Written and directed by Jeff Baena, the quirky comedy The Little Hours follows Medieval nuns Alessandra (Alison Brie), Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza) and Ginevra (Kate Micucci), who lead a simple life in their convent. But when Father Tommasso (John C. Reilly) brings on new hired hand Massetto (Dave Franco), a young servant looking for refuge from his angry master, it has unexpected effects on the repressed nunnery.
At the film’s press day, actor Dave Franco sat down with Collider for this 1-on-1 interview, where he talked about why he was drawn to The Little Hours, crazy sex scenes, the challenge of communicating without dialogue, breaking during funny moments, and how the finished product surpassed his expectations, having only had an outline to work from. He also talked about why he likes being directed by his brother, James Franco (he’s in the upcoming The Disaster Artist and Zeroville), being inspired to try his own hand at directing, and why his character in The LEGO Ninjago Movie is one of the most complex characters that he’s ever played.
Collider: Before making this movie, could you ever have imagined that you’d find yourself playing a fugitive servant pretending to be a deaf-mute when he gets taken in by a convent that includes three young nuns, each dealing with their own shit?
DAVE FRANCO: I can’t say I’m too surprised that I ended up in a movie like this, just because I’m generally drawn towards projects that are trying to do something different. And I can safely say that I have never seen a movie quite like this, especially the tone. I wouldn’t even know how to describe the tone of this movie, which I think is actually a positive thing. It feels unique, which I think is great. I think what will surprise people is that, at its core, it’s a beautiful art film that was shot in Tuscany, and it looks amazing. Jeff Baena, the director, put so much work into every detail of this movie. Yes, it happens to be about a guy sleeping with nuns, but at its core, it’s an art film.
Was there a scene or a moment where you were like, “Oh, man, I am so in for this!” And was there also one where you were like, “Oh, my god, how am I going to do this”?
FRANCO: My favorite scene that I was in was the confessional scene with John C. Reilly, just because that specific humor is very up my alley, where we’re talking about pretty vile things, but in such a matter-of-fact, earnest way. And then, as far as the craziest, to be frank, sex scenes in movies are always uncomfortable.
Are they any easier to do when they’re funny?
FRANCO: Sure, that makes it easier for the actors. That being said, you’re still getting intimate with other actors, in front of a bunch of crew members. So, I would say that a lot of my scenes were slightly uncomfortable, but Jeff, the director, created a comfortable environment where I did feel more at ease than I probably should have.
You have some funny and awkward moments with just about everyone in this film, but you have some very sweet moments with your wife, Alison Brie. Was it especially fun to get to work with her on this?
FRANCO: Totally, yeah! My connection with Alison’s nun is a little more romantic than my connection with the other nuns, and it was nice. Because of the fact that we’re together in real life, it made those scenes very easy. There’s not a lot of screen time for us to develop that relationship, so the audience really needed to feel that natural chemistry, which I hope came across.
Was it challenging to do the scenes without dialogue and not be able to verbally communicate with your scene partner because your character is pretending to be a deaf-mute?
FRANCO: Definitely, yeah! That was something that I was really nervous about. I had several conversations with Jeff about that. I was just concerned that I would be standing somewhere in the scene with a blank face, not doing anything. He really made me think about it in a different way. He told me to think about it as more of a challenge where I had to convey a lot of emotion without saying anything, and pretending that I can’t hear anything. It was difficult, but ultimately, it was also a fun challenge. Hopefully, when people are watching the movie, they can understand what I’m thinking, even though I’m not saying anything.
Do you find that you’re more likely to break on set, or are you more likely to be the one that causes other people to break?
FRANCO: I think that I probably break more than I make other people break. Specifically in the scene where Nick Offerman was rattling off all the different ways that he would torture me, I remember the camera was on him, so I was off-camera, and I was laughing so hard that I was crying and literally ruining takes. That guy kills me! I’ve realized recently that, in my everyday social life, I’m a very easygoing person, but when it comes to work, I’m pretty type-A. I’m very focused and I take it maybe too seriously sometimes. So, when I’m on set, even when there are really funny people that I’m in the scenes with, I’m generally good at not breaking too often.
Because you are such a funny guy on film, do you think it surprises people that you take the work so seriously?
FRANCO: Maybe. Honestly, it surprises me. I find myself on set, sometimes, needing to remind myself to step back, remember to have fun, and not to take it too seriously. That being said, I’ve gotten a lot better with that, over the years. I’ve realized, what am I doing this for, if we’re not having a good time? So, I’ve been a lot looser and I’ve just been enjoying it more.
Does that ever hinder you when you’re improvising, or can you get out of your own head, in that situation?
FRANCO: No, when I’m improvising, I’m out of my head. I’ve done a lot of projects recently, in addition to this one, where there hasn’t been a script. It’s all been based on outlines. At first, that’s terrifying, just because you don’t have the words in front of you and you don’t know how it’s going to come out, but that’s what’s really exciting about it. That’s why I’m running towards those types of projects now. You don’t know what’s going to happen. It really forces you to listen to the other people, and I think the most natural acting comes out of that.