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James Franco | A Rebel with a Cause - and Talent
an emily blunt interview



James Franco is a budding beautiful actor bulleting his way into the big leagues. The hip-in-the-know folks are already tuned in and getting ready for his glimmering - permanent - star to be launched. After gathering a billion accolades ( a performance which has given him: Broadcast Film Critics award, an Emmy nomination and a SAG nomination) for his portrayal of über cutey legend, James Dean James Franco started to get some meaty scripts….

Like the key position as room mate/ creepy friend to Tobey Maguire in Spiderman and a simple script thrown his way for this new little film City By The Sea with a struggling actor named Bob. Bob DENIRO!

Obviously I'm goshing about small film and little actor comment. To work with DeNiro is the Holy Grail for actors. And Franco's doing it….he's also beaming with the knowledge that he held his own with the man. See, this guy's not just super swell on the retina like a perfectly toasted muffin oozing full-fat butter, he's actually got what it takes to join da boyz (DeNiro, Pacino, Spacey) up there in mega-talent land.

Here's a quick bit of verbal engagment with the young talent a good friend, journalist Fred Topel, sent me….enjoy!

Fred: You must have had a good summer?

James: Well actually I've been experiencing winter in Australia. I forgot what it's like here…I just flew in here for this.

Fred: Thus the turtleneck?

James: Yeah.

Fred: I've got to ask you, can you talk to Robert DeNiro about acting and ask him questions? [ why didn't you ask him the poop on DeNiro FRED? Like is he as dreamy in real life - speak SPEAK man!]

James: I didn't ask him very much about acting. I just took advantage of working w/him and watching him any chance I could. The scenes w/out me, I'd just go to the set to watch. I was also playing his son and it's not as if I'd do an imitation of him, but I felt that maybe it would be good if there was a little something that shed off of him onto me without trying like making faces or anything. So I'd watch all of his films; we had DeNiro film festivals after we finished filming. Everything from his early work with DePalma - "Greetings" and all those lose budget films. What I learned from watching him, even now after one of the greatest bodies of work that this country has produced, he is still serious about his work, very focussed. Some actors like to joke around on the set. But he's to himself and focusses on the scene. He would go into scenes and we'd work it out as it went along so it became more of an organic thing. I remember we did a million times - some things that I thought were so minute, but he was requesting retakes. Those scenes in the warehouse, especially.

Fred: I was wondering if you really didn't have too much contact with him - I thought that would have been really smart because he hadn't been around for so many years in the son's life.

James: I would go and watch but it was also good because of the relationship in the film - he estranged and I secretly, more than anything, would love to have a relationship with him so it was a way to reinforce that love for him, admiration for him.

Fred: You look like hell in the movie [ laugh - smirk - eyebrow up… you're really a studmuffin extravaganza!] - is that all makeup or did you try and stay up late at night and…you have this gaunt look…

James: (laughing). Well, I lost weight for the film. I went to a nutritionist and lost weight. I didn't get to change clothes much. We stayed at The Berkley ?? Hotel in Asbury Park and I guess it used to be this grand hotel with a huge ballroom. They still have some events there. They have some Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and all these kids were in nice suits. Here I was in… I'm sure I stunk. I'd get mocked everytime I got home. I spent a lot of time going to treatment centers and needle exchanges in NY and LA. I spent a lot of time in downtown L.A. - the people at those missions kind of accepted that I was in a treatment program and I could sit and talk to people. It was so nice how people were open to help. I got help from L.A. County - they set up the whole mission thing. They took me to prisons and I could meet anybody I wanted to. So, hopefully, some of that feeling got to inside. When I meet these different people, it's not just the intellectual information they give me, it's also the feeling and whatever seeps in from being in contact.

Fred: How much weight did you lose?

James: About 10-15 pounds. A nutritionist guided me on that.

Fred: Did you go to the missions in costume?

James: Yeah. What happened is we shot some of the scenes of James Dean down there and I had seen some illicit activities there so I knew of certain spots I could go and I tried going down there. I swear after 2 minutes I got there, 2 guys came up `What's going on Hollywood?' I don't think they even recognized me, it was just that I stuck out. So after that, we got real ratty clothes, poured beer all over ourselves and dirt on our faces. If I sat in the mission, it was like I was meant to be there so people just accepted me after that.

Fred: You lived the life of a homeless person for a few days?

James: I did. I spent a weekend in Santa Monica w/out money with a friend. And I spent a night in St. Marks in NY. We also slept over at the mission in downtown L.A. But I paid back all the money that I had panhandled (laugh). I more than reimbursed whatever I took.

Fred: Is there anybody that really informs your performance?

James: It's always nice during one's research that you find somebody who has specific behavior you can model after. In James Dean, I had movies I could watch over and over. I don't always find that in other subjects. I couldn't find the real Joey LaMarca, even though I think he was incarcerated at the time. Yeah, there were a couple of guys in the treatment centers who I would return to and just be around. It wasn't so much about talking to them about drugs; after awhile, it was just about talking to them and getting a feel for them.

Fred: Has your life been changing since Spiderman opened?

James: A little bit. When it came out, people would say hi (laugh). My life hasn't changed that much and I've been in Australia. It's opened there but it's a little different there.

Fred: Do you know what your role will be in the sequel?

James: I don't know the specifics. All I can say is the 1st film was pretty loyal to the storyline in the comic book and I assume that the 2nd will be in that Harry does take a turn for the dark side. I think maybe that will be developed.

Fred: Going to a dark side in that film as opposed to this film, will be you able to bring any of the same sort of method?

