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He's the new 'it' guy

A young actor has a spate of fresh films and charisma to boot.

May 29, 2003|Peter McQuaid | Special to The Times

It seems the set of "Wonderland" was haunted. Franky G., who plays a rookie detective in writer-director James Cox's profile of the hard fall of adult-movie star John Holmes later this year, grows increasingly animated as he recounts various unexplained phenomena.

"Right here, this guy puts his cigarette," he motions to a dish inches from his hand. "And all of sudden, it splits in half, nobody touching it."

"And then one time, the set caught on fire, and we don't know what happened....And then this girl was telling me -- I don't know if this is true -- but she said, 'I was in the bathroom' and she felt him."

Franky leans across the table. "So, they tell me these stories and I'm shaking in my pants."

He starts laughing. "Lemme tell you something pal, it was like 4 in the morning. And we're shooting in this building and it's haunted -- to me. The loading dock gate would open and close without anyone doing anything and they'd be like, 'John Holmes is here.' "

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday May 31, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 23 words Type of Material: Correction
Director's name -- An article about actor Franky G. in Thursday's Calendar Weekend misspelled the last name of director Eric Eason as Eissen.

A fairly intimidating prospect in that the star of countless XXX-rated films died in 1988 (of complications of AIDS).

"It was so eerie. I had to go the bathroom really bad and down the hall is the bathroom, and it's like pitch black down this hall and I'm like 'Oh, do I have to?' I go into the bathroom. You could hear a pin drop. And this guy walks into the bathroom, the door bangs and I'm like ... " handsome, muscled tough guy Franky G. waves his hands and laughs so hard he can hardly draw breath, expelling something best described as a strangled screech. This is not the kind of story you'd expect a rising star to tell on himself, but then Franky G. is, from all reports, a bit different.

Born in Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood and now living in Queens, he plays Dustin Hoffman's flunky in "Confidence"; opens Friday in "The Italian Job" as a mechanic named Wrench; gives a coiled-spring performance as a conflicted son, husband and father in "Manito" next month; and plays a rookie detective later this year in "Wonderland."

He wears his newfound success lightly.

In his "late 30s," Frank Gonzalez (Franky G. is his Screen Actors Guild name) has done his time around the block, spending years working security, a.k.a. bouncing, most notably at a strip club called Goldfingers' in Queens.

When he was cast in "Manito" (he answered an ad in one of the trades), he had stopped acting and was in trade school with an eye to becoming a Cisco Systems manager.

"I had done some off-off-Broadway plays, and then I got tired. I was going to go to trade school," he explains. He also had an overbite and "piano teeth," which he decided to get fixed.

But Hollywood and New York are crawling with swarthy, chiseled, wanna-be-actors with perfect teeth and big muscles (which Franky habitually hides beneath an athletic jersey the size of an XXL muumuu).

Plus-size tops or no, Franky has "it," according to directors he's worked for. F. Gary Gray, who gave him a small but pivotal role in "The Italian Job," praises his "authenticity."

"He's not a mainstream action hero, not the mainstream look," observes Gray, who wanted to make a point of assembling a unique cast for this action adventure.

"He has a great screen presence that goes beyond the muscles and what you'd expect."

Cox saw him in "Manito." "He's very natural. That's what attracted me to him as a young actor. He has that 'it' thing."

His Latino background also helped (he is of Puerto Rican descent). Both directors say they saw an opportunity to cast beyond what Gray calls "the usual black-guy / white-guy thing."

"Hollywood's now acknowledging how diverse real life is. He has a great screen presence that goes beyond the muscles and what you would expect," says Gray.

"He brought an urban authenticity to the role," says Cox. "His character is a young detective. ... He's still very emotionally attached to his work. I took a chance with him, and it paid off. He's got an intensity. You believe in him."

Eric Eissen, who directed Franky in "Manito," about a troubled Latino family in Manhattan's Washington Heights, calls it "instinctive charisma."

"We've recruited audiences to watch this movie, and the women go nuts over this guy," says Gray.

Still, there are plenty of "intense" actors who get mash notes from critics and whom female audiences swoon over. And they can't get a job. Franky is easy to work with, they say. "I didn't see a scintilla of ego with him," says Eissen, who shot "Manito" on location in 14 days.

No matter what he's doing on screen, Franky doesn't seem like a guy who would steal your job or your girlfriend -- even though he probably could.

"He's a combination of several different things, he's not just physical presence," says Eissen. "He's not alienating to men, whereas with women, they love him. He works both sides."

He also doesn't give the impression of being a fighter."I'm sure he could break somebody's neck if he wanted to, but I don't think that would be his first instinct," says Gray. "He's very accessible and it's very genuine.

"He's got a long career ahead of him and he's focusing and everyone's responding to him for the right reasons."

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