Magicians are never supposed to reveal their secrets, but Dave Franco, who plays a member of a renegade crew of magic makers in this month’s high-octane caper Now You See Me, doesn’t follow that rule.
“I worked out pretty hard with the magic stuff,” Franco, 27, says of getting up to speed to play Jack, a pickpocket who joins forces with three magicians (played by Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson and Isla Fisher) and gets tangled up in an international crime spree. “I took it as an opportunity to really dive in, so every day after work I would go home and practice my sleight of hand tricks.”
Whatever Franco did to practice, it worked. On camera, his magic looks flawless, and as far as his performance goes, that’s not too bad either. After a career spent playing jerks in movies like 21 Jump Street, Franco—yeah, he’s James’ younger brother—has the opportunity to play a character audiences will actually like.
Here, we chat with him about magic tricks, speeding tickets and his plan to become the dominant Franco brother.
You play a pretty convincing magician in this movie. How magical were you prior to taking this role?
I would say like a 4 out of 10. I went to camp growing up, so we’d learn random card tricks that I’d pull out once every three years. I did for a couple of years live behind The Magic Castle in L.A., so I went in there a few times. But if you’re going to the Magic Castle, you’re leaving pretty drunk—it’s more of a show than studying the magicians.
Did you learn any tricks on set that you’ll be using in the future?
I can cut a banana in half by throwing cards at it. That’s not necessarily magic; it’s more just learning the form of throwing cards and then just putting a banana in front of you.
Still, it’s pretty cool.
[Laughs.] I don’t know if you want to be the guy who everyone’s asking to cut a banana in half. I’ll do that one once every three years, maybe. [Our magic trainer] taught us some sleight-of-hand stuff, like how to solve a Rubik’s Cube in under five seconds and other things that I’ll never use again in my life.
This was one of the first times you’ve played a character who’s easy to like. What was that like?
It was nice to finally play an affable character because for the last few projects, I feel like I keep playing the asshole. And I feel like anyone who is aware of who I am is probably now thinking that I am this asshole that I keep playing, so I’m glad I got to show a nicer side of myself. [Jack] is the youngest of the group, and he is trying to find his place amongst these magicians and trying to gain their respect throughout the film. It’s definitely something that I can relate to with two older brothers and always trying to gain their respect and be an equal. So, now I’m the superior brother.
Jack is nice, but he’s also scrappy. You have an amazing fight scene with Mark Ruffalo’s character.
Another thing that drew me to this role was the physicality of it all. In general, I’m not really drawn to action movies, but I had so much fun. I would think, Why would I want to do these depressing dramas where I’d be crying all day when I could be flipping over tables and jumping down trash chutes?
From week one, we started rehearsing those fight sequences—you want to know every single move, you want to have everything perfectly choreographed. We spent weeks and weeks and weeks on that.
Did you get hurt?
I’m shocked that I didn’t get more injured during the fight, just because we were doing a lot of tumbling around and really grappling with each other. I have bruises on my body, scars that I will have for my whole life that I got from this fight scene.
Whoa, what kind of scars?
I have two matching scars on my elbows. I don’t know when or even how that happened, but they’re pretty much just as prominent now as they were then.
Nothing so bad as when Zac Efron broke his hand filming a fight scene with you earlier this year.
In these situations, accidents happen and people get injured. But in the fight scene with Efron, no one should have gotten injured. It wasn’t an elaborate, choreographed fight scene, it was just like a freak accident during an emotional turning point in the movie. He was kind of freaking out, and I think he slammed his hand on the ground in the wrong way.
When we meet Jack, he’s working as a pickpocket. Have you ever been sticky fingered?
As a teenager, the worst [thing] I ever did was steal a Milky Way from a 7-11, which, in hindsight, is like 50 cents, so it’s like, what the hell was I doing?