The Talented Mr Daley
By Falene Nurse
Images by John Francis Daley
In a city filled with charlatans and rehabilitated former child stars, it’s rare to find anyone extraordinary—or quite frankly normal—to speak to. That’s why when I first describe this young actor’s accomplishments, you might imagine that although undeniably talented, he would be destined to have the social skills and personality traits of Patrick Bateman. At 26, he’s already secured a spot on one of the highest-rated procedural dramas in America, has the cool-kid’s cred of being a beloved “Geek” from a cult TV show, and now is currently riding high as one half of Hollywood’s hottest comedic writing duos.
By rights he should have been a wild child turned shameless Lothario, whose exploits are documented by the paparazzi for daily tabloid fodder. Yet nothing could be farther from the truth. Instead John Francis Daley is cherubically handsome and refreshingly polite, confident yet friendly and far smarter than I ever was at his age. You do get the feeling that this just might be his second time around on earth. He could easily be harboring a very wise, old soul in there, one that can only be found through true reincarnation. That, or maybe his parents raised him well.
Either way chatting over the phone (*I know, I know, MIMPsters) is like talking to a friend from the old neighborhood. He’s charming and naturally giggly, but you don’t feel that the conversation is based on any type of performance designed to deliberately make you laugh. He automatically partakes in silly banter, whilst nonchalantly telling you about up coming projects. Though strangely, only when prompted. He might be the only humble, successful American male under 30, left in Los Angeles. I really wish I was exaggerating about that. When the topics of “Bones”, “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone,” “Horrible Bosses 2” and “The Vacation” revamp comes up, he could easily be mistaken for a very well informed Cinefile. Almost utterly detached from his own integral role in each production. At times I completely forget that the person on the end of the line is currently starring on a particular show, or wrote the screenplay that we are discussing. It’s as if “John from #22”, is just letting me know what’s coming soon to the local Cineplex.
Should I refer to you as John or John-Francis?
John. John Francis would sound really pretentious. Far too regal.
(Perhaps, but unbeknown to him it would make me feel like I was in a Jane Austin novel. Which would be GLORIOUS).
Tell me something embarrassing and incredibly uncool about yourself?
I like to dance in front of the mirror way more then I ought to.
You dance alone in the mirror?
Yes, yes I do. By myself. I’ve done this ever since I was a kid.
Generally 80s hip hop, I do the robot.
Are you clothed at the time?
Well it really depends.
(Ah yes I can see he’s a good sport, we can have a little fun with this one).
You were on Vh1’s 100 greatest teen stars of all time, so I have to ask where are your club trysts, sex tapes and arrests?
The sex tapes are hidden in my secret closet vault, that no one will ever see. No, I dunno, but somehow I’ve managed to avoid being a total dumb ass.
I know! I mean yes, yes, you have considering you were a teen star. You are very together now.
I owe that to my parents honestly. They never pushed me into the business, they just supported whatever it was that I wanted to do. I’ve worked with enough kid actors to know that generally they have nightmarish parents that tend to force them into things.
Really, that sounds horrid?
(Well, way to bring down the mood there John).
So let’s just say that you were one of the lucky ones because your parents weren’t insane, correct?
They were really cool.
You are from NY?
Yeah I grew up there, so I consider myself a New York native. Every time I go back I get a little upset that I don’t live there anymore. It’s the best.
Now don’t be weirded out by this, but what’s your ethnicity? You have very full lips for a white person.
(God I love being English, I can pretty much say anything I want!!!)
(Laughing) Um my mom’s Jewish and my dad’s Irish. I am in fact the same mix as Harrison Ford, which I like to point out as often as possible when I go on dates.
So the pouty mouth thing, that’s a Jewish trait? (note to self).
I suppose, I guess it can be. Unless my mom you know…
Ah slept with the milkman (whispered).
You are only 26 years old, you started out on a cult show, now you are on one of the highest rated TV programs in the US. You wrote Horrible Bosses, you play multiple instruments, Jim Carrey and Steve Carell are in your next flick, you’ve written for Spielberg, you sold numerous scripts. Would it be fair to call you an overachiever?
