Actor James Franco spoke to OSU students on Sept. 15 during an OUAB-sponsored event at the Archie Griffin Ballroom in the Ohio Union. Credit: Mark Batke / Photo editor

Actor James Franco spoke to OSU students on Sept. 15 during an OUAB-sponsored event at the Archie Griffin Ballroom in the Ohio Union.
Credit: Mark Batke / Photo editor

Actor James Franco traded in his signature smile and witty personality for a more serious tone when he visited Ohio State on Monday.

The Ohio Union Activities Board-organized “An Evening with James Franco” was held at the Ohio Union.

Franco was welcomed with rousing applause. He entered the ballroom, dressed modestly in a leather jacket, blue pants and Adidas sneakers.

For more than an hour, the 36-year-old reflected on both his professional and personal life to a moderator, in a tone reminiscent of “Inside the Actors Studio,” a Bravo program hosted by James Lipton which delves into the minds of stars of screen and stage.

Franco plays many roles beyond acting. He is a writer, producer, director, professor and student. He said he has an oral exam this Friday at Yale University, where he is currently studying for his Ph.D in English.

But he said it took some soul-searching before he knew what wanted to do with his life.

Franco reminisced at the event on being a kid who was involved in a lot of “silly trouble.” It was not until his junior year of high school when he made some personal changes and decided to get serious about art.

After graduating high school, Franco wanted to attend art school, but his parents refused. They all agreed he could study English at UCLA. It was there that Franco got a glimpse of the practical steps he could take to break into the film industry. He dropped out of school and got a job at McDonald’s, eventually getting paid to act.

“I guess it was a combination of good luck and hard work,” Franco said.

Yet, when he was about 27, he realized that he was not happy. Even though he had made successful movies, including the Spiderman franchise, he wanted more. He began to question his identity and the role he would take on for the rest of his life.

“I’m kind of embarrassed to say, but I went through a bit of depression,” Franco said. “Even though on the outside, it seemed like my life was great.”

Franco decided the missing piece was receiving his education, and he returned to UCLA. He had a greater appreciation for school, and said he eventually broke the record for the most units taken at UCLA in one quarter.

Franco revealed some aspects of the man behind the public image Monday, giving the audience insight on some of his famous, and not so famous, roles.

He said TV show “Freaks and Geeks” was the first quality project he was a part of. Franco eventually became friends with fellow actor Seth Rogen. The two have acted in several films together, including “Pineapple Express” and “This Is the End.”

“Seth is the person I’m closest to from ‘Freaks and Geeks,’” Franco said.

It was Rogen’s idea to spoof a music video for Kanye West’s “Bound 2,” starring Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, and create a “Bound 3,” posted on YouTube last year.

“I was going to play Kim, but Seth thought he should because his back is hairier,” Franco said. “Kanye wanted us to do again at his wedding live. We all agreed it would get awkward live.”

Franco then brought his talk back to education and said his biggest inspirations have been the teachers he has had. He would like to be remembered being an inspiration for others to do what they want, Franco said.

Franco said though he was getting paid to be at OSU, he would be donating the money to his students.

From the beginning, the audience was in tune with Franco, quietly listening to each response.

Zach Davidson, a fourth-year in biology, was impressed with Franco’s appearance.

“It was quite fascinating,” Davidson said. “He is one of those few people that actually is a genius and went into acting, which is awesome to see.”

Meredith Grogan, a fourth-year in economics, was in attendance as well. “He was a lot more deeper than he typically comes off in his movies,” Grogan said.

Franco closed the show with a selfie that he later posted on Instagram.