Three Great Things: Fran Kranz

The actor, whose acclaimed debut as writer-director, Mass, is out now, shares some of what brings him true joy.

Three Great Things is Talkhouse’s series in which artists tell us about three things they absolutely love. To mark the current release of Mass, Fran Kranz’s intense four-handed drama about two sets of parents processing death, loss and grief, starring Reed Birney, Ann Dowd, Jason Isaacs and Martha Plimpton, the actor turned writer-director opened up about some of the things that he loves most in life. — N.D.

Making Penne Bolognese for My Daughter
I love cooking penne Bolognese for my daughter and eating it with her. I think I’ve had that meal with her already more than 300 times in her life.

I’m a big fan of the dish and she is too. I maybe forced it on her initially, because it’s one of the few things I cook well, but now it’s her favorite dish and she likes the way I cook it. I don’t know if anything makes me happier than sitting down with her and looking at us both eating pasta with such relish and joy. I’m not only bonding with her but I can also see myself in her in this goofy, funny kind of way.

I remember one time when I was doing a play in New York when my daughter was one and a half; I was such a mess because I was so busy with the play and my wife, her mom, was not there that night. I couldn’t stand cooking anymore because of all the cleanup and the mess that she made, so I ordered some penne Bolognese and to avoid having the usual food mess, my daughter and I ate in the shower! After she’d eaten, I just stripped her naked and I turned the water on to clean her up. It was not necessarily great parenting, but I just thought, “You know what? I’m going to take a break. We’ll just eat here. It’s easy!”

Penne bolognese. (Image via fs999 / Flickr.)

So much of why I made my new movie Mass is because of my daughter, because I became a parent. When the Parkland shooting happened, I heard an interview on the radio with one of the parents of the victims while I was driving in Los Angeles, and I had to pull over because I just started crying. Later that day, I questioned why I had done that and realized it was because I had a kid. I had always been horrified by school shootings, but this time it was strikingly different. It was suddenly so personal. I don’t think I ever could have given that focus, obsession and dedication to this project if it weren’t for my daughter and my love for her.

Also, as an actor, I sit around at home, unemployed, waiting for phone calls and feeling sorry for myself, and I didn’t want that person to be her role model. I wanted her to see a parent who goes out and actively pursues his dreams, even if he fails miserably. I wanted her to see me make the effort, for her to find happiness through effort, not accomplishment.

Star Wars
Star Wars was my favorite movie growing up, and it’s the film that made me dream of being a director. I wanted to make epic fantasy sci-fi trilogies like Star Wars. I just loved it. When it was rereleased in theaters in 1997, I saw it countless times. I have very little interest in the newer movies in the franchise, but I love those original three, particularly the first one, because it started it all. Mass is a tiny movie – it’s set in one location that cost less than half a million dollars – but for some reason, I put all the emotion and epic human behavior of one of those big movies into it.

I hope to make a movie like Star Wars one day, and I tell that to my agents. I don’t know if anyone’s going to trust me with a big movie, considering I’ve only made a movie with four people sitting at a table, but that’s the hope! I’m trying to write a new screenplay right now, but I’ve been so busy. I will make another movie, if only to try and improve on my mistakes. I want to do it again, but I don’t know if I’m going to be the kind of director who can produce a movie every couple of years. Films take so much out of you. At least this one did.

Lex Fridman Podcast and Gödel, Escher, Bach
I listen to the Lex Fridman Podcast constantly and I’m obsessed with it. I’m working on a screenplay that deals with A.I. and virtual reality and consciousness, and I get so much inspiration from the podcast, which is all about the nature of intelligence, consciousness, love, and power. I was just shooting a TV show in Boston about Julia Child and was praying I would bump into Lex Fridman, because he’s a professor at MIT, where he’s researching autonomous vehicles, human-robot interaction, and machine learning. I would have been so starstruck.

I’ve also got a lot of inspiration from Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter, an incredible book that’s life-changing (and also impossible to understand!). I don’t have a mathematical mind, but that book made me feel like I’d just read a secret of the universe. The book and Lex’s podcast have introduced me to computer science and artificial intelligence in a totally mind-blowing way. In trying to construct the human mind artificially, we’re also trying to understand the human mind. I can think of no more fascinating or worthwhile way to spend one’s time than trying to understand the mind and consciousness. So while there’s elements of engineering, science and mathematics to artificial intelligence, it’s also spiritual. It’s all about embracing and exploring consciousness in new ways.

Fran Kranz‘s writing and directorial debut, Mass, starring Reed Birney, Ann Dowd, Jason Isaacs, and Martha Plimpton, is now in theaters through Bleecker Street. He is a Los Angeles native who has been working professionally as an actor for more than 20 years. A Yale graduate, his most recent credits include The Loudest Voice and Homecoming. He is best known for his work in the film Cabin in the Woods and has appeared on and off Broadway, most notably in Mike Nichols’ Death of a Salesman. (Photo by the Riker Brothers.)