It’s a combination, maybe I’m a a bit of an over achiever, but also I’m not able to sit still for very long. Coming from a family of entertainers, I’ve always been interested in entertaining others. My mom sings and plays the piano, my dad was an actor on Broadway for 10 years, so I was fortunate enough to know exactly what I wanted to do and how to go about it. So I think that gave me a bit of a head start, at a very young age?
John is also incredibly modest, if Idol, ANTM and America’s Got Talent has taught us anything—which in itself is a stretch—it’s that just because you wanted to do something from in vitro. Doesn’t mean you necessarily should. John Francis ( *I really want to call him this throughout!!!) is one of those fortunate few creatures, that happens to be very talented in a myriad of ways.
Did you study acting.
No I never studied acting, I didn’t go to college either.
For some reason I thought you went to some ivy league school.
This is purely an assumption that I made about a person I have never met before. You know like comedians are funny 24/7, John Mayer isn’t really a whore and John Daley probably went to Harvard or some other Ivy League school. Or is that just me?
I wish I could drop the H-bomb. Jonathan (his writing partner) actually did go to Harvard Law and I’m amazed he doesn’t drop the H-bomb more.
I hate people like that, they have everything in life that I want. I want to be a writer with a law degree, that went to Harvard.
You could still tell people that, but you have to figure a way to segue into it. Even if it’s the clunkiest segue ever… “Mmmm this dinner is good, reminds me of the dinners I use to have at… Harvard Law.”
“The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” very excited for this, how did that all come about?
It had been kicked around for a long time, finally we put it on the shelf a few years back. Then we started working on some other projects as you do, then New Line came back with an interest. So we started working on a few more drafts. Then it began to attract talent, that’s how we got our director Don Scardino and it’s his first feature. He’s directed “30 Rock” a lot, so we knew he had that comic sensibility. Then we got Steve Carell and it really snowballed from there.
You have a dream cast of comedians for this, are you thrilled!
I was so excited when they were building this cast, because I thought maybe we just got really lucky the first time with the Horrible Bosses. So it was very nice to know that it wasn’t just a first time fluke.
You are very calm for a 26yr old.
Oh I’m a heroin addict that’s why.
I thought you might be.
(Good job his humor divvy’s up between both silly and macabre, otherwise this whole conversation could have gone down the shitter a while back).
On your Twitter account, do you Tweet or is someone else coming up with the 139 witty characters?
No it’s me.
Cause I know how these actors are.
Oh no, no, I do tweet.
Do you now have, or have you ever had, an assistant?
No, but this year might be the year that we get one.
What if they are older than you, would that be weird?
I refuse, I would feel too weird about the whole thing.So we are actually going to hire a 12 year old assistant…
As you do still look like your 15…
Hopefully that might, you know, even it out.
“Rapturepalooza” is described “as 2 teens battling their way through a religious apocalypse on a mission to defeat the Antichrist.” This is a comedy, yes?
Yes, it’s a very silly premise that got a lot of comedic actors on board, we shot it last summer in Vancouver. Post-production took a while because there was a studio merger happening, so hopefully it will be coming out soon. It was so much fun to work on, but I still haven’t seen it yet. Anna Kendrick and I play the couple.
So you are one of the teens!! (cackling like a banshee)
See I wasn’t kidding when I said he looks young. He might be pushing 30, but has the smooth skin of a prepubescent teen. How envious the dog-eared Hollywood set must be of Mr. Daley.
I am indeed. We are the straight men in all this insanity.
And will you save us from the antichrist?
The last 3 books you read, graphic novels included?
Freedom by Franzen, A Man In Full by Tom Wolfe and before that Playboy (giggling).
I’ve been very fortunate that all the men I interview for MIMP tend to be natural gigglers.
Nice!! For the articles, yes?
That counts as a graphic novel, right.
In it’s own way, it really does. Yes.
Favorite books of all time?
