PLAYBOY: ABC announced the cancellation of the long-running TV soaps One Life to Live and All My Children. How do you feel about rumors that General Hospital may face the same fate?
FRANCO: I’m upset, because I have some big plans. In June of last year the sets from the show were presented as sculptures that the character Franco ostensibly made for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, and there we were at MOCA Pacific Design Center with soap fans and museum patrons, all watching the same thing. Being on the show got me thinking about how it could be developed further. I was going to art events and talking to artist friends, who said, “Wow, this is really cool.” I realized a lot of genuine contemporary artists would love that kind of platform and could appear on the show. I’ve wanted to do something even bigger that involves General Hospital, MOCA and ABC, so I hope we can still pull that off.
PLAYBOY: Your grandmother, whom you made famous in a video about why people shouldn’t be squeamish about seeing 127 Hours, owns a prominent art gallery. Your mother, who also played your character’s mother on General Hospital, is an editor and children’s book author. Your youngest brother, Dave, with whom you’ve done hilarious, self-referential videos on Funny or Die, is a fast-rising actor. Your younger brother, Tom, is an illustrator and sculptor. If you hadn’t turned out to be artistic and creative, might you have been banished from the family?
FRANCO: [Laughs] We’re all really close. Tom lives in Oakland, and we don’t see him as much. Davy’s the most social; he was homecoming king and was named best looking in the yearbook. I actually don’t see Davy as much anymore, but he lives in Los Angeles. We lived together. All my friends have become his friends, and we collaborate on projects.
PLAYBOY: What were you like growing up in Palo Alto, in the San Francisco Bay area?
FRANCO: Up until high school, I played soccer, baseball and basketball. I was never the best at those things. I tried to play sports my freshman year of high school, but I figured out that I didn’t like them.
PLAYBOY: What were your earliest jobs?
FRANCO: When I was 13 or 14 my dad got me a job working the counter at a coffee shop. It sucked. I read books when the place was empty and got let go when the assistant manager told the boss he’d found $2 in one of the aprons and said I was trying to steal. It turns out he had taken, like, $10,000. Later, when I wanted a car and my parents said they’d match whatever I could pay, I got a job driving carts at the Palo Alto Golf Course. I would read stuff like Naked Lunch in the cart, and they let me go when they caught me reading the sequel to A Separate Peace. Another summer I got a job with a friend on his father’s construction crew, but we just got high every day.
PLAYBOY: Your father now runs a nonprofit and a shipping container business. Did he try to steer you toward a practical career?
FRANCO: I was good in math, and I think my father was overjoyed when I was given an internship at Lockheed Martin. But that experience showed me I never wanted to work in that environment.
PLAYBOY: You’ve spoken in the past about having sold your junior high school classmates sample bottles of cologne stolen from department stores. Sometimes you’d urinate in the bottles and give them away just before a big dance to guys you didn’t like. What’s the extent of the trouble you got into as a kid?
FRANCO: I was arrested for a lot of petty crimes. It added up. I was a ward of the court and was put on probation. Finally, I’d had enough chances, but they gave me one final chance, and fortunately I didn’t get into any trouble after that. Otherwise I guess it could have been like Lindsay Lohan, when she’s on probation and then she’s accused of stealing a necklace, and it’s a kind of small thing that becomes a big thing. It’s like probation doesn’t end.
PLAYBOY: Speaking of Lohan, in 2007 gossip writers reported that your alleged refusal to accept her gift of an expensive watch and ignoring her at a post–Golden Globes party sent her off to Wonderland Center days later.
FRANCO: I bought a house that had belonged to the film director Bob Rafelson, across the street from the Chateau Marmont, right behind where the old Marlboro Man billboard used to be. Somebody after Rafelson had remodeled some of the rooms into weird shapes, so while I was remodeling, I stayed at the Chateau, where Lindsay had been living a few years. We became friends, but there was no romantic connection. I don’t think I broke her heart. I don’t think her going to rehab had anything to do with feelings she might or might not have had.
PLAYBOY: Getting back to your high school days, when did sex enter the picture?
FRANCO: When I was about 12 my mom left one of those puberty development books for me to find on the table, like, “Oh, what’s this doing here?” When I was in seventh grade some eighth-grade friends showed me my first porno—a weird one. I haven’t seen anything like it since. The woman put her head in a toilet bowl. More friends started finding their parents’ pornos or whatever, and we’d watch them together.
PLAYBOY: Was the porn watching for guys only?
FRANCO: There would be these weird get-togethers with a group of guys and a group of girls, but there was no penetration or anything, just fondling. You wouldn’t even kiss, really, just fool around for a while and then switch. It was all straight. And that developed into Truth or Dare parties where people started kissing.
PLAYBOY: When did you lose your virginity?
FRANCO: In high school with my girlfriend. I think girls liked me, but I was awkward, shy and emotionally immature, so I didn’t have a ton of girlfriends. I had short-term relationships and always got dumped, I think because I was too slow for them.
PLAYBOY: Who was your girlfriend?
FRANCO: Her name was Jasmine. We went out freshman year and then I blew it. She kind of got over me, but we got back together at the beginning of junior year and dated for two years. She was my first real relationship.
PLAYBOY: What did you want to be back then?
FRANCO: I really wanted to go to art school and be an artist. I’d been doing a lot of painting. My grandmother and my uncle deal in Japanese art, and when I was 15 or 16 my grandparents took me to Japan, and I visited the artists my grandmother represents. I had been reading Kerouac and Ginsberg, and they were always going to exotic places. I kept thinking I was stuck in Palo Alto and needed to experience the world. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I think I was also watching too much Beverly Hills 90210. Dylan [Luke Perry’s character] had seen the world and was a surfer, so I thought I had to go to Hawaii. Despite my being a juvenile delinquent to a certain extent, my mother and father gave me that gift. They were figuring out how to be parents in some ways. Of course I was on probation, so my mom actually had to come to Hawaii with me and my girlfriend.