From co-writer/director Dave Franco, the unconventional love story Somebody I Used to Know follows Ally (Alison Brie, who co-wrote the film with her husband), a reality TV producer who decides to return to her hometown with the hope of finding comfort in the nostalgia of the past. Once there, her first love Sean (Jay Ellis), who’s preparing to marry his fiancé Cassidy (Kiersey Clemons), leads her to question what she really wants and what that means for her future.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, Franco talked about how this project started, the good relationship he has with his own hometown, the way people seem to have selective amnesia when it comes to certain aspects of their past, his experience writing the film with his wife, that the film has a real sense of who they are throughout it, what he’s learned from directing, and how Brie’s inner nudist made its way into the story. He also talked about his experience on The Afterparty, and the mullet his character will have in an upcoming movie.
How did this particular project start? Did you and your wife, Alison Brie, decide that you wanted to write something together that you would direct and she would star in, and you had all that figured out, or did those steps fall into place along the way? What was the seed for all of this?
DAVE FRANCO: Honestly, all of those aspects you just mentioned were figured out. We really wanted to work together again. We had such a great time working on my directorial debut (The Rental), and we just wanted to take it to the next level, where we were collaborating at every stage of the process. This was the first time we have written anything together, and the idea came about when we were walking through my hometown of Palo Alto, in Northern California. We were actually walking from my high school to my mom’s house, and just being in that setting conjured up these themes of going home and reconnecting with your roots and confronting who you used to be, compared to who you are now, and how you feel about all of that. All of that stuff just seeped into the story.
What was the experience of taking that walk like, for you? What was going through your head? Had you done that, in the years since you’d left?
FRANCO: Yeah. I actually have a very good relationship with my hometown. I love being there. My mom is in the same house that I grew up in. She hasn’t changed my childhood bedroom since I left, so I have posters that are hanging on by one tack and have those little glow-in-the-dark star stickers on my ceiling. It’s very comforting for me to be home. And on top of that, my best friends in the world, who I’ve known since I was five years old, still live in the area. It’s nice that I know they’ll always be there when I do visit Northern California.
Why do you think it is that humans seem to have this natural inclination to revisit our past when something in our present feels off? Why do you think the first instinct is not to evaluate what’s going on in the present to maybe help future, but instead to try to go back to recapture something that you ended or left, in the first place?
FRANCO: You start to wonder, “Did I make a misstep somewhere? If I made a different decision, at one point in my life, would I be happier than I am now? Would I be more successful?” And you start to have a little bit of amnesia about some of that stuff from your past, especially when it comes to the one that got away. When you have some distance from whatever that relationship was, you start to remember all the good stuff. And then, if you do get to the point where you give it another go and you try to reconnect with the one that got away, eventually you start to realize, “Oh, no, there were always inherent problems here. This is why we split up, in the first place.” So, yeah, that’s definitely another theme that we’re trying to explore with this one.
How did you find the process of writing this with Alison? Did you learn things about her, or even about yourself, through that writing process?
FRANCO: It’s a good question. I guess it just reinforced the fact that our sensibilities are so similar. It’s very rare that we would have a moment during the writing process where we adamantly disagreed about anything. I think the audience will really feel our humor and our general essence, when watching this movie. It feels very emblematic of who we are, for whatever that’s worth. Take that for what it is. It was just smooth and fun. The scenario was usually me sitting at the computer and doing the actual typing, and she would be pacing back and forth. I would say, “Okay, what would you say in this type of situation?” And she would start acting it out while I would write down the dialogue. It was a really fun back-and-forth, in that sense.
Alison has talked about how you guys love each other, you love being married, and you love being around each other, but that doesn’t always necessarily mean you’ll work well together. For any times that you would have those disagreements, did you set any boundaries or rules for how to deal with that? Did you just rock-paper-scissors it out?
FRANCO: We didn’t set any rules, or anything, but we dealt with anything in a similar way to how we deal with issues that arise in our everyday life. We’re very communicative with each other, and whenever one of us has our feelings hurt, we talk about it immediately. We try to squash it before it becomes a bigger thing. There is never a moment where I am intentionally trying to make Alison upset. It’s always a misunderstanding. We basically just need to immediately bring it up and and talk through it because we’re both so sensitive that we can’t live with even a moment of us not being on the same page.
Has directing and being behind-the-scenes like that given you a different perspective about acting or about filmmaking that you didn’t have when you were just acting? Do you approach it any differently now?
