While still recognizable for his recurring role as Captain Crane on The A-Team, former character actor Carl Franklin is now one of Hollywood's most versatile writer/directors. After a string of mind-numbing television roles forced him to go behind the camera in 1986, he has worked in every genre from war film to family drama and has been the force behind such different works as One False Move (1991), Devil in a Blue Dress (1995), and One True Thing (1998).
Franklin grew up in Richmond, CA, a working-class suburb of San Francisco. His father died before he was born, and he was raised by his mother, a homemaker, and his stepfather, a carpenter. As a teenager, Franklin excelled in school and dreamed of becoming a lawyer or teacher. He earned a scholarship to the University of California at Berkeley, where he studied history and began hanging around the theater department in an effort to meet girls. He soon caught the acting bug and moved to New York City immediately after graduation.
Franklin began his acting career on-stage at the New York Shakespeare Festival, performing in Cymbeline, Timon of Athens, and Twelfth Night. He went on to appear at New York's Lincoln Center and Joseph Papp Public Theater, and Washington, D.C.'s Arena Stage. Franklin made his film debut in the comedy Five on the Black Hand Side (1973), before finding steady work on television. From 1974 to 1973, he guest-starred on The Streets of San Francisco, Good Times, The Incredible Hulk, The Rockford Files, and Trapper John, M.D. He also starred opposite Stacy Keach on the short-lived detective show Caribe and with Roddy McDowall on the doomed sci-fi series Fantastic Journey. After a two season stint on The A-Team from 1983 to 1985, Franklin grew increasingly unsatisfied with acting. While continuing to appear on shows like MacGyver and Riptide, he attempted to write and produce a film independently, mortgaging and losing his house in the process. Then, in 1986, at age 37, he enrolled in the American Film Institute's directing program.
At AFI, Franklin discovered his own style while studying the films of celebrated European and Japanese directors. His master's thesis, Punk (1989), an intense 30-minute short about a downtrodden African-American boy dealing with his budding sexuality, impressed filmmaker Roger Coreman, who hired Franklin as an apprentice at his production company, Concorde Films. Like Coreman's previous protégé's, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and Peter Bogdanovich, Franklin learned ways of fast-paced low-budget filmmaking, writing screenplays in under two weeks and shooting them only days later. Often working on location in the Philippines or Peru, he wrote, directed, and produced (and sometimes even acted in) a series of limited releases and straight-to-video flicks, including Nowhere to Run (1989), Eye of the Eagle 2: Inside the Enemy (1989), and Full Fathom Five (1990).
After completing his tenure at Concorde, Franklin wrote and directed One False Move (1991), an independent crime thriller about three Los Angeles drug dealers who seek refuge in Arkansas after a murderous drug deal. The film starred Billy Bob Thornton, Cynda Williams, and Michael Beach as the outlaws and Bill Paxton as the Arkansas sheriff awaiting their arrival, but had little commercial value at the time. As a result, its distributor, IRS Media, gave the film a minor and ineffective advertising campaign. Yet, rave reviews and positive word-of-mouth quickly made One False Move a surprise hit. Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert voted it the Best Film of the Year, and Franklin's work earned him a New Generation Award from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, an Independent Spirit Award for Best Director, and an MTV Movie Award for Best New Filmmaker.
The success of One False Move put Franklin on the short list of Hollywood directors. Producers brought every type of script to his attention -- Disney even asked him to remake That Darn Cat (1965). For his next project, he settled on the HBO miniseries Laurel Avenue (1993), a drama about a working-class African-American family in St. Paul, MN. The well-received series starred John Beasley and Mary Alice, and featured cameos by Franklin's daughter, Caira, and son, Marcus. He went on to write and direct Devil in a Blue Dress (1995), his heralded adaptation of African-American crime novelist Walter Mosley's novel. The film featured Oscar-winner Denzel Washington as a private detective in 1940s Los Angeles, with Tom Sizemore, Don Cheadle, and Jennifer Beals in supporting roles. Devil in a Blue Dress was a critical favorite, but failed at the box office.
Looking to do something completely different, Franklin then signed onto direct One True Thing (1998), an adaptation of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Anna Quindlan's autobiographical story of a New York journalist (Renee Zellweger) who is forced to return home when her mother (Meryl Streep) becomes fatally ill. He followed up this adventurous move with another, directing the high-profile courtroom drama High Crimes (2002), starring Ashley Judd, Jim Caviezel, and Morgan Freeman, before reuniting with Denzel Washington for the thriller Out of Time (2003). ~ Aubry Anne D'Arminio, Rovi