James Edward Franco is a Jewish American actor, director, screenwriter, film producer and artist. He began acting in the late 1990s and achieved international fame for his portrayal of Harry Osborn in the Spider-Man trilogy.
Franco was born April 19, 1978 in Palo Alto, California to Betsy (née Verne) and Doug Franco. His mother is a Jewish descendant of Russian immigrants. Following his high school gradation in 1996, he enrolled at UCLA as an English major but dropped out after his freshmen year to pursue a professional career as an actor. In 1999, after training and acting lessons with Robert Carnegie at Playhouse West, Franco got his first break when he was cast in the television series Freaks and Geeks.
Franco's first major film was 2000's Whatever It Takes. He was subsequently cast as the title role in the 2001 TV bio-pic James Dean, for which he won a Golden Globe Award and was nominated for an Emmy Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award.
In 2002, Franco played Harry Osborn in Spider-Man, which achieved both commercial and critical success. The movie grossed $114 million during its opening weekend in North America and went on to earn $822 million worldwide. He reprised the role in Spider-Man 2 in 2004, which set a new opening weekend box office record for North America, and Spider-Man 3 in 2007.
In 2008, Franco starred in the film Pineapple Express, a comedy co-starring and co-written by Seth Rogen and produced by Judd Apatow, two other Freaks and Geeks alumni. He was nominated for his role in the Golden Globe category for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy. Also in 2008, Franco starred opposite Sean Penn and Josh Brolin in Gus Van Sant's Harvey Milk bio-pic Milk. For his performance he on the 2008 Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Franco received his undergraduate degree in English from UCLA in 2008. He then moved to New York to attend graduate school at Columbia University's MFA Writing Program and New York University's Tisch School of the Arts where he is studied filmmaking.