John Francis Daley: Wise Beyond His Years

John Francis Daley is a natural storyteller. This is one thing that becomes clear to me as we talk in a studio loft in Los Angeles’ hip downtown Art District. His recent transition from telling stories as a genre spanning actor’s actor, into creating them with quick-witted writing, has been fluid and exciting. With features such as the highly acclaimed Horrible Bosses among his first experiments in writing, his storytelling seems very natural indeed. I soon learned that his attuned abilities are not formulaic, but intuitive, coming from a very natural place. His intelligence is clear not only in his wise career choices (and unusual ability to excel at everything he touches), but also in his thoughtful insights in our conversation. He is, of course, very funny, but he is also very, well...normal. As we chat after a fun outdoor photo shoot, his ‘jeans and T-shirt’ exterior is a reflection of his approachable, relaxed disposition. Just a funny, normal guy, that just happens to be one of the hardest working, and increasingly successful men in Hollywood.

Many will know Daley from cult favorite Freaks and Geeks, a short-lived, but still well loved, teen comedy of the late 90s. The show, created by Paul Fieg (Bridesmaids) and Judd Apatow (Superbad, Anchorman), featured an ensemble cast that has since all reached individual success, including James Franco, Jason Segel, and Seth Rogen. “It was amazing. No one had done anything before that in the cast. And then obviously they all went on to have huge success, almost everyone in the cast, which is insane, you never see that. So it was great to be a part of something, I think we all knew it was something special at the time.” The mix of wonderful early Fieg-Apatow writing, and genius casting made for longevity and resonance, and gave a then teenage Daley his first taste of the television world.

Since then, Daley has worked consistently and has now far exceeded the bounds of ‘child star.’ Even more will know him as Dr. Lance Sweets in the long-running, and consistently high-rated, crime drama series, Bones, on which he has been a regular since 2007. “I thought it was really cool the way they managed to combine heavy, dramatic, gross murder with light humor. So I was attracted to that. I got the offer to be a regular, and I jumped at the chance.” These widely loved roles have affirmed his adult and prominent position in the industry. But it soon became clear that John could not be held by the bounds of ‘actor,’ either.

“My first television writing experience was the episode of Bones that I co-wrote. It was an honor to be a part of that, and it really gave me a completely different perspective on how they create those episodes. It takes so much research, there’s a big team of fact checkers. It was something that I had done since I was really little, making short films and acting in them. But to see it on a professional level was great.”

This pairing with co-writer Jonathan Goldstein seems the perfect working relationship, paying off when the pair happened upon Horrible Bosses after writing many scripts that were left unused. This is where his innate storytelling abilities comes into play. He takes real life influences, in a natural process. Without need for formal training, his style and execution is as free as his creations are. “I think most writers would tell you that they draw inspiration from things that have happened in their lives. But it can be a challenge, I’m 26, and I’m supposed to be writing in the voice of sometimes 40, 50 year olds. So that’s when you kind of take not only your own experiences, but the experiences of the other people that you know, and bring them into play. As far as our process, Jonathan and I just throw ideas at each other all day. We’re always in the same room writing, looking at the same screen. With the dialogue we basically just say it - we say what the character would say. So it really comes naturally in that sense.”

For the future, Daley is keeping his options open, and continuing to merge all of these paths in entertainment, including further dabbling in direction, music, and an extension of the success of Horrible Bosses to a sequel. “In the most simple terms, I want to keep doing what I’m doing, and having the freedom to do what I want to do. We just signed on to direct Vacation, which is a reboot of the National Lampoon’s Vacation franchise. I was a huge fan of it as a kid, it was one of those fundamental comedies. So when we were hired to write it we jumped at the chance, and then couldn’t believe it when they offered us the directing job. I’m also in a band called Dayplayer. We just recorded a song that my writing partner and I are going to direct a video for. It’s kind of rock, electronic, you could classify it as indie.” When talking of new projects, you can feel his excitement. “We also just finished filming The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (written by Daley and Golstein) last week. It was an amazing experience. Everything I’ve seen has been really funny and I couldn’t have asked for a better cast. We sometimes have to remind ourselves how surreal all of this is. Jim Carrey was one of my heroes as kid, and now he’s speaking words that we wrote!”

Daley closed our interview by hitting me with some sage wisdom. “It’s really easy, in any career, to be discouraged. You have to sort of evaluate how much you want whatever you’re doing. If it’s not enough to sacrifice almost everything pursuing it, then it’s not worth pursuing. So first take a look at the reasons why you want to do what you’re doing. A lot of aspiring actors go into it for the fame, and the money, and all the reasons why Scarface got into drug dealing. So take a look at if it really does make you happy, just the doing of it, as opposed to the all the perks that go along with it. Then, don’t be discouraged when you don’t get your 20th audition. Because I can say, for every 25 auditions I go on, I might get one thing. And that’s all you need, that one thing. I think of it like gambling, where you have an unlimited amount of chips. You just have to keep playing. If you’re playing the slots, and you keep losing, then just know that you’ve got a million more chips to play with, and it’s just you that’s going to stop and leave. But each time you play, your odds of actually getting something get greater and greater, because it’s simple math.” This passionately persistent outlook is greatly inspiring, and John Francis Daley is evidently a man of enduring vigor, “I always wanted to do this when I was young. I always wanted to write, direct, and act and do music - basically anything in the entertainment industry. Minus porn, which you never know...we’ll see how my career goes!”

With insightful comments like these, it is clear why John makes a fantastic writer (a brilliant comedic writer). He is wise beyond his years, but still retains that youthful glimmer, and that is why I am certain he will enjoy a lengthy career doing just about everything.

Interviewed by Francesca Nicol

Photographed by Derek Wood Styled by Kenn Law

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