When I was young, I was a huge Sci-Fi fan so Brave New World is up there. I really like What Makes Sammy Run by Schulberg it’s a pretty “spot on” take of the industry, even though it was written so long ago. Literally if you add zeros to the dollar amounts, it could be have been written today.
Have u read the book “Writing Movies For Fun And Profit” by Thomas Lennon/Robert Ben Garant and is Hollywood really like that?
I tweeted about that! Thomas was in Rapturepalooza so I learned about it through him. I haven’t read the entire book although I’ve read excerpts, but I think it’s great he offered that information to people. Often “How To” books can be very daunting for beginners and not have any of the real facts involved. Some authors create these glorified versions of what happens, whereas he’s pretty straight forward about what to expect. It’s very truthful and some of the things that seem the most preposterous elements of this industry, are sometimes the truest. Also I appreciate the fact that all the proceeds went to charity.
So you have contributed to charity for the year.
Although that book did make we wonder how anybody can get anything worthwhile done out here.
They do not. Often.
Freaks & Geeks what was in the water?
It’s definitely a testament to the casting and the vision that Paul Feig and Judd Apatow had when they first started. They took risks, which I really appreciated. I had been auditioning for years not getting anything, cause I was this awkward, geeky, tiny, tiny little kid, with giant eyes. I was constantly losing roles to the Aryan, Norman Rockwell looking kids.
So it was great that Paul and Judd were willing to go beyond the obvious, to what people looked and acted like, in real life.
Unfortunately it was also probably why the show failed with the ratings. I think it was “so different” at that time nobody knew how to take it, it was in a way too true and obviously the Networks didn’t know what to do with it either.
It’s funny to me that by an American’s perspective, that cast was seen as “average looking and freaky.” Just to let you know, in England those kids were considered VERY attractive.
Even in “Bones” everyone looks like a model.
Now that’s a good looking cast. (With that weird detachment again, as if he’s not included as part of the cast).
If you had to choose a person on the set of “Bones” that you might quite fancy in real life, who would it be? Or are you a bit uncomfortable objectifying any of them like that?
Only in case they read it and then I have to work with them.
So which one?
ALL of them, they are ALL great (coyly).
You are in a band called Dayplayer, what do you do?
I write a lot of songs, sing and play keyboards.
I noticed that Dr. Nigel Murray (Ryan Cartwright) was in your music video “To Me”, was that a little cameo for “Bones” fans or are you guys just friends?
I asked him of he would be cool with chasing someone around for the day and he jumped at the opportunity. He was totally game. We’re buddies, he’s out in Canada shooting Season 2 of “Alpha’s right now. So I still see him around, all over the place on billboards.
Tell me 3 of your favorite music videos of all time?
You sound so serious, there’s no wrong answer here.
Well I know them, but remembering them on the spot is hard. There’s Star Guitar by The Chemical Brothers directed by Michel Gondry, it’s just really, really cool. The Justice’s DVNO is awesome, directed by So-Me, Yorgo Tloupus and Machine Molle. There’s one with Bjork, I think Michel Gondry did that too.
Was she dressed up like a costumed bear?
Uhm… (incredibly long pause) …no (giggling again).
Is Dr Sweets possibly the best character name you have ever had?
It’s the most emasculating one. No.No, no, it’s a great name. Purely formed out of Hart Hanson thinking it would be funny for Booth to refer to someone called Sweets—a lot. Just the joy of having David Boreanaz say it.
This is a bit weird, have you ever read a fan tweet or comment and thought good Lord that was explicit. That ever seem a little odd?
Yes, yes. There were a couple, yes.
Like REALLY graphic, detailed explanations.
I’ve read a couple recently like that, but what’s really, really weird, is reading the message board from way back when, in Freaks & Geeks. Reading what some fans wanted to do to me then, when I was a 13 year old KID!
Ew, ew, but you were a fresh faced teen with pink cheeks.
Kidding. That’s terrifying really.
It’s a little terrifying as they were all probably comingfrom a prison computers.
