What Is Up With James Franco These Days?
By Ben Widdicombe Posted May 30th 2010 04:14PM
Reports that his NYU student film includes plenty of naked men, including a nude basketball scene, have recently been raising eyebrows (more on that below).
He's also been spending time with drag queens (like Linda Simpson and the artist Kalup Linzy), and plans a return to 'General Hospital,' where he will reprise his role as, er, a performance artist called Franco. (After his first run in the iconic soap, he explained in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that his appearance in the show was itself performance art.)
And he's been hanging out on my stoop -- since the East Village townhouse where I live appears as his character's home in the upcoming Julia Roberts adaptation of 'Eat, Pray, Love.' (Last summer, I literally walked between them up the front steps coming home from an unplanned five-day hospital stay -- which is exactly how you want to look meeting two movie stars, right?)
Mr. Franco does rather seem to have been teasing us lately, as performance artists are wont to do.
Franco's combination of mainstream and avant garde career choices are interspersed with winking engagements with pop culture -- as with his January appearance on '30 Rock,' on which he played himself, needing a fake girlfriend to cover up a secret. (That secret turns out to be his fetish for a nominally female "Japanese sex pillow.")
Right now, he appears to be that rare actor who is "having it all." In this five-minute interview from August 2008 for the New York Times T Magazine website, he acknowledges that his early break-out role in the 2001 bio-pic 'James Dean' could have poisoned his career. Less than ten years later, he is an actor whom audiences accept in comic roles on TV sitcoms, blockbuster action films like the 'Spider-Man' franchise and Oscar-winning material like 'Milk.' In contemporary Hollywood, maybe Will Smith is the only other actor who is credible over such a wide range of projects.
Whether the public will accept him as the director of films about naked basketball games remains to be seen. Someone who saw his student film at an NYU event told Life & Style mag: "It pretty much had no plot and featured men in clown masks, men in dog masks and shots of male genitalia urinating. I think everyone was shocked by how much male nudity there was."
This 2008 clip of Franco talking to Newsweek's Ramin Setoodeh -- who recently caused controversy with his article about gay actor Sean Hayes playing straight on Broadway -- confirms that he made the short film, called 'The Feast of Stephen.'
Franco -- who is enrolled both at NYU and Columbia and is headed to a PhD program at Yale -- is clearly chafing at the confines of being "just" a Hollywood movie star, and would like to be considered an artist.
There's no question that he enjoys teasing the audience: lifting his skirt for a flash of ankle, knowing that as a "performance artist" he can safely claim the unclear territory between honesty and illusion. He's a performance artist named Franco who plays a performance artist named Franco.
Given that he was busy making his name (and his millions) in his 20s, perhaps we can allow the 32-year-old some space for student shenanigans. Something tells me we will see him back at the Oscars before the end of the current decade, this time holding a statue and making a speech.
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