Meeting my wife Caron was one of the best things that ever happened to me as a writer. Before her, I'd scribe satirical or poetical critiques that had the power to gut some of the toughest people walking the planet. I took pride in my work and my unfiltered perspective until her influence forced me to understand that my harsh messages would instantly disengage the people I wanted to reach the most.
Listening to Caron and implementing her opinions gave me the power to be heard by other people, many of whom would have never given my writing a chance. Some even became loyal readers. At times, I feel that some of my newly acquired language severely censors my art. How can I truly be myself if I'm always trying to cater to everyone? My feelings of uncertainty did nothing to change Caron's edits on my work.
"If you don't want my opinion don't ask!" Caron once yelled after gutting one of my essays and supplying me with ideas I rejected. Her edits were excellent as always, however, they weren't me. "You just don't get it." I spat back, "I know my audience."
But I was wrong in two ways. The first came after I read the work she reviewed and realized the piece was nothing to write home about. And two, Caron did get it — she understood my jokes and timing even though they weren't enough to drive home the points I was trying to make, which is a problem.
Listening to my wife and fully acknowledging her contributions were key to learning how to create a successful home and finding the type of balance that makes the work good and keeps everyone happy. When it works, it works. And when it doesn't, it's a disaster.
Actor Dave Franco makes working with your wife look easy. I talked to him on "Salon Talks" about co-writing his second film, "Somebody I Used To Know," a romantic comedy on Amazon Prime Video Feb. 10, with his wife, actor Alison Brie. Franco also directed Brie in the lead role, opposite one of my favorite actors from HBO's "Insecure," Jay Ellis.
On one hand, Franco admitted, "It's honestly hard to create boundaries. That's the one difficult thing about this is that when we're working on something like this, it really is all-encompassing." But, the fact that he and Brie have similar creative sensibilities actually made the film better. "I just trust her and I genuinely believe she's one of the best actresses. She makes my job very easy in that way," he said. I think there's something we can all learn from that, whether it's bringing your partner into your next project, or knowing that you should avoid it at all costs.
Watch "Salon Talks" episode with Dave Franco here or read a Q&A of our conversation below to hear more about why he makes movies that allow him to work alongside his family and closest friends.
The following conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Tell me how "Somebody I Used to Know" came together.
My wife and I wrote the movie together and we're both just massive fans of romantic comedies and we wrote it at the very beginning of COVID lockdown. At that time, the movies that we were watching were either romantic comedies or other movies that were very uplifting and positive. It was all I could really stomach at the time. We just thought, let's put our own version of that out into the world and try to spread a little positivity.
"One of our intentions going into this project was we don't want there to be any villains."
Tell us a little bit about the premise of the film.
It's about this character played by my wife, Alison Brie. She's a workaholic. She has a crisis at her job and she goes to her hometown to lick her wounds. While she's there, she runs into her ex-boyfriend, this is kind of the one that got away, played by Jay Ellis, and they have this kind of whirlwind, amazing night together. And Alison's character starts to think like, "Oh man, he's the answer to all my problems." And in that moment she finds out that he's getting married that weekend and she decides to stick around, and things get weird.
What is it like working with your wife on a project so close?
It's honestly hard to create boundaries. That's the one difficult thing about this is that when we're working on something like this, it really is all-encompassing and we find ourselves talking a little bit too much about the movie and forget to check in with each other to be like, "How are you, outside of the movie? How's everything going?" But aside from that, it's the best. We just have very similar sensibilities, and more than anything, I just trust her and I genuinely believe she's one of the best actresses, and so she makes my job very easy in that way.
That's the only way to tell if you really have a healthy relationship and if you are actually a good person, is to do a project that people are investing in with your wife. Because if you try to bully your perspective, then you know, "Wait, I might not be a good husband."
