James Franco: The Movieline Interview

Here at Movieline, we're proud Franco-philes. Whether we're watching James Franco's guest appearance on 30 Rock, dissecting every episode of his General Hospital stint, or unmasking the real reason behind his soap opera inspiration (as Franco's artistic collaborator Carter told us, it's all background for an upcoming film the two are planning), we're happy to follow Franco's every move simply because the moves make up such a notable zig-zag.

Now, the actor has come to Sundance with two more feathers in his multimedia cap. Festivalgoers caught him last night in Howl, where he stars as poet Allen Ginsberg for directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, and he'll soon be screening his NYU student film Herbert White, which he wrote and directed himself. Movieline caught up with Franco today to shed some light on his novel career.

I know you have a short film here at Sundance this year. Which were you more nervous to present, that or Howl?

I don't know if it's about being nervous. The directing thing is definitely a lot newer to me than the acting thing, and I've been to a lot of premieres for films that I've acted in, but I haven't been to many for films that I've directed. I guess I always get a little more nervous when I'm presenting material that I wrote or directed.

More nervous than when it's your face up there on the screen?

In a way, yeah. Although you're right...I directed two low-budget features before I went to film school and I also acted in them, so maybe I'm remembering the anxiety I had then. Now, I don't particularly like acting in stuff I direct, so I'm not acting in [Herbert White] -- it stars Michael Shannon. I don't know, I don't tell people I'm proud of the things I do. I work hard, but for whatever reason I just...I don't know, but I feel really proud of this short. Michael's basically my favorite actor, and it's based on a poem by this guy Frank Bidart who's one of my favorite poets. I think it turned into something really good! I don't know, I'm proud of it.

Do the other students in your film classes ever just go, "Fucking Franco -- he gets Michael Shannon in his short and we have to use the kid who lives next door to us in the dorm!"

I can never quite know what they think about me. [Pause] There's an analogy I want to make -- and it's really good! -- but I want to save it for something I'm gonna write, so maybe I won't quite make it. I'll say this, though: I'll never know what they really think of me, right? I'm in a couple of graduate MFA programs, I'm taking film at NYU and fiction at Columbia, and the film programs are designed to build interactive relationships. It's like team building, in a way, because you're all working on each other's shoots. In the fiction program, everybody's writing their own thing and then bringing it in to be critiqued!

So you get along better with the people you're collaborating with, I'm guessing.

I've found that I'm much closer with the people in the film program than in my other programs. I think I have genuine friends there. I do try and help give them some of the same resources I have. If my classmates come to me and ask, "Can you help me cast this," or, "I'm thinking about so-and-so big name actor," I can't guarantee it, but if I think their script is worthy...I helped get James Marsden and his wife in one of my classmate's shorts, and I act in them if they ask me.

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  • TimboUK says:

    And yet, somehow the elephant in the room remained unremarked upon....... Mr Franco should maybe consider when portraying gay men and not in any way identifying as one can be seen as exploitation. Come out, come out who ever you are........

  • stolidog says:

    what, no "feast of stephen"?

  • Victor Ward says:

    Great interview, but what we really wanted to know is DOES HE LOVE ME, I mean, um, would he ever guest star on Glee?

  • Whatever says:

    Sooo...I will have to remember that exploitation thing the next time a gay actor plays a straight and doesn't come out as to his true sexuality. Because that has never happened. EVER.
    And yet I always wonder, what in the world does his sexuality have to do with anything? Who cares?!

  • Marin says:

    Glad the Franco interview finally arrived (long time coming). Well done!

  • Timbouk says:

    When you play a number of high profile gay roles, moonlight in 'camp' soap operas and take gay cinema courses at college and yet choose to remain sexually ambigous, isn't it unrealistic to expect noone having any interest in your sexuality? Role models for the gay community are still important in this climate. If in the unlikely event that Franco was gay and did come out it would not be a surprise nor, I think would it seriously damage his career. It would however prove a positive image for gay men and women thinking of entering the profession and give hope to those already working in the notoriously homophobic industry.

  • Claire says:

    Timbouk: James Franco is not gay. He's been with Ahna O'Reilly for like four years. It doesn't seem like he'd be someone who would work that hard to repress his sexuality. If he was "secretly" gay, do you think he would be playing these gay roles all the time? It seems to me that if he was gay he would be someone who would be open and proud of it. He's very supportive of the gay community.

  • alicia says:

    Why does everyone think he is gay? is it just because he actively explores various aspects of the human condition? it seems only those who are secure within themselves can so intensely pursue their natural interests. great article! i love him.

  • Ponzi says:

    James and Ahna are no longer "together"--not that her presence in his life was ever unimpeachable proof of his heterosexuality. Currently there are more reasons to think he's gay/bi than straight, if you're paying any attention to his career and press. How many gay poems does he have to make into short films before your wheels start turning?
    As for him being open and proud, here's his take on why most closeted actors don't come out:
    "Well, it's uuuuuuuuh, I mean, it's a big issue. I don't know, I mean..(wipes head with palm and lets out a huge sigh) You know, I guess if you're talking about you know, like, coming out about one's sexuality, you know, back in the day, in Harvey Milk's day the gay liberation movement was all about coming out, coming out, coming out. I don't know if that's so necessary today. You know, a lot of people believe it isn't.
    "If you want to come out, you know, if someone would want to come out I, I believe that he or she should be able to. We see more gay roles in mainstream films, but the reverse isn't true. It's like, okay now for straight actors to play gay roles, but, it's not quite, I don't think it's quite the same for gay actors to play straight roles. And so that's, maybe, what inhibits a lot of people who are in the closet from coming out. If we're talking about, you know being gay. If you're talking about body pillows? Come out! I don't think anybody will care. (laughter)"

  • It sounds like you're creating problems yourself by trying to solve this issue instead of looking at why their is a problem in the first place.

  • Me says:

    And you know this how, Ponzi?
    Why was she with him at Sundance if they aren't together?
    Why was she with him at the SNL wrap party...?
    There is no reason to believe they aren't still a couple. And if you've seen credible evidence to counter this, by all means, do share.

  • Dianna Trent says:

    Those of you who want to insist that Franco's gay, are you NOT READING this article?!? He's playing with his image! He obviously does NOT care what people think because he wants to explore different types of cinema. Personally, I HATE that he chooses such roles. (And I don't care what anyone thinks about that. I hate that lifestyle! Not the people, just the lifestyle! I believe it is learned behaviour & a true downfall to ANY community.) Anyway, James has come out & said he is NOT gay. Somehow, I believe him. And I believe he loves Ahna but I wish he'd marry her already!

  • Me too says:

    Oy. So only communities with ev.ol gays in them fall apart.
    Good to know.