Yesterday, I met James Franco.
As I work in the film industry, I meet famous filmmakers all the time. It’s always exciting, always quite a thrill, but to meet one of my most favourite actors, someone I truly admire and find completely intriguing, it was something really special!
James was a guest speaker at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London and invited to take part in an interview that would reveal all the mystery surrounding him. Well, as I know an above average amount about the guy, I didn’t feel it “revealed the mystery” but the discussion was certainly fascinating and really insightful. The biggest disappointment was the lady that interviewed him. To her credit, it seems that she had a limited amount of time to prepare for the event and doesn’t know a great deal about James Franco (at one point, he called her out for getting her info from Wikipedia! Oops!). It also felt like the interviewer was trying to flirt with him but it came off as being a little rude and inappropriate.
For example, she teased James about his studying. She referred to it as him “carrying on like this for the past few years” and asked him if he would be “one of those senior citizen students”. James was always very polite to her rather insensitive, mocking questions and told her he didn’t think his studying was very unusual, perhaps for a film actor like he is, but not in general. He also mentioned that he is ready to stop studying soon, and he’s starting to teach more. He will be teaching at both the Film and English programs at UCLA soon.
The interviewer also claimed that James was quite flippant and spontaneous in his projects and studying, as though he doesn’t give it much thought. Again, he was polite and told her that it wasn’t an easy thing to get a degree! (Too right, I have two degrees from two very prestigious universities and it certainly is not! I can’t imagine how James does it with all his side projects!)
James also discussed the idea of his perceived persona. He talked about the class at Columbia (Los Angeles) in which he gave the students every piece of material he had about himself, allowed them to create a feature length documentary on him and create their own persona of him. He assured the interviewer that it wasn’t a class about him, his life and work, but more the study of celebrity and how a representation of him can be engineered, manipulated, etc. He referred to Joaquin Phoenix’s film I’m Still Here and what they had done with that mockumentary. It is so fascinating; the idea that James will make himself so open to others and also that he is able to detach the person that he really is from the person that the world views him as. He likened it to the work of Marina Abramovic, the idea of being completely vulnerable, but he did recognise that his work was not as extreme as Abramovic’s.
Other highlights of the interview were James talking about his time on General Hospital. He mentioned how he filmed his entire appearance on the show in just a matter of days (I think?), to which the interviewer compared to making a porno. I think James was as baffled as the audience by this comparison. Another example of the lady’s failed flirting technique, perhaps.
James also talked at length about his exhibition, Rebel, and mentioned that he hopes to bring it to London! Very exciting. (He did say that he loves this city and wants to do more work here! Hallelujah!) James spoke a lot about Rebel Without A Cause, James Dean, and then Brad Renfro and River Phoenix. This prompted the interviewer to query his fascination with dead actors and whether or not he thought he might end up like them and die prematurely. Very inappropriate! I know why she asked the question, or rather what she was getting at. She was trying to understand his work surrounding these legendary figures, but it was the way she asked the question, it was rather insensitive.
After an hour or so, the discussion was opened up to the audience and we were allowed to ask James questions. My hand shot up in the air instantly and I was the first to ask James a question, and and actually the only person due to lack of time. I told James that I am a massive River Phoenix fan and he is part of the reason that I work in film today. I mentioned his film My Own Private River and if it would receive widespread distribution. James then went into great length about this whole project. He explained it right back to the moment of inception; working with Gus Van Sant on Milk, going to Portland for a premiere screening and then Gus taking James on a tour of the My Own Private Idaho filming locations. Together they watched all the additional footage from the movie and the idea of recutting it was brought up. James asked Gus if it could do his own project from the footage, to which they agreed that if Gus didn’t like it, then no-one would ever see it. Thankfully, Gus did like it! They have screened the film at several festivals, but to answer my question, James said it is unlikely that My Own Private River will be out on DVD or anything like that. The original distributers are concerned that it may compete with sales of My Own Private Idaho. This is kind of tragic and super disappointing!! But, I was completely excited that James answered my question :)
Directly after the interview, James was giving an introduction to the film, Five Easy Pieces. He signed some autographs but then quickly left. My friend and I had tickets for this also, so we hurried along and heard James talk for a couple of minutes about the film. Now, I should mention that James has been getting stick for not engaging with the audience yesterday. People on twitter have mentioned that he didn’t give any eye contact. There was nearly 200 people at the interview, but for the screening there was maybe 40 people in attendance, and James was very different. He looked up, spoke directly to the audience and made plenty of eye contact. It does seem that he can be quite shy and perhaps intimidated by a large audience and prefers to not look out at a sea of people!
After his introduction, James left the cinema and was followed out by the actress Lily Cole. My friend and I came right out behind them. I think Lily Cole had come along just to meet James. It felt like they didn’t know each other, but discussed a mutual friend and they may have made plans to meet up later or talk later? I’m not quite sure. But Lily Cole was completely sweet. She is super tall and a real beauty. It was awesome to see a famous actor fan girl over another actor! Haha! Afterwards, Lily went back into the cinema and James came out to the lobby area to meet some fans.
This was my moment!
First of all, I took his photo with my friend. Then, I asked to have my photo with him. I moved beside him and said ‘Hey, thanks for answering my question about River Phoenix!’ James gave me the biggest smile, he was like ‘Oh, yeah! Yeah!’ He was so sweet, so lovely and has a brilliant smile! I had all these concerns that he might not be very nice, be a little cold or something but he was just a fellow River fan and for a second it felt we geeked out about that!
He carried on to take some more photos with other fans and give autographs. I should mention again that James is completely lovely, warm-hearted and very welcoming. He looked each person in the eyes, asked their names for the autograph and was smiling. He is a superb guy!
I remembered that I had my copy of Palo Alto (complete with tons of markings and highlighted sections through-out) and said to my friend I really wanted to get it signed! I was a bit shy though, and felt after getting both my question answered in the interview and also a photo, an autograph might be a bit greedy! But, luckily, my friend grabbed my book and walked over to James for him to sign. An ICA employee told James that it was time to leave, but my friend asked ‘Can you please sign this book?’ and James told the guy he wasn’t finished yet, and he agreed to sign for my friend! He asked her what name to write and she gave mine, but when he asked how to spell it, she couldn’t remember (She is Brazilian and completely forgot the alphabet at that point.) I stepped forward and said “It’s for meeee!” I think James just smiled again, and I gave him the spelling, he signed the book and gave me a LOVE HEART NEXT TO HIS NAME! HAHAHA! I thanked him again, and that was it.
I cannot stress how incredible James Franco is. He is very articulate, very knowledgable. His talks are engaging and fascinating as is he. He is really accommodating to his fans and what made my experience of meeting him so much more enjoyable and so very special, was that he is a good, kind person.
God bless James Franco!
My sister took this photo and this is James’s face as he answered my question! We call it his “Hungry Eyes” look! My sister, my friends and I have all been in hysterics over it. He totally loves me! hahaha!
This is my cropped photo with James. Don’t really want to post myself here, but thought some of you might like to see him anyway :)