(Have I perhaps taken this too far? Well apparently not, as I don’t think John is actually joking anymore. Or is he?)
I got A LOT of fan mail from prisoners.No, yeah, yeah when I was younger I had a lot of fan mail from prisoners, then I reached adulthood and the prison letters stopped.
You are lying.
I guess I got too old.
That’s not true, Eeeewww.
(I’m still not sure if any of this really happened, but I do feel like taking a Silkwood-strength shower in Domestos).
3 Fave bands/musicians of all time?
Radiohead, Wilko and Stevie Wonder.
Some people say George or Ringo just to be interesting – but I’m gonna say John. ‘Cause it’s true.
The Beatles or The Stones?
The last film that made you laugh out loud?
“Ted” was really funny. The last one that made me die laughing was “MacGruber” I thought it was hilarious and under rated. The sketch was just the one joke, but the film had a lot more going on. Yet, it didn’t do well, maybe because people thought it would be too stupid (and it was), but hilariously so.
Stupid can be very funny.
Stupid can be smart too.
Had you ever seen MIMP before I asked you to do this interview?
I had not, no, until I was told about it. I do like the pictures, very sexy.Yes, I am very glad I know about it now.
I wouldn’t dream of asking you to choose a fave MIMP gal, instead does a particular MIMP shoot stand out to you?
Yes one did, it may have been one of the famous shoots… or was she, I can’t remember for sure. Either way, I should probably not say which girl.
Living in LA inundated by models, actresses and free loving hipsters, about three to every one man is ;-
a) bit of a nightmare
b) a fantasy beyond your wildest teenaged dreams
c) more trouble than you would think
d) all of the above
Definitely a mixture, because as crazy as people think (and say) actresses are, actors can be just as crazy. I think it’s just people in this industry, it takes a certain type of person to put your face out there on display. You can call it crazy, egotistical or vain even, it’s definitely “something.” That attracts people to want to entertain others, your desire to be watched supersedes any qualms you may have. I was constantly getting in trouble at school as a kid for disrupting the class. Or lacking self control, just because I wanted to make other people laugh. The greatest joy I get is from entertaining other people or making someone laugh. Which is kinda crazy to some.
That’s kind of a nice thought, when it comes down to it.
Photographers you thoroughly admire?
I don’t really follow anyone to that degree, aaagghhh I’m gonna sound like an idiot huh?
No, no, I haven’t asked anyone so much about books as I have you. And luckily for me you turned out to be incredibly well read, so it all works out.
I like looking at photographs (laughing).
In Playboy no less, from what you say.
Reality stars, “good fun” or “when will they go away?”
I don’t like reality TV, there’s nothing enjoyable in it for me. Not so much the game shows or contests, my parents love “So You Think You Can Dance” and they are very talented people on there. I’m not really into it although it’s a ritual when I visit home to watch it, but there’s nothing wrong with it, encouraging people to showcase their talents in a competition. It’s the shows that glorify debauchery and bad behavior I don’t get it. Or why they are so popular. What’s funny is that I grew up in a NY suburb, where there were a lot of people just like “The Jersey Shore”. So I don’t understand the draw, I grew up with them.
And they were AWFUL. Weren’t they?
3 favorite TV shows?
The British version of “The Office”, my manager represents a lot of English people so I got really lucky and got to see it before it came to BBC America. I saw the very first 2 seasons and I LOVED IT.
Have you seen the “Mighty Boosh”?
I have, I’m not as into them but my ex-girlfriend was a huge fan.
(DOH!, well done Tactless Falene).We went to a DVD signing for them at Amoeba.I stood in line for 2 hours for that. That was a couple of years back.
Wow, you were a good boyfriend.
Yes, yes I was (proudly, yet again the giggles). I also like “The Wire” and “Louie”.
Have you met your idol yet?
