“The casting director for NYPD Blue liked my British accent, but was put off when I revealed that I was actually just a California boy.” – James Franco
Every actor has to start somewhere — and that doesn’t just mean small-town plays and commercials. Between those gigs, an actor has to support himself or herself with some other type of job. There are actor-waiters, actor-bartenders, actor-caters, and, in the case of James Franco, actor-McDonald’s employee. In a surprising editorial in the Washington Post, Franco reflected on his months working at McDonald’s in light of the company’s recent sales downturn.
Despite Franco’s reputation for knocking out higher ed degrees like he is collecting baseball cards (he has degrees from UCLA, Columbia, Brooklyn College, Warren Wilson College, and has attended Yale and Rhode Island School of Design), Franco explains that he took a roundabout way to start his acting career because he was ready to start acting without going through his other undergraduate coursework. He explains, “In 1996, I moved to Los Angeles from Palo Alto at age 18 to study English at UCLA. I soon realized that half the city was working in the movie industry and the other half was trying to get into it, and because I hadn’t applied to the theater department as an incoming freshman, I would have to wait two years to even apply. Two years seemed like an eternity, so I dropped out of college and went to a hole-in-the-wall acting school in the Valley. My parents, who both had master’s degrees and valued education, told me I would have to support myself if I wasn’t enrolled in college.”
Franco needed a job, but it appeared that every actor in the area was already taking up the waiting and bartending jobs. So Franco went for an entry level job: flipping fast food burgers. He reveals, “Someone asked me if I was too good to work at McDonald’s. Because I was following my acting dream despite all the pressure not to, I was definitely not too good to work at McDonald’s. I went to the nearest Mickey D’s and was hired the same day. I was given the late shift drive-thru position. I wore a purple visor and purple polo shirt and took orders over a headset. I refrained from reading on the job, but soon started putting on fake accents with the customers to practice for my scenes in acting class.
Franco recalls that most of the accents were hits. He says, “As bad as the accents were (Brooklynese, Italian, British, Irish, Russian, Southern), people actually found them persuasive. I was asked to give Italian lessons to a cute young woman who thought I was from Pisa; of course I couldn’t follow up as I did not speak Italian. The casting director for NYPD Blue liked my British accent, but was put off when I revealed that I was actually just a California boy.”
So why isn’t Franco still dipping French Fries in hot oil? He finally ended up finding some acting work. He continues, “After three months of working at McDonald’s, I booked a Super Bowl commercial for Pizza Hut. Because it was for the Super Bowl, it was very elaborate: a computer-generated Elvis singing and serving the new Deep Dish pizza. From that point on, I could support myself through acting.” (You can check out that Pizza Hut commercial — and its frighteningly awful CG Elvis — below!)
Just keep in mind — your next Big Mac might be made by a future Oscar-nominated actor. Now, do you want fries with that?