James Franco is an interesting nut to crack. He’s alternately wonderful (127 Hours) and infuriating (his stint as Oscars host, Your Highness, allegedly not really earning all the college degrees he seems to get every other month) to observe, and it’s hard to decide whether I respect him as an artist or shrug off his efforts to become a pretentious renaissance man.
Still, one thing Franco is that’s refreshing is honest. He’s also known to sometimes say negative things about projects he’s involved with, which is no more evident than in article he penned for Newsweek in which he points to deciding to star in his 2006 film, Tristan & Isolde, as a mistake.
Franco recalls that he wasn’t passionate about the project to begin with, explaining, “I was an overzealous young actor and wanted to make great movies. I read the script and wasn’t sure about it, but my acting teacher said it was a role that a young Brando or Olivier would do.”
He proceeded to train for months in sword fighting and horseback riding, only to discover when he arrived on set that the battle scenes had been scratched for “stealthy murders” (my guess is that had something to do with budget constraints). He later developed knee problems, which a Prague doctor attributed to an ACL problem, and had to have his knee drained every other day and had daily physical therapy, but it didn’t solve the problem. He remembers, “We had to shut down production. I flew back to the States and got an arthroscopic operation—it was my patella, not the ACL like the Prague doctor said—and did physical therapy every day for two months. Six months after the main shooting had finished, a physical therapist ended up stitching up my knee, and I finally got through the action scenes.”
Franco also had on-set disagreements with director Kevin Reynolds, which turned ugly. He explains, “I think our personalities just didn’t jibe. [Kevin] had the idea that my character would be more jovial, and I thought he was tragic. He was like, ‘James, I need you to smile in this scene.’ And I said, ‘No. My character has no reason to be happy.’ He said, ‘James, you can’t keep playing James Dean,’ and I replied, ‘Kevin, you can’t keep making Robin Hood‘ [Note: Reynolds directed Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves]. That kind of summed up our troubles.” Curiously, it’s worth noting Reynolds hasn’t directed a film since this movie with Franco.
Ultimately, Franco learned that he has to feel like a project is worth doing before he gets involved. He says, “The lesson was that I will never do a movie again that I don’t have a special feeling for. I know now that you feel it somewhere in your gut when you believe in a movie, and that’s why you should do it. Don’t do a movie you wouldn’t see or don’t believe in, because movies can be hell to make.”
It’s good advice for someone as established as Franco, but less-known actors perhaps don’t have as many offers as Franco to turn down. I’d also like to know what exactly he was feeling when he agreed to shoot the documentary/thriller/comedy Francophrenia (Or Don’t Kill Me, I Know Where the Baby Is), which is playing to awful reviews at the Tribeca Film Festival.