Nat Wolff and James Franco go back. In 2013 the young actor made waves with his intense, uncontainable turn in “Palo Alto,” based on Franco’s short story collection about bored California high-schoolers. The two swore they’d work together again, and after some failed projects, they finally have. Wolff co-stars in “In Dubious Battle,” based on John Steinbeck’s novel and directed by Franco himself. The two play Depression-era union organizers who try to save a pack of California apple pickers being cheated out of their wages by a crooked and murderous capitalist (Robert Duvall).
For Wolff, 22, it’s a chance to make something more politically engaged than YA movies like “The Fault in Our Stars” or “Paper Towns.” And he got to act with plenty of gods — not just Duvall, but Ed Harris, Sam Shepard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Bryan Cranston.
There are a lot of legends in this movie. Were you nervous when they showed up on set?
Not really. It just upped my game and everyone else’s game. I felt like I learned a lot from those guys. Then I got to work with a lot of them again. I wound up doing a Sam Shepard play that Ed Harris starred in [“The Buried Child,” Off-Broadway in 2016].
You guys are now connected at the hip.
I only work with Sam Shepard and Ed Harris now. That’s in my contract for every movie.
You could say “make sure there are flowers in my trailer,” but instead you’re being snooty and demanding Ed Harris and Sam Shepard.
Instead of green M&Ms, it will be Ed and Sam.
Every time you hear a filmmaker talking about working with James Franco, they talk about how he always has his head in books between takes. How does he handle reading while directing and starring in a movie.
He’s crazy. He’ll have some 800-page historical novel open on his lap, and he’ll be directing and acting. Then he’ll have a speech to give, [and they'll have] had to change the day of shooting, so he doesn’t have it memorized. He’ll look at it for two seconds and he’ll have it down. He’s a freak of nature.
Can you do anything remotely like that?
For me, acting takes up all my concentration. So I’m blown away by his ability.