James Franco talks to the gay James Franco
With three films slated for this spring — True Story, I Am Michael, and Wim Wenders's Everything Will Be Fine — James Franco continues to be the busiest man in show business. Actor, director, producer, writer, poet, professor, social media maven, and cultural provocateur, he also continues to challenge us by challenging himself about preconceived concepts of sexuality and how they fit contextually into his art. So it was no surprise when he accepted this challenge to sit down with himself to discuss his life together.
By James Franco
James: Hey, bud, this is weird. You’re interviewing
James: Yeah, I know. Who’s doing the interview, and
who’s being interviewed?
SJ: Let’s just have a convo, and we’ll both try
to get to the bottom of James.
GJ: Okay, deal. But my question is, who is
the real James, and who is the
SJ: I guess that’s what everyone wants to know,
GJ: I guess, but I also guess that even though I
have this public persona that is all wacked out and hard to pin down, or
annoying, or whatever, in some ways I’m still more real than if I were just
hiding behind a façade or whatever.
SJ: Façade. Meaning, like, a movie-star
GJ: Yeah, like I just hide behind my movies, and
try to look cool, and don’t talk about anything of substance, and just give
bland answers to everything like an athlete. “Yeah, we played with heart out
there tonight. Really brought it.”
SJ: OK, so, good place to start. Let’s get
substantial: are you fucking gay or what?
GJ: Well, I like to think that I’m gay in my art
and straight in my life. Although, I’m also gay in my life up to the point of
intercourse, and then you could say I’m straight. So I guess it depends on how
you define gay.
If it means whom you have sex with, I guess I’m straight. In the twenties and
thirties, they used to define homosexuality by how you acted and not by whom you
slept with. Sailors would fuck guys all the time, but as long as they behaved in
masculine ways, they weren’t considered gay. I wrote a little poem about
Gay New York Is the name of a book About
Gays in New York. From the
nineteenth century on.
Back in the
thirties Before the Second World War, “Gay” wasn’t even a word, Unless
you meant “happy.”
You were “queer” If
you acted queer. But you could turn a sailor And
still be straight
As long as you didn’t
speak With a lisp or wear a dress. Funny how a concept can change A
We have to worry About
who we have sex with. Weird how one little blowjob Will make you a fag
SJ: Yeah, Hart Crane fucked a lot of those
GJ: OK, Hart Crane . . . so, when you played him
in the film you directed, The
Broken Tower, you fellate a dildo
on-screen and then have simulated sex with Michael Shannon. What’s up with
SJ: What’s up with that? Well, I wanted those
scenes to be explicit, for two reasons. One, I knew that Crane was a openly gay
man in a time when that was rare, and he was so up front about it he scared his
more conservative poetry friends, so those scenes were a way to parallel the
in-your-face nature of Crane’s own sexuality. I also knew that the movie was
going to be full of dense poetry, so I wanted to break it up a bit with some hot
GJ: Okay, but didn’t you know that that would be
the only thing the reviewers would talk about?
SJ: Of course, but that’s their
shortsightedness. And once I went to film school and started directing my own
movies, I realized that I was going to direct only movies that I really cared
about in ways that I wanted, regardless of critique. As an actor I have been in
huge blockbusters like Spider-Man and Planet
of the Apes, and in critical hits like Milk and 127
Hours, as well as in successful comedies likePineapple
Express and This
Is the End, so I know all sides of success. But when directing my own
projects, the primary focus is the art. Yes, I want people to see them, and,
sure, I’d like people to like them, but my primary allegiance is to the work
GJ: Okay, whatever you say. But you’re also a
goofball, especially on your Instagram account. Do you want people to think
you’re gay? Wouldn’t it be a good thing if you were just a straight dude, like
Ryan Gosling, just straight and cool?
SJ: Why would you say that it was a good thing that people would consider me
straight? I actually like it when people think I’m gay; it’s a great shield.
