James Franco on 127 Hours, Persona and Why His Life's No Performance

james_franco_127_hours_500.jpgJames Franco is someone I've never wanted to interview. As an admirer of his media persona, I never wanted to get too close -- to see what's going on behind the curtain. Indeed, when I finally did sit down with him last week to discuss his new film, things were going swell until raising that question -- a question met with a pause that felt like it lasted, oh, about 127 hours.

In the end, as Franco describes it, it's all an extension of his job to "serve the director's vision" -- a mission accomplished with aplomb in Danny Boyle's 127 Hours. The 32-year-old actor stars as Aron Ralston, the mountain climber who famously severed his right arm to escape a boulder that pinned him in a Utah canyon for five days in 2003. It's 100 percent Franco's movie, from his monologues into a portable video recorder -- filing everything from his goodbyes to loved ones to recording an impromptu (and fictional) talk show segment compete with a laugh track -- to his ready compliance with Boyle's imagery and style. The result is work that has Franco's name on the shortlist for Oscar gold come February.

Movieline spoke with Franco about the audience reactions to 127 Hours, why his personal life is definitely not performance art (I think?) and why, in the end, he's perfectly fine that there's a picture circulating of him sleeping in a lecture.

This part is always weird, the initial "Hello, my name is Mike. Now I'm going to ask you personal questions."

Yeah, it's weird, right? Is it weird for you?

It is, but I would assume more so for you.

Danny [Boyle] has taught me a lot. He's got a good approach to all of this. And it helps when you're talking about a movie that you're really proud of.

As opposed to Hope's Promise. [Franco's non-existent movie that he told an SNL audience he was promoting in a monologue last year]

[Leans back and laughs] I couldn't understand what that was. It's no Hope's Promise. Oh, I forgot! Now I remember. [Laughs] Yeah, yeah, I'm sure... whatever Hope's Promise would have been.

In 127 Hours there's a scene where Aron is recording a goodbye of sorts because he's accepted that he's going to die. He thinks he hears someone above and screams maniacally for help. Later, he watches himself scream back on the video and says to himself, "Don't lose it." Did you mean, "Don't lose your sanity," or, "Don't lose your will to live" during that scene?

I guess a bit of both. You know, you might say that they kind of go hand-in-hand. I would imagine if I was in that situation there is a real pull to just get desperate. There are moments when he's first trapped and he tries to pull his hand out with brute strength -- you would try and do that! And it leads to some foolish acts. He drinks too much water. Or even when he basically says, "Screw it" and drinks the rest of the water. I can relate to moments like that. I was just -- Ugh, I don't care, just do it. And then you have to face the consequences. So I think in the moment where he says, "Don't lose it, Aron," he has another side of himself that was an engineer [and] has been in dangerous situations. And so I think he's calling on that side of himself to help him think his way out.

Another surprise were the amount of genuinely funny moments. There are a lot of tension-breakers -- like the talk show scene. You had fun during that scene, didn't you?

I like when that scene comes on. And that was a late addition because Danny wrote the original script, and then he brought Simon [Beaufoy] on and I think that was Simon's idea. Because I saw the original videos, and Aron does not do that. Some of the videos in our film are verbatim, but that one is not. But Aron, you can also say, can be a very goofy guy and likes to have fun. Just the humor in general, I knew and Danny knew, [was] essential to this movie. You needed that balance and you needed it early on. You know, you get a lot of it at the top because humor is so powerful, and it really brings the audience toward the character, and it gets the audience on the character's side. And you really need a little bit of that goofiness because it's just disarming. But, most people who come in to see this movie know what's going to happen? Right?

I'd say that's true.

So as funny as you get, it's also always tempered by this knowledge. So it's great! We actually get our cake and eat it, too! You can be goofy, but it's almost like, in inverse proportions, the goofier you are the weightier it gets. So in the false video, the faux talk show, the goofier that I am, the more poignant it's going to be. Because it's a guy using humor to face himself and to also try and escape a situation but also face a situation.

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