Men's Journal

How Learning to Surf Made James Franco Better at Everything

 Photo by Vincent Sandoval/Getty Images

For the past couple years, James Franco has racked up a fair share of headlines for his seemingly impossible roster of careers and hobbies. Somehow, in addition to being a full-time actor, Franco has managed to publish novels, teach college classes, fill galleries with artwork, and learn to fly an airplane.

“I was aware of what people thought when they saw everything that I was doing,” said Franco thoughtfully over a cup of coffee at the commissary of New York’s Metrograph movie theater. “I had all of these opportunities coming to me and it was hard to say no, especially when my curiosity came out. I am also bad at doing things half way, so that meant I was pouring out my energy all over the place.”

Contrary to popular belief, Franco did have a tipping point, and it was sometime last year that he wiped his calendar clean to focus on a few select projects. First was directing a film about the making of Tommy Wiseau’s cult classic The Room (The Disaster Artist, in theaters now), followed shortly by a HBO series based around New York’s porn industry in the 1970s (The Deuce, which premiered in September). By all indications, this course correction has paid off ten-fold: awards buzz has been building for The Disaster Artist since its SXSW premiere, and there are rave reviews coming in for The Deuce.

Over the course of this secret reinvention, Franco found surfing, which he believes came to him at the point in his life when he most needed it. The actor discussed his newfound passion for the sport, how his fitness routines have changed, and a life-changing boys’ trip to Nicaragua.

Men’s Journal: It seems like you were working out a lot during these two projects.

James Franco: I have my own method, and it is really a very simple routine. For about a year and a half while I was working on these past two projects, I ate nothing but salad for both lunch and dinner. I would usually get one from Whole Foods, and then put a protein on top, like tofu. The only workout I did was push-ups and sit-ups. I would do about 300 push-ups and 300 sit-ups every single day. I would do them in my trailer when we were filming.

MJ: How did making these two projects differ from what you have been doing the last few years?

JF: I went back to that feeling I had when I first started acting, where I was putting my entire being into just that. I was working at McDonald’s, so I didn’t have a lot of options other than making it, and the competition was so high. The last couple of years I was juggling too much, doing post on one movie while developing five others. I was absent in my own career. I started to have people coming up to me and asking me to slow down, people that I care about. Finally I decided to drop all of the extra stuff.

MJ: So you don’t really have any of those hobbies any more?

JF: I got into surfing, about a year ago, so that is all I’m really doing now. That is how I get the majority of my exercise now, too. But it also teaches me a lot of lessons.

MJ: Like what kind of lessons?

JF: I think there is a reason that people have so many metaphors about surfing out there, because it is such a unique feeling. Being out on this large body of water just floating. Out there you are forced to submit and surrender to something bigger. Then these waves come to pick you up, and you are now part of something bigger than yourself. It forces me to be present.

MJ: Do you have a favorite place to ride?

JF: I recently went out to Nicaragua, with some friends, and it was a breakthrough trip for me. Staying there on the beach, we could walk right out to the sand and jump into the water. The surfing out there was just amazing, because they have these amazing slow waves. I would have the whole beach to myself sometimes. I used to over-schedule my day so I never had to be alone with myself, but now I am really at home with it.