Like the guy in Shampoo or the play thatShampoo is based on, The
Country Wife by
GJ: What do you mean? You want to be able to go
around screwing other people’s wives by pretending to be
SJ: No. I guess I mean that I like my queer
public persona. I like that it’s so hard to define me and that people always
have to guess about me. They don’t know what the hell is up with me, and that’s
great. Not that I do what I do to confuse people, but as long as theyare confused, I get time to
GJ: Some people think it’s
SJ: If I’m so annoying, why do they write about
me? If they were truly sick of my shit, they would just ignore me, but they
don’t. I don’t do what I do for attention; I do it because I believe in what I
do. Of course, some of it is tongue-in-cheek, but that’s just a tonal thing.
It’s not like I call the paparazzi on myself or anything like that; I’m just
having a conversation with the public. If you don’t want to be part of the
convo, check out. If you do, cool.
GJ: Okay, but some people tell you to just screw
a guy, and then you’d get over all this gay art stuff, like playing the gay poet
Hart Crane or another gay poet, Allen Ginsberg, or directing the movieInterior.
Leather Bar, which has actual gay sex in it, or painting paintings of Seth
Rogen naked. Maybe if you just fucked a guy, you’d get over all this exoticizing
of gay lifestyles?
SJ: Maybe sex with a guy would change things,
but I doubt it. Like I said, I’m gay in my art. Or, I should say, queer in my art. And I’m not this way for
political reasons, although sometimes it becomes political, like when I voted
for same-sex marriage, etc. But what it’s really about is making queer art that
destabilizes engrained ways of being, art that challenges hegemonic
GJ: But inevitably people will think that you’re gay; they
will think that you’re in Milk,
Broken Tower, and Interior.
Leather Bar because you are
actually gay. That all these projects are ways of playing gay
SJ: These are all works of art, and art is free; art is its
own realm. Of course, they can be read through a biographical lens and, of
course, through something like Interior.
Leather Bar uses my persona to
talk about some of these very issues, but they are still works of art and not
exactly nonfictional statements about who I am.
GJ: Is this interview a nonfictional statement
about who you are?
SJ: Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that I am
answering as James Franco, but no in the sense that it is a public statement in
an entertainment magazine, which means that it is part of my public persona and
not my private veridical self—and even if it were in theNew
York Times, it would be the same; it would be an expression of my public
GJ: Well, why don’t you stop playing games and
give us a little of your private self?
SJ: Kind of impossible, don’t you think? As soon
as I share it, it becomes public. Here’s a little poem back at
There is a fake version of
me, And he’s the one that writes These poems. He has an attitude and
That I don’t have. But
on the page, this fake me Is the me that speaks. And this fake me is
Than the real me, and
he Is the one that everyone knows. He’s become the real me Because
everyone treats me
Like I’m the fake
GJ: And why is the public self any less sincere
than the private self?
SJ: That’s a good question. I guess, for me, I’ve disowned
it a little bit. When I was young, I tried so hard to control the public’s
perception of me, but I found that to be a waste of energy, partly because I
couldn’t control how people saw me and partly because I stopped
GJ: You don’t care if people don’t like
SJ: Sure, I care, but I don’t let that stop me from doing
something I believe in. And let’s say all my fans suddenly turned against me
overnight. If I were to be honest, I couldn’t complain, because I have had an
awesome life so far. I’ve had a life many people dream about, and if it went
away tomorrow, I could still say I had my share of the good
GJ: Is that why you teach? To give back some of the good
stuff to others?
GJ: Want to elaborate on that?
SJ: Sure. I teach to stop thinking about myself for a bit.
