James Edward Franco (born April 19, 1978) is an American actor, film director, screenwriter, film producer, author, painter, and performance artist. He left college in order to pursue acting and started off his career by making guest appearances on television series in the 1990s. Franco landed a lead part on the short-lived cult hit television program Freaks and Geeks and later achieved recognition for playing the titular character in the TV biopic James Dean (2001), for which he was awarded a Golden Globe Award. He achieved international fame with his portrayals of Harry Osborn in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy. The actor has been acclaimed for both dramatic and comedic work in projects and has appeared in an eclectic range of projects since the 2000s. Ranging from period to contemporary pieces, and from major Hollywood productions to less publicized indie films, as well as fantasy movies to biopics and soap operas. Other notable films include Pineapple Express, a stoner comedy that earned him his second Golden Globes nomination, the Harvey Milk-biopic Milk (both 2008) as well as Danny Boyle's 2010 movie 127 Hours, about real-life mountain climber Aron Ralston's struggle to free his hand from a boulder. His performance in 127 Hours earned him nominations for most of the high-profile awards, including the Academy Awards, Golden Globe and SAG Awards. Franco has hosted the skit comedy Saturday Night Live twice as well as the 83rd Academy Awards with Anne Hathaway. He volunteers for the Art of Elysium charity and is in a relationship with actress Ahna O'Reilly. After 15 months of training, he began auditioning in Los Angeles, California, and started professionally acting in 1997 with guest roles on television shows. His first break came in 1999, after he was cast in a leading role on the short-lived but well-reviewed television series Freaks and Geeks. The program, which ran for 18 episodes and was canceled due to low viewership, later became a cult hit among audiences. He has since described the series as "one of the most fun" work experiences that he has had. In another interview, Franco said: "When we were doing Freaks and Geeks, I didn’t quite understand how movies and TV worked, and I would improvise even if the camera wasn’t on me ... So I was improvising a little bit back then, but not in a productive way." Franco made his film debut in a brief role in the 1999 Drew Barrymore-starring Never Been Kissed and his first major movie was the romantic teen comedy Whatever It Takes (2000), in which he played popular jock Chris. The latter is a modern day remake of the 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac.
In the 2002 superhero film Spider-Man, Franco played Harry Osborn, the son of the villainous Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe) and best friend of the title character (Tobey Maguire). Originally, Franco was considered for the lead role of Spider-Man/Peter Parker in the film, though the lead went to Maguire. Todd McCarthy of Variety noted that there are "good moments" between Maguire and Franco in the film. Spider-Man was a commercial and critical success. The movie grossed $114 million during its opening weekend in North America and went on to earn $822 million worldwide. He next starred in Sonny, a 2002 release in which he was directed by fellow actor Nicolas Cage. It was Cage's involvement that had attracted Franco to the film. Set in 1980s New Orleans, Sonny follows the titular character (Franco) returning home after just being discharged from the Army. To prepare for his role, he met with sex workers or people who had previously been prostitutes. The movie was panned by critics, with the New York Posts Lou Lumenick calling it an "instant candidate for worst movie of the year." Franco was cast as a homeless drug addict in the drama City by the Sea (2002) after co-star Robert De Niro saw a snippet of his work in James Dean. He lived on the streets for several days to better understand the subject of the matter as well as talk to former or still using drug addicts. Both projects were released in September.At the end of September 2010, the actor acquired the rights to Stephen Elliott's The Adderall Diaries, with the intentions to adapt, direct and star in it. It was announced in January 2011 that the actor has planned to not only star in but direct himself in The Night Stalker, a film version of author Philip Carlo's book about the 1980s serial killer, Richard Ramirez. Co-screenwriter to the screenplay, Nicholas Constantine, was initially unconvinced that Franco would be right for the movie, until he learned of Franco's desire to be a director and later watched three of his short films, one of which featured a serial killer, ultimately confirming to the writer that the actor had a darker side. One of his other upcoming projects, The Iceman, with reunite Franco with Michael Shannon, after the two worked together on the short film Herbert White. The movie is based upon real-life contract murderer Richard Kuklinski, who notoriously froze his victims. The actor also has plans to direct a film version of William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying.