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Interview: James Franco

In preparation for the September release of CITY BY THE SEA, the new crime drama starring Mr. Crime Drama himself, Robert De Niro, and Frances McDormand; I recently sat down with James Franco, who plays DeNiro's estranged druggie son, Joey LaMarca, in the film. Franco, who originally gained recognition as Daniel in the short-lived but under-recognized TV series FREAKS AND GEEKS, gained critical acclaim (and an Emmy nod) last year for his TV portrayal of the big screen star in JAMES DEAN. And I have to say that when he stepped into the room, my first thought was this guy really looks like Jimmy Dean. I mean REALLY looks like him. A dead-ringer.

So we sat or, actually, I sat. He squirmed…a lot. He came off to me as what I picture to be the new generation of sharp and chiseled, but dark and brooding actors. It wasn't easy for him to translate his thoughts into words, but you knew something was going on up there, underneath his wooden-brown hair. However, when he did speak, I took careful notes…

JAMES FRANCO

What sets this film apart from most cop dramas?
Well, it has Frances and Robert…two great actors. It discusses the relationship between father and son, and the responsibilities of a parent, and the responsibility of a person to live up to his actions.

Did you do any methodical research for your role as a junkie?
Not really methodical as much as thorough. I like to expose myself as much as I can to the subject. But not so much picking and choosing specific points, but more exposing myself and letting it seep in a more organic way.

Were you nervous working with DeNiro?
Yes. I mean, he's a very calm, easy-going guy, but he's been such a hero of mine for so long. Even though I'd been around him for some time, when we got to my scenes with him, I did get a little nervous…there were still times when I was pinching myself.

Did he give you any advice?
No. I didn't really ask him for career advice. But, I did go and watch his scenes everyday…even when I wasn't working. I just wanted to see how he conducted himself on the set. A few people in the crew and I would have a De Niro film-watching session after each day of shooting. So we watched all of his movies, and it was kind of like "Education Robert De Niro." There are a lot of actors that like to loosen up between shots and have a good time, but he's very focused. He's not rude by any means, but he keeps to himself and seems to be focusing on the work at hand. He takes a lot of pains to get it right.

What surprised you when you met him?
The biggest surprise was that when I first met him, I had built him up to be this giant of a man, but when I first met him he was sitting down on a couch. And that seemed incredible to me. He was so soft-spoken and quiet. He didn't even seem like the same man, at first. But, once we started acting, you could tell there was such skill and experience there.

Did you actually go out and spend a few nights on the street to research being homeless?
Yes. I did. It helped. I think DeNiro said that you do research and about 80% falls away, while 20% stays with you. So you do everything you can. But I did get a sense of what it's like to sleep on the street. I felt kind of separate from the rest of society that I was a part of. You ask people for money and they look away, and you feel like a shunned human being. You become dependent on yourself more than I ever had before. And that's what this part was about, supporting yourself.

You were in SPIDER MAN too. Do you prefer the blockbuster films, or the more artsy pictures like this one?
A good role is a good role. Hopefully I haven't played my best roles yet. But I have no aversion to commercial movies, as long as there's something good there.

When do you start on the sequel?
Early next year. January or February, I think.

Did playing James Dean teach you anything as an actor? He only made a few films, and his life was cut short.
I think it's a huge mistake when I read that he was more of a billboard face than an actor. I think he was one of the more influential actors. He took after Brando, but he brought so much to his roles, personally. But I try to be as much of myself to the roles I play too. That gives it a more genuine feel. And that's what people want. On a gut level, when people see another human feeling, they react positively.

Did you audition for JAMES DEAN?
I did audition. I had met them a few months before, to see if I could physically match him. And then they brought me in to meet Mark Rydell, and he had a session where he just spoke to me to size me up emotionally…then he called me and I got it.

Are you prepared for the success that's headed your way? Is it something you think about?
The tip that I've gotten for success is to not stop doing whatever got it good. So, for myself, that means working as hard as I can on the roles, and staying focused on the acting. There's a fear that fame is corrupting and we become more conscious of critics. But a lesson I learned from James Dean was going into that, everyone said I'd be crucified…you know, trying to play him. But I figured if that was why I didn't do the movie, then that would be a pretty weak excuse.

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That's about it from Mr. Franco. Overall, he turned out fine. Just takes a little warming up…that's all. Things are big now, but I definitely predict even bigger things for this guy in years to come. Keep an eye out.

To criticize me, email [email protected] To stroke the ego, email me at [email protected].

Source: JoBlo.com

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