I actually have. We had a meeting with Dreamworks as a writing team. It was meant to be a general meeting with one of the studios CEOs there Stacey Snider and she mentioned an idea that “Steven” had. And I thought to myself, she doesn’t mean Steven Spielberg does she? Then all of a sudden, without any warning, he walked in and started talking about this idea he had and we wound up writing an outline for it. Then we ended up getting the job (“Cal of The Wild”) because of that, that was one of the most incredible moments in my life. Unexpectedly getting pitched by (and then working with) Steven Spielberg, who I wanted to BE when I was a kid. I wanted his life. (No wonder he’s so successful. I wanted to be ET).
What’s funny is that was the second time I had met him, but he probably had no idea. See Dreamworks produced “Freaks and Geeks”, so I met him at a taping when I was 14 and when he came up to speak to me then – my jaw literally dropped to the floor at that point.
What did he say!
My son wants to be you (meaning Sam Weir) and I said “I wanna be your SON!!!”
Adopt me now, do it, do it! That’s kind of metaphysical in a way.
It’s crazy cut to 10 years later, there’s no way he remembered this incident. And I didn’t want to try and bring it up to see.
I dunno, your face kinda hasn’t changed.
(there’s the banshee cackle again, God I’m common as muck).
But you know what, God bless him for being good humored enough to allow me that one last “baby-face” dig. Bless him for being good humored.
I’ve always wondered is there any form of etiquette when actors meet other actors for the first time, a secret hand shake, an understanding that you all abide by?
Yes I guess there should be some etiquette, when any 2 people meet for the first time, just general politeness.
(was that sarcasm I detected ah touche, touche my dear). But that isn’t always the case. It depends who you are talking to sometimes.
Was there ever a point in your career when you thought, forget it this is too hard, I’m going to do something more stable.
Yes, I thought that when I was 13 years old (laughing). No this is true. Right beforeI got “Freaks and Geeks”. I had been auditioning for all these different shows, losing all these roles to the more traditional type kids. And at a certain point I thought screw this, I got go to all these auditions I don’t ever get and then do homework too! I gotta focus on my school work(like school was my real job). I was only in 8th grade at the time. Then the Freaks audition came along and I thought, this is definitely different to all the other shit I’d been trying for. So I decided, if I don’t get this one – I’m taking a break.
I can’t really imagine coming to that conclusion at 13.
It’s funny but I think a lot of the people that say, “never give up” have probably at some point done just that. Then happened to come back to it again, and you realize that it takes a persistence beyond your own comfort zone for things to happen.
Any other upcoming projects on the horizon?
Burt Wonderstone should be coming out some time next year, the “Vacation “reboot/sequel to the Chevy Chase franchise. We wrote the script and so we are gonna direct it too.
You are going to direct too?
Yeah, I know (he sounds so calm, or as if he’s telling you about someone else’s accomplishments, there’s no hint of arrogance or boastfulness. If anything there’s almost a detached air of disbelief).
You sound REALLY excited there John, try and contain yourself.
No I AM, but it doesn’t feel real yet. It’s still so surreal I think when we get to the pre production stage, it will hit me a lot harder.
I grew up watching those films man.
Me too, me too! And Clark Griswold WAS basically my dad, they even look alike! It’s been crazy to be able to be a part of that.
Congratulations to you Sir.
Thank You, thank you.
Oh yeah “Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2”, that’s what I’ve been working on all today actually. “Horrible Bosses 2” and “Secret Histories”.
God you must have NO life.
(charm and subtly evidently are not my forte).
It’s all work pretty much. I like that though, I should do it now at this age while I still have the energy to keep up.
Oh and my band has a new video coming out we directed. It’s a really funny video, I can’t wait for people to see it.
Will there ever be a “Freaks and Geeks” reunion movie?
I don’t think so, sorry. I think enough time has passed that it would just be a really weird story to tell at this point. I hate breaking the hearts of a lot of fans of that show, that are still so loyal but I think Judd had said a similar thing. I don’t see it in the cards.
I might be no Spielberg but draw up the adoption papers, I’m keeping John Francis Daley! However if I’m completely honest, I’m probably thinking about it in much more of a Woody Allen kind of way.