EXCLUSIVE: The Real Story (and the Mastermind) Behind James Franco's Soap Opera Career Move

When General Hospital announced that James Franco would be joining the soap opera for a lengthy story arc, pop culture pundits couldn't fathom the movie star's motivation. Over here at Movieline, though, we sensed the guiding hand of Carter, Franco's frequent artistic collaborator. The two men have embarked on a wide variety of art projects that play with and deconstruct Franco's image, including a VMan photo shoot that handed the actor a flamethrower and covered his face in shaving cream, and Erased James Franco, a 63-minute film (playing November 15 at the Castro Theater in San Francisco) that finds Franco idiosyncratically recreating Rock Hudson from Seconds and Julianne Moore from Safe, as well as some of his own lesser roles.

Yesterday I spoke to Carter, who revealed that he was the mastermind who convinced Franco to appear on General Hospital -- the beginning of their most ambitious collaboration yet.

When it was announced that James Franco was doing this soap, I immediately thought, "Carter." Is it something the two of you had discussed or planned?

Yeah, it's for several different things. It was an idea that I posed to him, and it's tied to another film that he and I are working on now. It's not specifically for another project, because I know that he's really enjoying the challenge of working on a soap -- it's a very taxing job, and an interesting thing for him to be doing -- but it does have to do with another film that he and I are working on.

Can you tell me much about that film?

Not really, because it's in the very beginning stages. It's basically written, and now we're working on getting the other actors involved, which we are super, super excited about. I obviously can't mention them either yet, though I wish I could. Once that happens, we're going to make the best movie ever made. [Laughs] I can't wait.

And would this be a feature film, video art, a gallery piece...?

In my mind, it's definitely not a video, it's a feature film. That's what's interesting about the collaboration that James and I have, the line between what's fine art and what's a commercial piece is a constant puzzle. But in my mind, if you ask me, it's a feature film that's gonna be pretty abstract, for a larger audience.

Since the General Hospital arc is sort of a springboard to this feature, have you had input into what James will be doing on the show?

Well, that's actually stuff that's really unfolding now, because we're shooting it. Hmm, what can I say? Again, it's a fine line between a job that James is doing at General Hospital that's a very serious thing -- something he takes seriously, and it's not a joke -- and at the same time, we're also trying to get something else out of it for another film. It's a weird thing to navigate, but we're still doing it, so I don't know what I can say about it.

James is playing an artist who's obsessed with another actor on the show. Is that an intentional stand-in for you, in a way? Another layer of meta?

Is it intentional? No, I don't think so. Actually, I don't know the full nuts and bolts for how that character came about. The idea did originally come from James and I and our collaboration, and I'm sure that colored the development of the character.

Some people were horrified by the idea that he would do this. They regarded it as career self-sabotage.

People are very critical. Obviously, someone like James Franco -- someone who's not starting out -- does not necessarily have to be on a soap opera. I think this notion of "Why would he dare do something like that? It's a career killer!" is silly. Liz Taylor was on General Hospital, for crying out loud! For James, it's much more of a challenge, and that's to his credit. It's a challenging thing to be on a soap opera -- it's a lot of work, it's a lot of memorization. In the context of him, again, this is not something he would have to do, but it's something interesting to him. I take the credit...but that's why I work with him, too. He's open to doing other things.

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