FRANCO: Definitely, in so many ways. First off, since I’ve been directing, I’ve had more fun as an actor than I’ve ever had, and I think part of that is because I’m now stepping on set and realizing, “Oh, I only have one job. This is amazing. I’m gonna kill it for you.” I’ve always been very prepared and punctual. as an actor, but now I really go above and beyond where I’m never gonna be the problem for the director. I know how much they have on their plate, and I’m gonna make it so easy for them. I’m gonna really kill it for them. To get specific, another thing that I’ve learned is that, when an actor is 30 minutes late to set, that could mean that you now don’t have time to get a shot that you’ve been planning for months. I just don’t think people fully grasp that idea. But I also have more respect for actors that I’ve ever had. I remember, on my directorial debut, standing behind the monitor and watching some of the actors build themselves up for really intense scenes, and having this moment where I thought to myself, “Acting is so fucking weird and vulnerable.” You have hundreds of crew members watching and scrutinizing your every move. I just have so much respect for everyone who puts themselves out on a limb like that because it is terrifying.
It’s also weird because your brain knows that you’re acting, but your body doesn’t necessarily know that you’re pretending.
FRANCO: Definitely. It’s all weird.
How did Alison’s inner nudist become such a part of this story? Whose idea was that? It’s so funny that it’s such a throughline of the movie.
FRANCO: That’s based on real life. Alison had a penchant for streaking, during her college days at Cal Arts. At least at the time, there was a rule that clothing was optional, everywhere except the cafeteria. Alison likes to make her friends laugh, so she would streak across campus. Compared to some of the other people on campus, it was very tame, what she was doing. There was a guy that she said would show up to all the art events only wearing tennis shoes and a necklace, who was lovingly referred to as “The Naked Guy.” So, this was taken straight from our lives. It just felt like a unique throughline for the character, that people haven’t really seen before.
Did you know that it was going to be such an important aspect, as far as the emotional moment at the end, or even with it being part of the marketing and front and center on the poster? Did you know that it would play that big of a role in the story?
FRANCO: We knew it would be a significant part of the story, but I don’t think we fully realized like that it was almost the spine of the whole movie. Without giving too much away with those final moments of the film, hopefully they feel very poignant and emotional, yet still crazy and humorous. That’s the exact tone we were trying to tow throughout a lot of this movie. My favorite things are the moments where audiences are laughing, but also feeling extremely emotional.
Ally is revisiting this past relationship, and what we often learn from revisiting past relationships is that there is a reason they’re in the past. Do you see this as more of a love story between Ally and herself, since she is rediscovering what she loves about herself and how she veered so far off from that path?
FRANCO: Definitely. This might be a slight spoiler, but there’s obviously a double meaning behind the title of the movie. Yeah, she’s going home and reconnecting with these old friends, and seeing her mom, and everything she’s going through is making her realize that she has lost this part of herself from her youth. She also realizes that she needs to tap back into that because it was some of the best parts of her and it’s just making her realize how far she’s veered off path, into this territory that she’s not necessarily proud of.
I loved The Afterparty. I thought that show was so surprising, in so many ways. Are you just totally bummed that they’re doing a second season without you? Did you try to figure out ways to return as your character’s twin? Did you pitch them any possible ideas?
FRANCO: There were definitely discussions about Xavier returning as a hologram, which would have been very fun. Maybe we can save it for Season 3. Fingers crossed. But no, I had such a great time filming that show, and a huge part of that was because I’ve worked with [Phil] Lord and [Chris] Miller in the past, on the Jump Street films and the LEGO movies, and I just trust them. When you’re in that kind of safe environment, with people that you really trust, it allows you, as an actor, to just take huge swings, knowing that they’re never gonna use anything that makes me look stupid. They’re gonna really hone my performance. I just wanna work with those guys forever. And then, on top of that, the cast was unbelievable. We shot that during the heart of the pandemic, during the time that we had all been in our houses for a long time, and hadn’t seen or been around anyone, other than our immediate family, so we were all excited to be around new people. There was such an infectious energy, which I think shows on camera.
For sure. There was just something so fun about the constant change-up in genre and tone, and how every episode felt so different.
FRANCO: That’s part of why I really enjoyed it. With all the projects that I sign on to do, the unifying thing is that they’re all at least trying to bring something new to the table, some in bigger ways than others. The Afterparty definitely felt like something unique, that we hadn’t seen before.
Do you know what’s next for you? Are you already thinking about what you might direct and/or write next? The more you do it, are you thinking about it more?
FRANCO: Yeah. Alison and I are already developing a couple ideas. I can’t really talk about them quite yet, but we’re actively trying to collaborate as soon as possible. And I have a movie that I acted in, called Love Lies Bleeding, which I think will come out sometime this year. It’s with this incredible director, named Rose Glass, who made this beautiful horror film, called Saint Maud. I got the opportunity to act opposite Kristen Stewart, Ed Harris, and Jena Malone in that one, and I had such a great time. I play a pretty detestable character with a mullet, so it’s a big swing.
You’ve gotta love a mullet.