As part of his quest to adapt every great American novel ever written, James Franco will be making his Broadway debut in a new production of Of Mice and Men. He will be playing the role of George, the uneducated and ill-tempered migrant worker in 1930’s California, while his good-natured but simple-minded friend Lennie will be played by Chris O’Dowd, which officially makes this the weirdest pairing since Lady Gaga and the Muppets. Rumors about the production have been circulating for some time now, but Franco finally confirmed them on Oct. 20, during a live Q&A session at the Aero Theater in Santa Monica, CA.
The play will be directed by Anna Shapiro, who is best known for directing the Tony Award-winning August: Osage County. There is no set timeframe for the play yet, and so far Franco, O’Dowd, and Shapiro are the only cast and crew to have signed on. Though knowing Franco, we wouldn’t be surprised if he decided to take on all of the production roles as well.
There’s a good chance this production will either be a smashing success or a terrible failure. While Franco has proved his acting chops in the past with his Oscar-nominated turn in 127 Hours, he’s mostly followed that up with career choices that make him seem more like a punchline than a capable actor. And since nobody’s forgotten about the terrible job he did hosting the 2011 Oscars, he will have to give a pretty spectacular performance in order to wipe it from everyone’s minds. He has recently been winning over audiences recently with his stint on The Mindy Project and his Comedy Central Roast, but with early reviews of As I Lay Dying coming in negative, maybe Franco should have attempted a comedy for his Broadway debut. At least, that’s where his trademark squinty-eyed grin seems more at home.
Of Mice and Men will also be a more serious undertaking for O’Dowd, who is primarly known and beloved for his work in comedies like The IT Crowd. Physically, O’Dowd seems to be a good fit for Lennie, and he has a great deal of experience playing characters who are dopey but well-meaning. However, while O’Dowd will definitley be able to nail the charm and kindness of the character, he’ll have a hard time with the more phsycial aspects of the character. O’Dowd has also mostly played characters who have a sarcastic edge to them, and it will be interesting to see if he carries that over to his portrayal of Lennie.
Fans may be forced to wait a long time for Of Mice and Men to hit the Great White Way, however, as Franco has 14 films in the works in addition to his recently published book, Actors Anonymous, and he’ll most likely be picking up a few more doctorates in between. O’Dowd is also pretty busy himself, with 5 films on his plate, inlcuding a lead role in an upcoming Lance Armstrong biopic and a part in Thor: The Dark World. On the bright side, the longer it takes for the play to open, the longer the rest of us have to come up with a clever way to work IT Crowd jokes into Steinbeck.