'Your Highness' Actor James Franco: Stoner, Scholar or Sex Symbol?

The Three Faces of James Franco

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James Franco, nothing but sexy and nerdy!
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James Franco, nothing but sexy and nerdy!

They say you can't judge a book by its cover, but some people think if a man is anything like "bad boy," handsome actor James Franco, dubbed "sexiest man living" by Salon, the only book he owns is little and black and filled with phone numbers of old girlfriends. In the case of Franco, they would be wrong. Nor is the laid back star of the new movie "Your Highness" on a perpetual high. Although he may seem like someone who just wants to hang out or hook up, Franco is not the vacuous stoner or sex symbol his image suggests. In fact, his busy schedule makes Martha Stewart look like a slacker and it is possible Franco reads more books than many librarians.

Franco has even published his own book, a compilation of short stories called "Palo Alto" that revolves around the city where Franco grew up. Palo Alto is also the home of Stanford University (a.k.a. the Harvard of the West), where Franco's parents met as college students. Though he dropped out of U.C.L.A. after one year to start his acting career, Franco returned amidst his busy acting career and received his bachelor's degree. He later earned a master's degree from Columbia University.

Given his academic pedigree and passion for literature and other fine arts, why do some people view James Franco as a fuzzy-headed stoner with a sexy smile? That sketchy reputation could go back to Franco's first big TV role as Daniel Desario in "Freaks and Geeks," the stoner boyfriend of mathlete-turned-freak, Lindsay Weir. Franco's subsequent role as drug dealer Saul Silver in the movie "Pineapple Express" put another stamp on his stoner passport. Yet in an interview with Star magazine, Franco denied smoking pot to prep for his role.

When Franco appeared sleepy and distracted at the Oscars this year playing co-host with Energizer bunny Anne Hathaway, gossip gurus had a field day implying that Franco was stoned. His trademark slow speaking style and signature half smile has also given the frequent impression that Franco is perpetually dazed and confused. Unlike most stoners, however, Franco is in constant motion. "I never just hang," the actor told Star. "I don't even like to sleep. There's too much to do!"

Franco's reputation as a sex symbol derives from his cool, rebellious James Dean image (look-alike Franco even played Dean in a movie) and penchant for playing handsome leading men. Franco played Julia Roberts' sexy boyfriend in "Eat, Pray, Love." In his latest movie "Your Highness," Franco plays a chivalrous prince in a farcical medieval fantasy.

Perhaps Perez Hilton summed up the-puzzle-that-is-James-Franco best when he called him a "sexy nerd." Like the valedictorian hidden inside a cheerleader's uniform, Franco-the-scholar may be overshadowed by his alternate personas of stoner and sex symbol. Ironically, this masquerades could be among Franco's most convincing and impressive acting jobs.

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