Actor-Writer John Francis Daley on His Horrible Breakthrough and Reworking Vacation


You're 25 years old, and you and your writing partner have a world of projects coming up, including Burt Wonderstone, starring Steve Carell, a Vacation remake in planning stages, a movie called Of All the Things, not to mention your own acting work. Do you feel like an anomaly within your age bracket?

I obviously feel very blessed to be involved with these incredible projects. It just comes to show that once you sell something, it opens you to a world of possibilities. That goes out to everyone who's working on any script out there and feels like it's impossible to break it -- or rather, make it. It takes a lot of persistence and luck in terms of getting your script to the right people. Fortunately, when Jonathan and I sold $40,000 Man, it set us up on this great trajectory.

Burt Wonderstone, about a jaded ex-magician, and Of All The Things, a movie based on a documentary of a long-retired musician returning to fame in the Philippines, both have washed-up protagonists in the lead. The $40,000 Man covered similar ground. Is there an attraction to this character type?

I think so. I think we must be. It's the universal story of someone who's having to hit rock bottom and having to work their way up; everyone's experienced that in some lesser degree.

Do you relate to the comeback element in any way?

Oh, absolutely. The success of Freaks and Geeks sort of launched all these people on these paths that didn't necessarily ignite immediately after the show. I think it took a long time to catch on to how brilliant the show was. I was fortunate enough to get a pilot every year, but not all of those shows picked up. I was definitely out of people's minds for a good while just because of how difficult it is to land a TV gig that actually stays on the air.

When you watch a movie like Bridesmaids, does the air of working on a Feig/Apatow production come back to you? Does that movie bring back memories?

Well, yes, in the sense that a lot of [the story] comes from pain! And suffering! In the funniest possible way. With Freaks and Geeks, it was the cringe factor added to the humor that made it so spectacular. The fact that you're dealing with real situations -- and sometimes situations like that are so difficult to bear unless you have a sense of humor about it. Like, Kristen Wiig's character in Bridesmaids, she was a sad woman in the first half of that movie. You feel for her. But in her suffering, you laugh! That's an ongoing thing with that type of comedy. It is a type of comedy, one that I love. It deals with real-life situations and also the absurdity of them, if that makes any sense.

Freaks and Geeks is a rare cult phenomenon where the fans ended up getting more than they'd even hoped. The box set is still incredible. Have the DVDs helped end that chapter of your life, or do people still bemoan its early cancellation to you?

No, I definitely get people saying the show shouldn't have been canceled still. It's a great thing to know that people appreciated the show when at the time, no one knew what it was. It's very satisfying to know that it has this half-life. It certainly helped me land other jobs. Hart Hanson, the creator of Bones, was a huge fan of Freaks and Geeks, and I'm sure that had something to do with my casting -- and in Kitchen Confidential and Waiting and Rapturepalooza, the movie I just shot up in Canada. The fans that matter, the ones who are clever and appreciate good, smart comedy -- those are the fans who came from that show. Those are the best people to have your side.

People like to imagine that you guys still have birthday parties and barbecues together. Any truth to this alumni association fantasy?

Despite the fact that I haven't seen a lot of these cast members in a long time, I did the Paleyfest with the casts of Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared. It was like going back in time, like immediately going back to the same relationships we had 12 years ago. There wasn't a skipped beat in how we talked with each other. There was certainly a family mentality.

What's your favorite work by a Freaks and Geeks alum? Like 127 Hours or Linda Cardellini's ER run, etc.

Probably Knocked Up. I just loved that movie and how it managed to take such a simple concept and somehow give it a brand-new perspective from the eyes of a very normal stoner twentysomething dude who's the last person you'd expect to take on such a responsibility. I thought he managed to keep the elements of heart and comedy there. That movie is probably my favorite of any of Judd's. Bridesmaids is right up there because I love Paul and I love seeing a cast of women doing things people previously thought only women could do.

The news of your Vacation remake is interesting -- and a little unsettling!

When my friends found out about it, they'd very seriously take me aside and say, "Don't screw this up." It's kind of like Photoshopping someone's family album, in a way. You have to be careful not to destroy their fondest memories. But frankly, I don't think the sequels were all that great. [Laughs.] As long as we keep the thing you love about the first movie, the relatability of a family road trip and the lovable father figure of Chevy Chase, [except] now it's Rusty taking his kids to Walley World. I think you see your own similarities to your habits in him. You relate to the father. And the mother as well. I think we wrote a relatively funny script. I think it has a chance to be reborn for a new generation.

[Photos: Getty images]

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  • Tenetria says:


  • Mr. Wolf says:

    Sweets!!!!!! If the "Vacation" reboot is Rusty taking his kids to Disney, you've got to have Michael Anthony Hall as Rusty. And for shits and grins, he's married to Molly Ringwald. Yeah, that's the ticket. Especially if they run into Long Dong along the way.