James: Well, I did research on Spiderman just as I did on this. Actually, coincidentally there were 3 episodes of Spiderman that were banned by the comic board where Harry indulges in some sort of narcotic. It didn't specify. I think it was during the 60s or 70s and it looked a little like LSD influenced so that might happen in the 2nd one, I don't know. Dealing with the comic book traditions, the villains are a little more arch and larger so it will be different.

Fred: Are you shooting The Great Raid in Australia?

James: Yes. We're about halfway through.

Fred: Can you tell us a little bit about it?

James: Yes. It's based on a true raid, the largest American rescue mission ever. When Pearl Harbor was attacked, the Philippines were also attacked and the American forces there were forced into the Baton Peninsula and because they were not reinforced by American forces, because they were focussed on the European theater, they were forced to surrender. So there were about 12,000 American POWs - largest American surrender ever. By the time America decided to focus on the Pacific theater, there were about 500 left in this prison camp. So it was very emotional mission. These POWs wouldn't serve the fight but the country felt that they owed them. So this small band of rangers went to the rescue. I play and actual ranger, Captain Robert Prince who came up with the real raid that is still studied in ranger school today.

Fred: Did you meet his family?

James: He is alive but I didn't have a chance to meet him. He was lives in Seattle. But they had 12-20 hours of interviews so I studied those. Plus I figured he had been interviewed enough. I wrote him a letter thanking him for his story and time.

Fred: There are a lot of deep social issues happening in City By The Sea. Have you come up with any solutions that you think will help?

James: I do know that a parent's love is a very powerful thing and the lack of it is destructive, but I can't say.

Fred: Do you think there is a killer gene?

James I don't think so. That seems like hype but I don't know.

Fred: What's happening with your two scripts you sold them right?

James: Yes, I did and independent movies are hard to put together. But they were optioned and we are currently putting them together.

Fred: Any details?

James: Hopefully, if everything goes well, we'll start shooting one early next year.

Fred: Acting as well as writing involvement?

James: Yes.

Fred: Was it harder to play somebody like James Dean where everybody knew what he looked and sounded like or to create a whole new character as in this film?

James: It seemed there was a little less pressure this time but people have definite ideas of what drug addicts are like too. So I felt as large a responsibility to capture that as James Dean.

Fred: With this film it's really imperative that you're sympathetic or nobody would care. How did you create that?

James: I'd feel for the guy; I don't condone his life but it's a matter of just loving the people, in a weird way, who you portray. I don't think he's an innocent but you can still sympathize with him and feel that.

Was it weird playing a father yourself?

James: Yeah, a strange experience.

So you have no plans on tying the knot? [blatantly fishing for a scoop]

James: Marla and I both are not planning it.

Fred: Do you see this film as having more of an independent sensibility than most Hollywood films?

James: Well, if you mean, dark, yeah. It seems that that's what people think when you say independent feel. But I don't know, what do you mean by independent?

Fred: I put the question to you because I want to know what you think it means.

James: Yeah, usually when people say independent or art film it's more complicated characters, possibly darker feel, edgier feel, maybe exposing areas we're not used to seeing in more commercial movies. So in that sense, yes. But I don't think it verges into the eccentric or anything like that. It's a family drama.

Fred:What did you learn personally as your days of being homeless?

James: My experience was that it is a very isolated life even if one was among crowds. I spent time in Venice and people just look away. If you go up to somebody and ask for money, 90% of the people will just not even respond and walk away - good or bad - I don't have any judgement on that. But that's the life so one begins to feel you're invisible and very dependent on one's self. But then on the other side of the coin is when I met people out there who were homeless, they were very warm and open and would show me where to go to get food, sleep, medical treatment. You know, how to survive. And the same thing in NY, it was a very similar feeling and I think that's because of the separation between them and the rest of society.

Fred: What do you think their reaction would be if they knew you were an actor just there to play a part?

James: Well, when I was doing it, James Dean wasn't around. All that was out was the TV show I did, Freaks and Geeks and a couple of people recognized me. It seems like I was taking advantage of people and that's why I want to say that I gave everything back and all the treatment centers, I tried to pay back some way or the other. My soul purpose was to make this role authentic and maybe I pissed some people off. It was a little weird going to needle exchange programs where people are still suffering; I felt a little guilty about that but I just wanted to be as genuine as I could so I sacrificed a little bit.

Fred: What did you learn from working with Michael Caton-Jones, the director?

James: Oh, he's great. The tone of the film is very serious and I think DeNiro kind of set this tone of seriousness on the set. Except Michael is kind of the opposite. He's a very dedicated director but he likes to shake people up and I read interviews from the time of This Boy's Life where he said he got DiCaprio's performance was just to play around off camera to loosen him up, I guess. He did a little bit of that with me. I came on trying to be very serious - it was a little hard, but ultimately, I think it added different colors that wouldn't be there and maybe a little bit more relaxed.

Fred: What kind of things?

James: Oh just joking. He was kind of irreverent with how ya doing pal? That was different and ultimately good.

How important is back story to you in a performance?

James: I get all the information I can. As I was saying before…there's a famous quote by Michael Chekov - you can't play my father he was a fisherman. As an actor, it's all about feelings and behavior so you do back story and then you kind of let it seep in and let it go and hopefully, it will help your performance through behavior and emotion.


Bravo Jimmy! What a talented young man. Take a look at this film and get to know this heaping helping of man-yum. He'll be around for sometime if I'm right….and I usually am. And thanks Fred for covering my ass - since I missed the press junket!



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