Franklin TV series: Michael Douglas likens Joe Biden to Benjamin Franklin

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Wenlei Ma
The Nightly
4 Min Read
Michael Douglas in Franklin.
Michael Douglas in Franklin. Credit: Apple TV+

A quirk of an American election year means almost any TV series or movies that is even peripheral to politics will be compared to what’s going on in the real world.

And when that series happens to be centred on one of the US’s founding fathers, a statesman whose portrait adorns the back of every $100 note, it’s inevitable.

Franklin, released today on Apple TV+, is an eight-episode miniseries of Benjamin Franklin’s almost-decade in France, trying to secure money for the American campaign against the British. For the French, it was a chance to hurt their traditional enemy but the rub was the revolutionaries’ cause didn’t exactly align with their own system of monarchy.

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Persuading the French to support the then great American experiment, democracy, ran counter to the Bourbons’ authoritarian rule, which would end four years after Franklin left France at the end of his successful ambassadorship.

The Franklin in the series – and historically - is a smart operator. As a drafter and signer of the Declaration of Independence, he fervently believed in the hope and virtue of democratic systems, of governing by consent. And so does Michael Douglas, who plays Franklin in the actor’s first period role.

Michael Douglas in Franklin.
Michael Douglas and Noah Jupe as Benjamin Franklin and Temple Franklin. Credit: Apple TV+

“With our election this year, and with the whole issue of democracy being on the lips of a lot of countries because it’s an endangered species, as more and more autocracies seem to be taking over the world, this is a healthy reminder,” Douglas tells The Nightly.

“What happened 247 years ago is our forefathers struggled and fought to create this. There is a lot of things that Australia can relate to in this, I’m sure. I’m hoping what people will take away from it is the realisation that this is a very fragile system that always needs to be working and functioning.

“That’s how precious it is, and I think that’s the best system in the world, I really, really do. Obviously a lot of other people do too because that’s why they’re immigrating to countries like Australia and the United States, to get out of autocratic situations.”

Franklin was a polymath, an inventor, a writer, a journalist, a public servant and a diplomat. He set up America’s first national communications network as the deputy postmaster-general, he charted the Gulf Stream current and invented bifocals. Douglas calls him a “renaissance man”.

But when Franklin arrived in Paris, he was underestimated by the French, who scoffed at his relatively simple brown suit and his lack of airs. For Douglas, he sees in President Joe Biden, a touch of Franklin.

“Joe Biden has a folksy, friendly, unassuming and humble way of dealing with people,” Douglas explains. “He reaches out, and I think this has served him well since he was a 29-year-old senator. You’re not seeing it in terms of election numbers, but it’s that approach of dialogue, good humour and complimenting people.

Michael Douglas in Franklin.
Benjamin Franklin’s famous fur hat. Credit: Apple TV+

“Franklin was a brilliant guy. He’s down-home with the fur cap, wearing simple clothes and ‘awww shucks’, he was the father of the middle class, he really began the middle class for the world in a lot of ways. I still think that is the best, most attractive way to start a dialogue. Rather than some of the dictators that we have in the world.”

Douglas’ co-star in the series, young actor Noah Jupe (Ford v Ferrari, A Quiet Place), who portrays Franklin’s grandson and mentee Temple, is British and says that as “an outsider” to American politics and history, the show gave him a deep appreciation for it.

But he also found a love for all things French. Jupe spoke no French before production and had to crash course so he could be a convincing French-speaker within two months. He became so proficient (the series was filmed in France, where Jupe stayed for a time even after Franklin wrapped), Douglas says Jupe “was reeling it off as he’d been there his whole life”.

Douglas might have five decades of experience on Jupe but the American actor looked to his younger co-star, and to the French actors in the cast, for guidance on how to be in a historical series, laden with period costumes and make-up.

Michael Douglas in Franklin.
Franklin is streaming on Apple TV+. Credit: Apple TV+

“I watched Noah a lot and as a Brit, he seemed to be much more comfortable in this attire. All the British and French, they inherently just have a style,” he says. “They probably do the classics much more than we do. It was a lot of watching my fellow actors because they were all so good.”

The respect was mutual. Jupe says Temple is the character he has most related to as a young man thrust into an extraordinary environment under the tutelage of a legend.

“It’s set in the 1700s but if you think about it, he’s coming from another country to Paris and experiencing an entire new world, and so was I,” Jupe says. “He’s with this incredible icon that he’s looking up and learning from. There were all these parallels and I felt very connected to Temple’s journey. It felt very similar to mine.”

Franklin is streaming on Apple TV+

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