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Posted at 03:22 PM ET, 04/02/2011

James Franco, earnest in D.C., on quitting Twitter, getting his PhD


Franco poses with 826 student Angelita Bowden. (Keith Lane)
Ten years ago, on the TV show “Freaks & Geeks,” James Franco played a burned-out heartthrob who loved 10-sided dice and Dungeons & Dragons.

Maybe he wasn’t acting.

On Thursday night, Franco turned up at D.C.’s Hotel Monaco. The actor/writer/ soap-star had signed on as donor-bait for a dinner benefiting 826 D.C. — a Columbia Heights nonprofit that’s one part bizarro gift shop, one part Dave Eggers-founded writing center for underprivileged kids.

Turns out he’s a geek-dreamboat in real life, too.

Dressed in a gray suit and black shirt, Franco bumbled his way through a pre-meal press gaggle.

The great reads of his youth? “The Wizard of Oz” and lots of Tolkien.

His favorite place to read in the District?

“I’m not the D.C. master,” said Franco. For now, he prefers his hotel room.

Also, he’s calling it quits on Twitter.

“It’s over. You heard it first. It’s still up there, it’s going down,” he explained. “I got in too much trouble.”

When he hosted the Oscars in February, Franco’s performance was so stiff that critics accused him of being stoned. But maybe he’s just wired that way. In person, he’s an earnest dude, not standoffish but not inclined to quippy star-babble, either. Questions about art and writing got serious answers.

Halfway through dinner, organizers screened the Franco-directed short film “The Clerk’s Tale,” a 15-minute meditation on the sadness and solitude of a men’s formalwear salesman. “See us loosening our ties among you. We are alone,” read the film’s closing text. “There is no longer any need to express ourselves.” Not bad — but probably not what “Pineapple Express” fans were expecting.

Some of 826’s star students came onstage to give the actor another grilling.

“After you get your PhD and everything, where do you go from there? Where do you see yourself in five years?” asked Angelita Bowden, a senior at Wilson High School. Franco gave the teen his most thoughtful answer. “The degrees, they’re not going to provide work that I can’t get right now. They’re not any kind of endpoint for me. These programs, they just push me to work a lot harder than I would on my own,” he explained. “So I assume I’ll just be doing a lot more of the same.”

From Saturday’s Names and Faces column

By Aaron Leitko  |  03:22 PM ET, 04/02/2011

 
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