Yeah. When you're under these high-stress scenarios of a movie and it goes on forever, if there are any cracks in the relationship, those cracks are going to show eventually. A lot of people ask us, "How was it working together?" And a lot of them say it in kind of a skeptical tone, which leads me to believe that you maybe could imagine working with your own partner. But a lot of people who are skeptical, I think it's them imagining, "You know what? I don't think I could do it with my own partner."
My wife bullies me. She's all numbers, I'm art.
That's a good balance, though.
Yeah. The numbers people, they crush us artists, but we live. The last time I talked to you, you had directed a horror film and now you're doing this rom-com. Was it a better experience on set?
Both were pretty amazing. I feel lucky to say that, but I think a lot of that comes from the fact that I really take my time putting the whole team together. I want talented people, but it's just as important to me that everyone is nice and hardworking. So, it takes a little bit longer to put the team together when you want everyone to meet that criteria.
At the end of the day, I'm looking around on these sets and I'm surrounded by the greatest people who make my job easy. I don't need to micromanage anyone. I'm a fan of all these people, and so I can just, for the most part, stay back and be a cheerleader and encourage them to do what they're great at.
Absolutely. That is so important because like you said, it is a high-stress situation to be in, and insufferable people could just suck all the fun out of everything.
Even just one. They suck it out of you. And I'm telling you, every single position on this movie, I was like, "I want three glowing reviews about everyone before they come on."
What I like about the film is that you have moments where it's funny. There's some really funny scenes, not going to give any spoilers on the sex scenes and all of that, but it gets really funny and awkward. But then it gets heavy when we're trying to experience complex family dynamics. Could you speak to the balance of that?
Yes. I think over the years, what I even realized about when I'm acting in a comedy, when I'm acting opposite someone like Seth Rogen or Jonah Hill who are some of the funniest guys on the planet, at first I was like, "Oh man, how am I going to keep up with these guys?" I quickly realized that's not my job. That's not the way I excel. I think I do my best work when I'm just opposite one of these guys and I play it very straight, very earnest, and let the comedy come from that.
"I do my best work when I'm just opposite one of these guys and I play it very straight, very earnest, and let the comedy come from that."
I almost use that approach to this film as well, where the comedy is coming more from the characters and the situations as opposed to throwing out a bunch of one-liners. When you're doing comedy in the way that we did, it makes it so it's a little easier to seamlessly transition back and forth between comedy and drama because even in these comedic moments, everyone's playing it very truthfully, very grounded as opposed to if we're throwing out a million jokes, and then all of a sudden we're in this heavy scene where people are crying; that juxtaposition might feel a little more jarring.
In real life, there's not always a one-liner. Sometimes funny s**t happens. When I was a kid, I got caught up in a house raid. I was in a spot that I shouldn't have been in, and my older brother was out the back. We went out the back window and down a fire escape. And this guy named, Keon, his friend, wasn't there. So he was like, "Well s**t, I got to go back and get Keon." So he goes back in the house, Keon standing there, and mind you, we're kids. They were in maybe the ninth grade. I was in elementary school. Keon's in a bathroom trying to flush a gun down a toilet. And my brother said, "F**k, what are they teaching?" We're all going to jail? There's no run-around for that. So I get it, it's real life.
Amazing. Are you guys still friends with Keon?
Hell no. Can't go far with that mentality. I wouldn't be here.
Attempting to break up a wedding is classic. I feel like every married person — you're a married guy, I'm a married guy — every married person, we have those thoughts leading up to the wedding day, like, "This is the rest of my life. I want to get this right." Did you draw from any personal experiences when you were creating these characters?
Definitely. Not necessarily in that sense specifically. But absolutely. The overarching story is not taken from our lives, but there are so many scenes or moments or characters that are directly ripped from our lives. For example, Alison's character has a penchant for streaking and being nude, and the truth is, that's how Alison is. She's a very naked person.
