From writer/director Marja-Lewis Ryan, the drama 6 Balloons (available to stream at Netflix, starting on April 6th) takes place over the course of one night, as Katie (Abbi Jacobson) drives across Los Angeles with her heroin-addicted brother, Seth (Dave Franco), in search of a detox center. With his young daughter along for the ride, Katie begins to question how much longer she can enable her brother’s habit without insisting that he make the decision to get clean on his own.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Dave Franco talked about why this role scared him, the physical transformation he went through to play a heroin addict, what he ate once the shoot was done, trying not to freak out the young twins who played his daughter with the intense material, and having Abbi Jacobson to go through this experience with. He also talked about wanting to stretch himself, as an actor, working with director Barry Jenkins on If Beale Street Could Talk, and why his production company is called Ramona Films.
Collider: I thought you did really tremendous work in this. This is not one of those easy subject to watch a movie about, but you and Abbi Jacobson were both really terrific in it.
DAVE FRANCO: Thank you so much.
I know you’ve said that this was the most scared that you’ve been going into any job. What were you most scared about with this, and did you ever have a point where you got over being scared, or did that last throughout the shoot?
FRANCO: No, I think I was terrified the entire shoot. I was scared, for many reasons. First off, I knew that I was gonna have to go through a pretty big physical transformation. I ended up losing nearly 25 pounds, in a very short amount of time. My biggest mistake was not working with a nutritionist while losing the weight. Luckily, I didn’t mess up my body too badly, but I was running all day, every day, and I ended up hurting my knee pretty badly. I had to go to physical therapy for two months, after we finished filming. It was the job that just kept taking me down.
FRANCO: Yeah. And then, in addition to the physical transformation, I knew that the movie was gonna take a pretty big toll on me, mentally, just because I really do put a lot of work into every job I take and I wanted to do as much homework as I could for this role, in particular. I never had the intention of taking heroin, but I did want to read everything that I could on the subject, and watch everything that I could. I watched movies about heroin addicts and documentaries about heroin addicts. When you’re doing that for a couple months, it really does have an effect on you. I felt depressed, and I didn’t feel like myself. I remember, at one point, my wife (Alison Brie) was calling me out for just being closed off and cold. I told her, “I’m fucking starving! What do you really want from me?!” Ultimately, I do think it’s important to be a little bit scared, going into any job, because it means that you’re doing something that’s a little bit outside of your comfort zone. For me, I think that’s when I do my best work.
Since you ended up taking off 25 pounds and you talked about being hungry, what was the first craving you had for food? What did you have to have, once you’d finished shooting?
FRANCO: The last day of shooting, we did a scene where my character was eating a hamburger, so I insisted that they get In-N-Out Burger for me. I ended up consuming probably six burgers for that scene, and definitely got a little bit sick, the next day, but it was worth it. In the middle of the shoot, I was so food deprived, and it was all I could think about. I scheduled a trip to New York, for the day after we finished the movie, just so I could take a food trip and go to all my favorite restaurants out there. I should have probably eased into it a little better than I did, just because it did end up making me ill.
On top of everything, you also had young twins on set, playing your daughter. How difficult was it to juggle that and not completely freak them out?
FRANCO: Yeah, that was difficult. The good thing about working with a three-year-old actor is that they’re not technically acting. Everything they’re doing is instinctual, so they’re gonna say whatever comes to mind. When that works for the scene, it’s really beautiful. But most of the time, they’re screaming for their mom, off camera, because they’re three years old and they have cameras pointed at their face and they’re surrounded by a bunch of strangers. And then, I’m sitting next to them, looking like a monster. It was a very difficult job for them, as well. I knew that they were gonna cut together really well because, when their heads were in the scene, or when they were really engaged with me, everything they were doing was so honest. I really do feel like those twins stole the movie.
What was it like to also have somebody like Abbi Jacobson to go through all of this with, since she’s also not really done anything like this before?
FRANCO: It was very comforting to have someone who was going through a similar experience, in regards to the fact that we were both slightly outside of our comfort zone. We really did lean on each other a lot. That being said, I just was not the most fun person to be around, on that set. I was off in the corner by myself, not really talking to anyone. I’m very happy that Abbi and I have remained friends because she saw the worst sides of me. But we made it through and I can genuinely say I love her and I value our friendship very much, and I could not have done this movie without her.
Do you feel like this movie really surprised you, as far as what you now know you’re capable of, as an actor?
FRANCO: Yeah, in some ways. If you told me a few years ago that I was going to be portraying a heroin addict in a really intense drama, I probably wouldn’t believe you, and I would also be scared that I would be the person to tank that movie. It does make me want to put myself out on a limb more, and to try other roles that I would have been scared to do, a few years ago. All that being said, I think a huge part of the reason I feel like this movie worked is because of people that I was surrounded by. This story was so personal for Marja-Lewis Ryan, the writer/director. She knew exactly what she wanted, and I knew that I was in good hands with her. I knew she was not going to steer me wrong. Something that I’ve been doing, my whole career, is surrounding myself with people who are better than me and who just make me appear more talented than I naturally am.
As your career evolves, there’s been more and more variety in the work that you’re doing and the characters you’re playing. Was that always the goal and now you’re just having more of a say in that, or are you surprised when something like this comes your way?
FRANCO: I was very flattered when they even considered me for this role, just because I had never done anything like this before. Even though I knew that it was gonna be hard, I figured that the movie was small enough that, if it didn’t work, then it would just disappear and no one would see it. Best case scenario, people would start to see me in a different way and recognize that I can do things, outside of comedy. When I was first starting out and I was doing primarily comedies, everything that was coming my way felt like territory that I had already done, many times before, and it’s hard to be patient and wait for roles that feel different. But personally, I’d rather not work than continue to do the same role, over and over. I just got lucky that this project came along and that there were people involved that were willing to take a risk on me and give me the opportunity to try something new.