Celebrity: James Franco – Keeping the Faith

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Have you felt that the critical community has tried to disparage you because of your multi-hyphenate artistic pursuits? I’m an easy target, but I’m also interested in playing with the notion of what it is to be an artist and the engagement with the public and the media and how that affects the perception of your work. I’m not going to complain about that because that’s one of the interesting things about the last several years.

I think that people are now coming to the conclusion that I take my work very seriously and my own image much less seriously. I can direct films, act, write and do many different things, and I think things have reached a point where my acting doesn’t necessarily overshadow everything else I’m trying to accomplish and what the response to that will be. I’m pretty happy about things.

But you have slowed down… A little while ago, I began to re-evaluate what I was doing and began rethinking my life in a lot of ways. Working so hard and working on a lot of different projects was my way of escaping from myself and from having the time to really think about who I was or what I was trying to accomplish.

I have a very addictive nature. I wanted to try to do as much as I could handle and also make movies that the studios had no interest in making. Staying busy was also my way of not dealing with criticism because I would already be working on the next project. Now, I want to try to slow down a bit and work only on projects that are really meaningful to me and that I really love. I want to do fewer projects now and spend more time going deeper into stories I’m trying to tell.

Do you think the public understands you? I think people wonder if I’m out of control [laughs], but the truth is that I’m very dedicated to each project I work on. I also try to lend my name and support as producer and actor to a lot of emerging directors because it’s easier for them to receive attention and funding if there’s someone with more recognition behind them. It’s important to me to be able to do that.

How would you explain the strange process by which a truly terrible movie like The Room became a minor cult sensation? That’s part of the mystique and curiosity surrounding it. For some reason, the bad acting, horrible writing, ridiculous lighting and stupid dialogue all make it incredibly entertaining in its own way. People have a kind of twisted fascination for The Room. You feel a perverse attraction to something so odd and bizarre that you can watch it over and over again. And if it’s so bad, why do we like watching it?

Is it an example of something so bad that it’s good and deserves recognition as a camp classic? For a long time, I’ve been interested in art and what qualifies as art. When Seth and I were talking about making that movie, our biggest question was what exactly made producer Tommy Wiseau’s movie so unique in its own way. We wanted to show how earnest he was in making it and how passionate and personal it was for him. Even though it was ridiculed, there’s a subtext to it that makes us enjoy it. It’s become a success in spite of itself.

Has your career been influenced by who you were as a teenager? Perhaps. As a teenager, I was very unsettled and I was constantly getting into trouble as part of not really being focused or understanding what I wanted to do with my life and not having any sense of place or perspective. But all of that personal frenzy was part of my path to figuring things out. I didn’t know that at the time, and we probably never do, but it was my way of getting rid of a lot of chaotic thinking and wild behaviour.

Even when I started acting and becoming successful, I was still suffering from a lot of doubt about whether this was how I wanted to live my life and whether doing certain kinds of movies was what I wanted to do with my artistic life.

What’s been the most challenging role you have taken on? Undoubtedly Christian Longo in True Story. This guy is a real-life killer who assumes the identity of former New York Times journalist Mike Finkel (Jonah Hill) while on the run as a fugitive. This guy was such a creepy and terrible person that I really couldn’t engage with the character the way I normally do when I’m working. I come from a very loving and caring family, and having to play a man who committed such horrific acts was very disturbing.

Normally as an actor you try not to judge your characters and find some way to align yourself with them. But in this case, I couldn’t wait to stop thinking about him, and I
wanted to leave the set each day as quickly as possible to clear my head. That’s never happened to me before.

Are you excited about what the future has in store? Of course. I’ve certainly got a lot of the passion back, and every new challenge feels worthwhile. As an actor, as a person, you can’t really demand much more than that.

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