Actor, director, screenwriter and producer James Edward Franco plays the role of Will Rodman in the 2011 movie Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Franco was born in Palo Alto, California, to Betsy (née Verne) and Doug Franco, and is of Portuguese, Swedish and Russian-Jewish descent. He has two younger brothers, Tom and Davy, the latter of whom is also an actor. Before graduating from Palo Alto High School in 1996, he was arrested for underage drinking, graffiti and theft, and briefly became a ward of the state. To overcome his shyness, he got into acting while studying at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), but dropped out after his freshman year to pursue a career as an actor and took acting lessons with Robert Carnegie at the Playhouse West. He later re-enrolled at UCLA in 2006 as an English major and received his undergraduate degree in 2008.

Franco started professionally acting in 1997 with guest roles on television shows and landed a lead part on the short-lived television series Freaks and Geeks in 1999, which ran for 18 episodes. He made his film debut with a brief role in the 1999 film Never Been Kissed, and his first major movie was the romantic teen comedy Whatever It Takes (2000). He later earned recognition in Mark Rydell's TV biopic James Dean (2001), for which he was awarded a Golden Globe and nominated for Emmy and Screen Actors Guild (SAG) awards. He achieved international fame with his portrayal of Harry Osborn in Sam Raimi's 2002 film Spider-Man, and reprised the role in the 2004 and 2007 sequels. Amongst his other credits are Sonny (2002, directed by Nicolas Cage), drama City by the Sea (2002, co-starring Robert De Niro), Robert Altman's ballet movie The Company (2003, co-starring Neve Campbell), black comedy The Ape (2004), war film The Great Raid (2005), Annapolis (2006, co-starring Tyrese Gibson), Tristan & Isolde (2006, with English actress Sophia Myles), Flyboys (2006), The Wicker Man (2006 remake), romantic comedy The Holiday (2006), comedy Knocked Up (2007), low-budget independent film Camille (2007, with Sienna Miller), Interview (2007), Good Time Max (2007, which Franco wrote, directed and starred in), Paul Haggis' In the Valley of Elah (2007), stoner comedy Pineapple Express (2008 - his second Golden Globes nomination), George C. Wolfe's Nights in Rodanthe (2008), Gus Van Sant's Milk (2008, opposite Sean Penn, Josh Brolin and Emile Hirsch), action comedy Date Night (2010), Eat Pray Love (2010, an adaption of a self help novel) and drama Howl (2010, playing poet Allen Ginsberg).

Franco also returned to television occasionally, hosting comedy show Saturday Night Live (SNL) twice (September 2008 and December 2009), a recurring role on daytime soap opera General Hospital (2009-2011) and an appearance on sitcom 30 Rock (2010). Danny Boyle's 2010 movie 127 Hours, about real-life mountain climber Aron Ralston's struggle to free his hand from under a boulder in a ravine while canyoneering alone in Utah, earned Franco nominations for the Academy Awards, Golden Globes and SAG Awards. In February 2011, James Franco and Anne Hathaway hosted the 83rd Academy Awards. Franco was cast in May 2010 to star in Rupert Wyatt's $90 million budgeted Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a reboot of the Planet of the Apes series, which was filmed later that year and released on August 5, 2011. Also in 2011, he starred opposite Natalie Portman and Danny McBride in the Medieval fantasy comedy Your Highness and filmed Oz: The Great and Powerful, a Disney prequel to L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, replacing Johnny Depp as the Wizard.

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