But also because I find the classroom to be a very pure place, largely
unaffected by the business world. I like people who still dream big, who are
consumed by their work. And that’s how most students in MFA programs
GJ: Okay, last question. What do you say to people who
criticize you for appropriating gay culture for your
SJ: I say fuck
off, but I say it gently. This is such a fraught issue, and I am sensitive
to all its aspects. But first of all, I was not the one who pulled my public
persona into the gay world; that was the straight gossip press and the gay press
speculating about me. I really don’t care what people think about my sexuality,
and it’s also none of their business. So I really don’t choose to identify with
my public persona. I am not interested in most straight male-bonding rituals,
but I am also kept from being fully embraced by the gay community because I
don’t think anyone truly believes I have gay sex.
GJ: Oh, some do, believe me.
SJ: Well, good, I like that.
SJ: Because it means that I can be a figure for change. I
am a figure who can show the straight community that many of their definitions
are outdated and boring. And I can also show the gay community that many of the
things about themselves that they are giving up to join the straight community
are actually valuable and beautiful.
GJ: Okay, can we talk about Child
of God for a minute? You adapted
the Cormac McCarthy novel, and your buddy Scott Haze gives an amazing
performance that’s already been singled out by the New
York Times. It’s now on Netflix.
GJ: So, what the hell, James? Necrophilia? This dude is out
in the woods having relationships with dead people! Everyone is going to think
you’re more crazy than they already do.
SJ: Well, let’s remember that it’s a faithful adaptation of a book by Cormac McCarthy, who
won the Pulitzer and was in Oprah’s Book Club. But you’re right; it’s grizzly
material. But I didn’t make the film because I was interested in sex with dead
bodies; I did it because I was interested in who we are when we are alone and
who we are when we’re intimate with another person. Lester Ballard is a
character who has full relationships with his corpses— meaning he fills in both
sides of the mental relationship, but he gets a body to interact
GJ: Sort of like this conversation with yourself, except
there is onlyone body.
SJ: Shit, I’d love to fuck you. Would that make me
GJ: You jerk me off all the time.
SJ: Yeah, but I’m thinking about women when I do it or
watching straight porn.
GJ: So, I know tons of gay guys who watch straight
SJ: Anyway, this interview is going a little south, and I
don’t think my publicist will appreciate us talking about
GJ: FINE, whatever, one more
SJ: You said the other question was the
GJ: Well, you have a lot of fucking projects to promote,
and your publicist wants you to talk about all of them.
SJ: Don’t tell me what my publicist
GJ: Why not? She’s my publicist
SJ: Yeah, but she wants you to stay out of the public eye because you’re
GJ: That’s bullshit. Robin Baum doesn’t give a shit what I
SJ: I don’t know about that, but anyway, what’s your
GJ: Tell me about this new film directed by Justin Kelly,
one of the editors from Milk.
SJ: Basically, it’s about this guy, Michael Glatze, who was
this huge gay activist in San Francisco in the early 2000s who worked for XYmagazine
and would go around to high schools telling kids it was okay to be gay. And then
he had this huge turnaround, and found God, and then became Christian, and then
was ordained as a Christian minister, and now he’s married to a woman. At first
he turned on his ex-boyfriend and all his friends and said that if you’re gay,
you’re going to hell. But I think he’s since pulled back a
GJ: Well, that’s nice of him.
SJ: Ha, yeah, he went a little extreme for a
GJ: Hmmm, and why did he go
SJ: He thought he was going to
GJ: And why are you gay?
SJ: Because it’s more fun.
GJ: And why would you make that movie? I mean, what’s the
SJ: Well, it’s not as if it’s a movie that is itself
anti-gay. It’s just a very interesting and unique way to examine the way that
straight and gay is defined, by others and how we define
GJ: (thinks for a minute) You know, you’re pretty
SJ: Why do you say that?
GJ: I don’t know, this whole interview. Like, how dare you
interview yourself? And it’s just so annoying because you’re always trying to be
so meta, like in This
Is the End.
SJ: Dude, this interview wasn’t my idea. I was asked by this magazine to interview myself. And I
didn’t write This
Is the End, but I’m glad I was in it. It was a way to talk about a lot of
stuff without being threatening because it was comedic.