updated 05/03/2010 AT 4:00 PM ET
•originally published 05/03/2010 AT 4:55 PM ET
James Franco has played a spaced out stoner, a jealous rich boy and a Hollywood icon, but the actor s favorite role is being a student.
“I love school,” Franco told PEOPLE at the Tribeca Film Festival screening of his directorial debut, the documentary Saturday Night, in New York Sunday. “I go to school because I love being around people who are interested in what I m interested in and I m having a great experience.”
The Pineapple Express star, 32, graduated from UCLA with an undergraduate degree in English in June 2008. He also enrolled in an MFA writing program at New York’s Columbia University, and is now studying filmmaking at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
“I m studying things that I love so it s not like it s a chore,” says Franco.
In fact, he may be a bit of an overachiever. What began as a seven-minute school project for his MFA program grew into a 93-minute feature documentary that follows the making of a 2008 episode of Saturday Night Live hosted by John Malkovich.
With his film completed, Franco isn’t worried about his final grade. “I think I passed,” he says, laughing.
With hit films like Spider-Man and Milk under his belt, why does the actor limit his movie roles in order to attend classes?
“School is a way to take my other pursuits like directing and writing seriously, ” he says. “I could go out and make movies and direct movies having not gone to school, but being at school I m in touch with incredible teachers, incredible writers who are in an environment where they are solely focused helping people in becoming a better director, writer. At film school I know that the feedback is real and honest and only makes you a better filmmaker.”
Franco is continuing his studies and has been accepted to Yale for a Ph.D. program in English. There he hopes to be teaching in the fall as a TA.