“He’s a nice guy who has a weird confidence where he doesn’t really care that he’s goofy and weird. I like that kind of person. I think I’m that kind of person still,” Nelson Franklin tells BLUNT. He’s referring to his character of Robby in revered sitcom New Girl, which is seeing a revival in popularity despite concluding its airtime back in 2018. Franklin remembers the period fondly, although reflecting on his previous roles isn’t his favourite pastime.
“I’m sure a lot of artists in any field would tell you the same thing,” he points out. “But it’s hard for me to watch old stuff because I feel like, ‘Oh, I was terrible back then. If I did that today, it would have been so much better.’ But New Girl, in particular, I feel like it was good. I only signed up to do two episodes of New Girl, and I ended up doing it for about six years…I am still sort of that person because they were like, ‘We get you and we’ll write this character this way.’”
The other trait that Franklin and his character both encompass is humility, although you’d never catch the actor openly admitting it. He demonstrates it through his actions rather than his words, and especially in his approach to interacting with his audience. While he’s not currently taking requests right now as he focuses on the new addition to his family, Franklin was incredibly hesitant about jumping on Cameo, and works hard to ensure that his fans get something special if they opt for one.
“I didn’t do it for a long time because it felt kind of vain to me to be like, ‘People want to pay to have me say things to them.’ That seems insane. And also the pandemic was happening and it was like, ‘How dare I take people’s money at this time?’ It seems like such a crazy thing. But in July of 2020, I finally did it because I hadn’t worked in a long time. I was like, ‘It’s work.’ And I was blown away by how successful it was…The people are very nice, who I’ve been interacting with, ‘cause I take them seriously. I went on some big celebrity Cameos and they cost like $600. And it’s like Snoop Dogg, ‘Happy birthday girl,’ that’s it. You know? So mine are all like five minutes long and I care a lot.”
As viewers both return to and freshly discover his beloved performances in classics like Veep, The Office, Black-ish, Scott Pilgrim, and New Girl, Franklin is entering a new phase of his career himself. Despite being formally trained in traditional acting, his roles have largely aligned with comedy, but he’s set to stretch his legs and enter into the field of drama in Netflix’s Sweet Girl and upcoming show starring Sean Penn and Julia Roberts, Gaslit.
“I rarely get to do drama,” he admits. “Weirdly enough, starting around the pandemic, I’ve started doing a bunch of drama and it’s been magnificent. I love it because I’m not changing who I am and I still bring levity to those roles. I think it brings realism into a dramatic role – not necessarily every dramatic actor can be funny. And I’m not saying I’m being funny in these roles, but it’s a subtle thing that lifts it up for me. I think that gives me a little bit of an edge. It’s been great.” On Sweet Girl in particular, he shouts out star Jason Momoa, adding: “You never know when you start to work with a big international movie star, it’s like, ‘Oh, is this going to be a nightmare?’ And he’s just the best. It was very, very fun.”
Landing this month at the Fantasia Festival, Franklin is also a part of his old friend Richard Bates Jr.’s King Knight. Given Bates’ track record (Excision, Suburban Gothic, Tone-Deaf), it would make sense to assume that King Knight might be of the horror ilk, but it’s actually what Franklin describes as a “dramedy” and a “very special movie.” He jumped on the low-budget, high-ambition project (alongside Matthew Gray Gubler, Angela Sarafyan, and more) without hesitation.
“He was like, ‘I gotta do something that I love,’” Franklin narrates of Bates’ process. “It’s hard to describe because it’s like a character piece about all these people who live in this coven together. It’s great. I had a wonderful time doing it and yeah, it’s funny. Most of the actors in the movie are hilarious, but playing it straight, so you still laugh at it, you know?”
The only way is up for Franklin, who has cultivated an incredible career and reputation across every title listed in his history. When asked about what he’d like to do next, he takes inspiration from recent Chris Pratt film The Tomorrow War and calls on the concept of the ordinary superhero.
“I don’t know if this is everybody’s dream,” he prefaces, “but I did always want to be a superhero…” Returning to the aforementioned film, he explains: “There’s a global draft where they just force people to fight because otherwise the world will be taken over, so you have these armies of just like normal people out there. There are these crazy action sequences with Chris Pratt, and then my friend Mitch is in there with a machine gun. He’s just some guy, you know? It’s so funny. And as soon as I saw that, I was like, ‘This is it. This is the dream.’ A guy like me got to be in an action movie that gave him a machine gun.”