With his wild mane of black hair and a copy of James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man tucked under his arm as he sits in a West Hollywood cafe, James Franco would probably like to appear dark, brooding and serious. But his cover gets blown when a teenage girl walks up to him and loudly proclaims, "You're yummy!"
Franco blushes a deep red and masks his face with a hand, grinning bashfully. "What are you supposed to do with that?" he says. That has helped win the actor plenty of roles already, like the dumb jock lead in last year's teen flick Whatever It Takes and the hot high-school burnout on TV's "Freaks and Geeks." But now the 22-year-old's gearing up for more grown-up fare. In this month's Deuces Wild, an Outsiders-style drama about rival street gangs in 1950s New York, he tussles alongside Brad Renfro, Stephen Dorff and Matt Dillon. Then he'll get major exposure playing the title role in TNT's August biopic, James Dean. After that, he'll be the murder-suspect spawn of NYPD detective Robert De Niro in the drama City by the Sea. ("He'd come up to me and let me know everything was OK," says Franco of his costar. "But other than that, he didn't talk to anyone except the director. That's cool. I got a chance to watch him work and see his process--that was all I needed.") Then comes the big one: in a career coup, Franco won a coveted lead in next year's hotly anticipated Spider-Man, which stars Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane Watson. Franco will play Harry Osborn, Peter Parker's best pal and the pampered but unloved son of the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe). "This is the biggest thing I've done," the actor says with understandable excitement. "It's the biggest thing any of us [the cast] has done." Since he seems so poised for Hollywood success, it's surprising to note that Franco's first love is not acting, but painting. Though he's made more headway in his Hollywood pursuits, his painting skills have come in handy. He won over his current girlfriend, "The Practice"'s Maria Sokoloff, by presenting her with an original rendering of Venus.