QUEERTY EXCLUSIVE

INTERVIEW: James Franco On Hollywood, Poetry And Broken Tower‘s Gay-Sex Scene

James Franco has worn many hats: In addition to acting in films like Milk, Spider-Man and 127 Hours, he’s been a filmmaker in his own right, a soap star, a writer, a perennial student, a multimedia artist and an Academy Awards host.

He’s been called a visionary, a con artist, an Adonis, a narcissist and a hundred other things. But chatting with him about his feature-film directorial debut, Broken Tower—a bio-pic about gay poet Hart Crane—it’s clear Franco doesn’t worry too much about what others think of him, good or bad.

A few other things about Franco that may be less apparent: He’s genuinely intelligent and well-read. Franco first discovered Hart’s work as an undergrad at UCLA and carried the idea of a movie about the poet, who committed suicide at age 32, for over a decade. (Broken Tower originated as Franco’s masters thesis at NYU.)

Another realization: That stoner demeanor—the closed eyes and slow, meandering voice? That’s not drugs or exhaustion. That’s just how he is.

And, lastly, Franco is utterly charming in person. Whether that’s genuine empathy and interest or just good acting—well, only he knows for sure.

Queerty’s Dan Avery talked with the actor-director about Crane, making choices in Hollywood and why he felt the need to include a hardcore gay-sex scene in Broken Tower. (We knew that last one would get you.)

Hart Crane is considered one of the greatest poets of the last century. But he’s not well-known now and his work is so difficult to comprehend. What made you want to make a movie about him?

I was an English major at UCLA and I left after one year. But I fell in love with literature, and it was one of those things where one writer leads you to another. So I was led to Crane’s work, and I found it difficult—but fascinating. The introduction to the book of of Crane’s works I was reading was by Harold Bloom. And he recommended Paul Mariani’s biography, Broken Tower. That was ten years ago.

And after I read it , I felt, ‘God, his work is so cinematic.” But I was just an actor at that time, not a filmmaker, so I didn’t know how to respond to  that impulse. No one said, “James, we want you to play Hart Crane!”

But when I was at NYU we had to make short films and I did some of poems. I started with “Feast of Stephen,” by Anthony Hecht. And I had this idea that Crane’s poems could be turned into a movie. And I thought Broken Tower as the perfect transition. It wasn’t a literal translation of his poems. It was about his life, but it was filled with all the this imagery and readings [of his poetry.]

 

Click through for more of Queerty’s interview with James Franco