Eduardo Franco has an impressive head of hair. It’s likely the first thing you notice about him, his effortless sense of humor being a close second. The teenage boys he’s played on American Vandal, The Package, and more recently in Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart, all boast his signature straight locks which are so long right now they run right past his shoulders and down to his midsection. As Theo, a high schooler in Wilde’s directorial debut about a party-filled last night before graduation, he even gets to use his hair as a hilarious prop during one of the many alcohol-fueled parties that make up this instant classic teen comedy.

The story behind Franco’s hair serves as a perfect introduction to the Mexican-American actor. Born in Yuma, Arizona to Mexican parents, Franco grew up traveling back and forth across the border where he’d visit family. That included his aunt who owned a hair salon and who, every time Franco visited, would cut his hair, extending their visit in a way that eventually drove the teenager nuts. “It’s such a drag. The thing is, going into Mexico is awesome. I mean, the food is fantastic and I got to hang out with my cousins. And going in is a breeze. But coming back into the US? It’s a fucking bitch. US Customs, I don’t know what the fuck their problem is. You sometimes wait in line one or two hours.” It was much too exhausting. So, he just stopped waiting for his aunt to close her salon in order to get his hair cut.

He’s only cut it once since, to get a job at a movie theater when he was sixteen and wanted to save money for a car. Except he never got around to getting the coveted car: he ended up giving his parents the money he’d saved to help them pay off some bills. Brushing off that act of kindness speaks to how Franco takes in stride his working-class background. But it also shows just how central his family is in his life. His parents have been nothing but supportive of his chosen career, even if they haven’t been able to support him financially once he moved to Los Angeles — something he’s seen is common practice among aspiring actors on the West Coast.

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That financial leg up is an unspoken systemic advantage that runs through the industry. “A lot of times, they don’t want to explain that. They don’t want to say that in interviews. But a lot of times, you know, kids, they come in and they got all that stuff. They’ve got an entire foundation beneath them that they’re sitting on.” But what he did have meant even more to him: the unwavering emotional support that came in the form of phone calls where his parents checked in and made sure he was OK. “When all you have is, and I mean it, just love and support — meaning getting a ‘Hey mijo, I love you! Good luck out there!’ — it’s far more rewarding.”

Which is what makes Franco’s success all the more laudable. If his Theo, a laid-back high schooler who’s been held back a few years and is all too eager to flirt with his teacher (The Daily Show’s Jessica Williams), fits him like a glove it’s because it was created with him in mind. Though he’d read for a different part, Wilde and her casting director brought him in and said they’d come up with a new character just for him. Considering the movie stars Lady Bird’s Beanie Feldstein, Last Man Standing’s Kaitlyn Dever, and features the likes of Lisa Kudrow, Jason Sudeikis, and Will Forte, as well as a who’s who of up and coming talents, that felt incredibly humbling and flattering.

In the end, though, Franco is thankful for all that’s come his way and hopeful about what’s ahead. “My parents are happy for me. And they’re proud of me. I can’t believe a lot of the things that happened in my life right now. You know, I’m just working toward a better future. That’s it. Trying to get to a point in life where you sit down and realize, ‘Wow, you know? I made all that!’ I’m not there yet. But I’m working toward it.”

Booksmart opens in theaters on May 24, 2019.