James Franco: A History Of Being Terrible
James Franco is best known for acting in acclaimed movies like 127 Hours (about a guy who saws his own arm off in order to escape a life-threatening situation) and less-acclaimed movies like Your Highness (which most audiences were likely willing to perform similar feats of self-surgery to escape from). Franco particularly excels at playing shady bros; Harry Osborn in Spider-Man, that dreadlocked coke dealer in Spring Breakers, and a not insignificant number of sleazebags simply named “James Franco.”
Franco’s name has been popping up in the news a lot lately; he was mentioned in the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial (and its subsequent goofy biopic trailer), and he’s also reportedly mounting a “comeback” to the world of acting; he’s set to appear in a “post-World War II coming-of-age drama” and a movie where he plays Cuban leader Fidel Castro – the latter drew criticism since Franco is clearly a non-Cuban white guy (big win for “scraggly beard” representation, though).
As we’ve done with other actors and comedians in the past, now is probably as good a time as any to wander through the fiery soiled diaper factory that is James Franco’s personal history. Like, you know things are bad when this isn’t the worst thing he’s done by far:
Allegations concerning Franco’s awfulnessness stretch way back to well before he was a household name. Franco, of course, co-starred as Daniel Desario on the cult 1999 NBC drama Freaks and Geeks, about a nerdy kid in the ‘80s, his Dungeons & Dragons-playing buddies, and his older sister and her teenage friends – weirdly, somehow, none of them found the time to fight a single interdimensional monster.
According to Franco’s costar Busy Philipps (who played Daniel’s girlfriend Kim Kelly), during an “improv” in which she playfully “smacked him on the thing,” he suddenly screamed: “DON’T EVER TOUCH ME AGAIN!” Then, allegedly, he assaulted Philipps, throwing her to the ground and knocking the wind out of her, which resulted in a “weird” situation in which the actors’ agents were called, and Franco was forced to apologize.
More infamously, in 2014, Franco was accused of hitting on a 17-year-old girl via Instagram after she shared screenshots of the interaction online – which was especially odd timing, considering that Franco had just played a teacher who hits on a teenage student in the film Palo Alto (based on his book) prompting some reporters to question if it was all just part of the world’s grossest PR stunt. Franco eventually discussed the scandal on the most appropriate forum possible to address rumors involving the propositioning of a minor: Live With Kelly And Michael.
Franco admitted to the encounter but tried to frame the story so that he was suddenly the victim, a poor embarrassed celebrity who had been targeted by a Catfishing fan. Franco claimed that he was “a model of how social media is tricky” because “you don’t know who’s on the other end,” adding: “You meet somebody in person and you get a feel for them, but you don’t know who you’re talking to.” Which was a weird thing to hear from someone who, in the leaked text conversation, responded to the fan’s text claiming that she’s “nearly 18” with messages asking “When is your bday?” followed by “Where are you staying?” and “What’s your #?”
Franco also responded to an Instagram meme claiming that he was “thirsty for underage ones" with the message: "I'M NOT! I HOPE PARENTS KEEP THEIR TEENS AWAY FROM ME. Thank you." Which is … not encouraging? That would be like Dracula protesting that he’s not a vampire while casually sipping a pintful of virgin blood.
Franco was somehow able to put this incident behind him and just a few years later became a major awards contender after directing and starring in The Disaster Artist. Appearing at a post-#MeToo Golden Globes, Franco even wore a Time’s Up pin, and his past indiscretions were now just fodder for light-hearted monologue jokes.
Franco’s appearance earned criticism in the form of unspecific, eventually-deleted Tweets, from The Breakfast Club star Ally Sheedy, who Franco had directed in an off-Broadway play (although he denied knowing of any reason why she might be “upset”). Several other Tweets that night accused Franco of sexual misconduct, and once again, this resulted in one of the most awkward talk show interviews not involving Crispin Glover.
While Franco denied these accusations in interviews, just days after the Golden Globes, The Los Angeles Times published a report in which five women accused Franco of “inappropriate” and “sexually exploitative” behavior, four of which were students in his acting school: Studio 4. Yes, James Franco had his own acting school, which shouldn’t come as a shock coming from the guy who once taught a Columbia film class called “Master Class: Editing James Franco with James Franco.”
According to the accusations in the article, Franco used his students in his projects, and repeatedly pressured them into performing sexual scenarios in order to secure these potentially-beneficial parts. During one shoot at a strip club he allegedly became “visibly angry” when students didn’t want to take their tops off. He cast one student in his feature film The Long Home, and allegedly added a “bonus scene” that happened to be an orgy, during the filming of which, he “removed protective plastic guards covering other actresses’ vaginas while simulating oral sex on them.” Franco denied all of these stories – through his attorney this time, not on, say, The Drew Barrymore Show.
If all of this didn’t sound terrible enough, Franco’s school also offered “additional master classes,” including a “ $750 master class for sex scenes.” According to a lawsuit filed by two former students, the sex scene class required “prospective students” to “audition on videotape” so “Franco could later review the material,” and in the classes themselves, the inexperienced actresses were “routinely pressured to engage in simulated sex acts that went far beyond the standards in the industry.” The lawsuit wasn’t just about financial compensation; the plaintiffs also wanted “the return or destruction” of any tapes kept by the school.
Franco eventually agreed to pay a $2.2 million settlement to the former students in 2021 – and while his career took a pause during this time, crappy movies he’d already directed years earlier kept getting released, including Pretenders, in which he, perhaps not coincidentally, also plays a “glib director who argues that sexual harassment is necessary to cinematic art.” More recently, Franco has admitted to sleeping with his acting students (“that was wrong”) and that the “sex scenes” class was a problem – not the part where women felt exploited and betrayed, just the titling, musing that he should have called it “Contemporary Romance or something like that.” Best of luck with your stupid Castro movie, James.
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