In college, she went to a very progressive school where one of the rules was you don't have to be clothed anywhere except the cafeteria, so she kind of ran with that literally and figuratively and would streak across campus just to make her friends laugh. And so it all felt very natural to her and weirdly became this nice theme for the movie where at the beginning of the movie, her character is very buttoned up and a little fierce. And by the end, it's all out for the world to see and she's kind of back to her purest self.
If I saw a family member or a friend about to marry a person that I thought they shouldn't marry, I think I would like fake a seizure. What would you do?
That's such a difficult position because if you say something that friend never forgets and there's a good chance they're going to stay with this person for a long time. They just don't forget you coming up to them and being like, "Hey, are you sure about this?" so you almost can't say anything. But I've had friends who have been in terrible relationships. They weren't about to get married, but they've been in bad relationships. And thinking back, these are some of my best friends, I didn't say anything because you can't. You can't. After the fact, you can then talk about it. But I don't know. What do you think? Do you have to say something? What can you do?
I think a good quality marriage would last about 25 years. So if they do 25 years and divorce on that 26 anniversary, you're an asshole. If they do 24 years, you are a good friend. It's all about hitting that mark.
"I genuinely believe she's one of the best actresses. She makes my job very easy."
Twenty-five years is a lot. That's a big mark, man.
Well, we're speaking in Hollywood terms. If they do five years, if they do five years, it's a great marriage.
I don't know what's appropriate. Because you're right, you say something, they could say, "You jinxed it," or "You never wanted to see us win," and you're just trying to be a good friend. And sometimes people think the answer to terrible relationships is marriage or a kid, and it doesn't necessarily work like that.
That'll never work.
We'll call that flushing the gun down the toilet. One thing I respect about you a lot is that you built a career where you are able to work with your wife and work friends like Danny Pudi, who is also in the film. How does it feel to be able to be surrounded by people who you love and respect?
It's the best. I truly couldn't ask for anything more at this point. I mean, the fact that me and my wife get to build these projects from the ground up and have control over bringing some of our friends who we know and love, it's incredible for so many reasons. Not just for quality of life while we're on set, but also when you have people that you really feel comfortable with, you do your best work, you feel safe to take risks and just put yourself out on a limb, knowing they're never going to judge you. I always want to go forward and just continue to work with those types of people.
I know you are in full promo mode right now, but is there anything else you're working on that we should know?
Yeah, we got some stuff. Me and my wife, we can't stop and we just want to keep trying to find things to do together. We got a few things in development, in different capacities. We got one thing to potentially act in together. We got another one that maybe me to direct, her to act in. I can't say any specifics yet, but send us some good energy while we try to take these things out and sell them.
Sending you all the good energy. Can you please tell everyone where they can see this film?
Before I do that, I have one more question for you. Tell me, how was the experience watching the film by yourself and then compared to watching with your wife? Was it different?
Yeah, it was different. Watching it myself, I'm looking for themes, I'm being caught off guard. So I'm laughing, but at the same time, I'm developing a conversation around the work. Watching it with her, I'm just kicking back and we're just talking about all of the different things we think about before we got married, when we go to our friends' weddings, when we had the conversation around relationships. I don't want to get too deep into the film because I really want people to see it, but there was a really, really good moment where Jay Ellis got a chance to see himself and he saw that he was being a person that he didn't want to be. There was a piece of accountability, something that a lot of us, especially when we have success and money and resources, the accountability scale kind of shrinks.
It's like, wait a second, I make enough money to commit crimes and not go to jail. I make enough money to skip the line at the coffee shop, and people lose that. So I think he saw himself and I think it's a healthy lesson. We both looked at ourselves and just thought about different opportunities where we could just fall back and see ourselves. It's difficult because everybody wants to be a good person and see themselves as a good person.
I love everything you're saying. One of our intentions going into this project was we don't want there to be any villains. Yes, they're all flawed. Some of them are making questionable decisions. But at the end of the day, they're good people. They're just going through a difficult time in their lives and they're trying to get back to the best version of themselves.
"Salon Talks" with D. Watkins