to have a good time. "I'm not the kind of person who needs alcohol to loosen up, but I do love tequila and it gets things going quick. I'm a happy drunk, and when I go out, I lose count."
Has he ever had sex in the bathroom at a party, the way Michael Cera does in This Is the End?
He frowns. "I think when I was in college, I feel like I did, yeah."
We like this answer. It's both honest and cagey. We also like how he is with his fans. "Everyone usually offers drugs or wants to take shots with you, which can be cool, depending on who's asking." And how he handles girls who come on to him, a married man. "When it happens, I'm always just sort of friendly and just keep moving, saying, 'Very nice, yes, it would be nice to suck your tits, but I'm with my wife now, so I will see you later.' "
Is he in favor of weed?
He nods, vigorously. "I love it, yeah. I like smoking weed and drinking beer, and when I was younger I liked doing mushrooms. That's my triumvirate right there."
And if some weed were available right now, in the form of an e-joint, would he smoke some? We produce the thing and roll it toward him.
"Yes, of course," he says, taking a drag and exhaling an amount of THC vapor that is frankly amazing. McBride holds up the e-joint, narrows his eyes and by way of explanation says, "This isn't my first rodeo."
The idea of spending crisis time with McBride is becoming more and more appealing. He really is nothing like the dickweed characters he plays. "And besides not going to the doctor," he says, "I don't get sad and I don't have any phobias. The only thing I get stressed out about is having to get dressed up to walk the red carpet. I hate walking the red carpet. It instantly puts me in a bad mood and fucks me up."
His steak arrives, and his eyes light up, but we have one more question before settling down to eat. Should it become necessary, could he handle not being able to change his underwear for a week?
He puts his knife down. "Well, it'd be bad news," he says. "People would complain. After a day, even I'd complain. 'That's what it smells like down there? Jesus Christ. I need to go see a doctor!'"
He whoops a laugh, as do we. But for the first time, we are concerned about McBride's suitability. Really? After just a day, it's that bad?
Franco – lots of his friends just call him that, Franco, unless you knew him when he was a kid and then you maybe called him Teddy, the expanded familiar diminutive of his middle name, Edward, or else, not by him but by classmates (you know how cruel they can be), Teddy Ruxpin – steps out of the sunlight and into the dim environs of L.A.'s very luxe W Hotel. Removing his shades, he is immediately set upon by some movie-studio type, but then extracts himself, enters into the coziness of the adjacent lounge and sits at a table, upon which he rests a book called Art and Culture, by art critic Clement Greenberg.
"I'm going to Yale," he says. "This is for my oral exams. I have 150 books to read."
Isn't this just like Franco? Isn't this just what we've come to expect? Actor, writer, poet, English and film-school professor, holder of numerous MFA degrees, lover of academia, perpetual student, performance artist, soap-opera thespian and failed Academy Award co-host – his multifarious interests confound in a way that connects him directly to one of Greenberg's more famous pronouncements: "I feel that works of art which genuinely puzzle us are almost always of ultimate consequence." Not that Franco, 35, is a work of art, but then again, in his refusal to be just one thing or even three things, he kind of is. And he certainly is a bit of a puzzle.
Just look at him today, in his plaid flannel shirt, and his jeans, and his knock-around boots, with his brilliant white-toothed smile, his flop of hair, and those eyes, so heavy-lidded, so on the verge of sealing shut, and so misunderstood to be those of a hardcore, Rogen-like pothead. In fact, the sense of it is so overwhelming that we produce our e-joint and proffer it, even though we already know he does no drugs (and drinks no booze).
He waves it off and says, "I haven't smoked in decades."
So what does he do to relieve stress?
He leans back. "I don't know."
Is he a compulsive masturbator?
"No. I used to be. But not anymore."
When was the last time he smoked?
"The last time, I got in a lot of trouble." Silence. Tons of silence. Will the silence ever end? Finally, he says, "I got in a car accident and was arrested. I was almost 17 and on probation for graffiti and drinking incidents. I think I wasn't even supposed to be driving at that point. I remember the judge saying if I hadn't gotten such good grades, she'd probably have put me in juvenile, but she gave me one more chance, although I was made a ward of the state."
We nod. We smile. But it sure does seem like some deeply off-kilter stuff for the Palo Alto-raised, math-whiz son of a writer-actress mom and a Silicon Valley businessman dad. No matter. By the age of 20, he'd moved to L.A., joined the cast of Judd Apatow's short-lived, cult-fave TV show Freaks and Geeks (which also starred Rogen), and has gone on to become a little bit of everything. He was Oscar-worthy in 127 Hours, the only watchable thing in Eat Pray Love, available for high-minded fare like Milk, equally willing to head to the multiplex in Spider-Man and to indie-exploitation flicks like Spring Breakers. If he isn't cinema's Walt Whitman, we don't know who is. But, in truth, none of that has anything to do with what we're after.
Have there been any overt acts of heroism in his past?
He squints. "When I was 13, I saw a friend being picked on by a group of pretty scary people. The guy was put on his knees and being humiliated. No way could I have taken any of them, but I walked over and helped him to his feet and said, 'Let's go.' And we left. Maybe my stepping in made them realize how horrible it was."
Any survival skills of note?
"I trained in boxing for a movie I did called Annapolis. I got my pilot's license making Flyboys. And from 127 Hours, I learned to preserve your water and that you can drink your urine."
And has he ever drunk his own urine, as Craig Robinson does in This Is the End?
His stoner eyes slide shut, only to reopen somewhere down the pike. "I don't think so," he says. "I can't recall."
Has he ever behaved in a way he is ashamed of?
He bobs his head. "When I was 13, there was a guy who I was really jealous of, because he went out with this girl I had a huge crush on. I knew she had dated one of a group of tough guys at a rival school, so I made an anonymous call and said, 'So-and-so was seeing her at the same time you were seeing her.' They came to beat the guy up, but he wasn't there, but they were in a fighting mood, so they beat up some other poor guy. I felt really bad about that."
All in all, we're feeling pretty good about Franco. He seems to have a well-formed moral center. Also, even though he's a teetotaler, he still likes going to parties ("if it's the right crowd"), where he'll drink Sprite. And if he told a joke at the party, he says it would likely be this: A man walks into a therapist's office wearing only spandex underwear, and the shrink says, "Well, clearly I can see your nuts." Good stuff! We approve!
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