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

 

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58 Comments

  • stewie69

    So did he come out yet??

  • AEH

    He doesn’t come across as narcissistic!

  • M

    Hmm, he seems so genuine here. I enjoyed the interview. Good work!

  • EdWoody

    @stewie69: Some people are straight. Get over it.

  • PerryBrass

    Three issues ago, Assaracus Magazine, the only ‘zine dedicated to gay male poetry, published by Sibling Rivalry Press in LIttle Rock, AR, ran a series of poems dedicated to James Franco. It seemed only suiting to do this: he has become the dream object of many gay men, the way Monty Cliff was years back. So here’s mine for you, James. I hope all you poetry-loving readers of Queerty will now look up Assaracus: it’s wonderful, and would have pleased the hell out of Hart Crane.

    OK, So I Met James Franco

    OK, so I met James Franco
    at Yale, and I was forty years
    younger—only 23—and he bumped
    into me
    on purpose because I was so attractive
    and magnetic and alive that he couldn’t
    ignore me under his Hollywood shades
    and hoodie and pretend
    that he was disappearing
    into regular graduate studenthood,
    and we went back to his “rooms”

    and made love to Berlioz on his sound system
    because he wanted to impress me—
    a bit,
    and himself too, and afterwards
    he explained to me that he would love
    to walk holding hands with me
    through the Quads,
    but it would be on Facebook in a minute,
    and he was captured by his ambition,
    a pawn of his history, extradited
    to the land of the Famous trying
    to be normal while selling their souls
    to Mammon, and I smiled. And he smiled back,
    with his gentle radiance that could not be
    captured
    or extradited, or released to anyone
    except to me, at the moment, in that clear
    window of words that we both used
    to see each other with.

    Dec. 4, 2011
    train into New York.
    Note: James Franco is a graduate student in English at Yale.
    Extra note: I have never met him.

  • Derek Williams

    A most beautiful man in every possible sense.

  • David Ehrenstein

    @PerryBrass: Hi Perry! I’ve met him and he’s not like Monty Clift at all.

    I saw Monty on the street the night he died. he was a complete wreck — crawling back to his apartment. Beyond sad.

    James is as lively as they come. He doesn’t have any demons.

  • M

    @EdWoody:

    True. Some are. That doesn’t include James Franco.

  • PerryBrass

    I just meant that they both figured in the dreams of gay men, big time. Of course we dream about a lot of guys; I know men who dream constantly about David Beckham—who wouldn’t?—but David Beckham doesn’t inspire me to write poetry. On the other hand, Michael Phelps and Lance Armstrong have. Like, who wouldn’t want to write poems to them? The Phelps poem is up on my website.

  • EvonCook

    Attractive as James is, he has a very hot, quick, ambitious and highly intelligent bro named Dave. I suggest all the drooling Jamie fans here, can’t blame them, but go to utube or xtube and have a go at the sweetie Dave Franco! That would be far more my ideal. And he doesn’t seem to shirk away from gay material either, in fact he seems to enjoy it!

  • Jay

    When is this closet queen junkie going to come out? His acting sucks and he’s overrated.

    Then again David Ehrenstein claims that James Franco is “straight” LOL.

  • EvonCook

    @David Ehrenstein: David E, thank you so very much, does this have anything to do with J Franco, as if I could care! Will be looking for more about both clips.

  • samo

    James Franco is definitely straight I mean most people are that’s why we’re the minority. I’m sick and tired of gay men running around saying this guy is gay or this guy is bi just because you thonk the guy is hot its all wishful thinking. And how come there are never any gay rumors of actors that look like Danny Devito or Jack Black?

  • David Ehrenstein

    You’re welcome. They’re from the Christophe Honore film Love Songs

    As for Franco he’s not interested in having sex with you, Jay — EVER.

  • M

    @samo:

    Well, Jack Black and Danny DeVito aren’t gay. That’s why that hasn’t come up in conversation.

    But if you want to go there, we can certainly have a conversation about John Goodman among others who aren’t James Franco in the looks category who are gay. They are talked about.

  • Jay

    David E. I’m not a Franco fanboy and I don’t lust after him and he’s not my type at all. Then again I don’t find junkie closet queen faux intellectuals/artists like him to be sexy, hot, or attractive at all.

    Yes other male actors who aren’t hot or a younger male actor are rumored to be gay or bisexual and are closeted. Most of hollywood is closeted.

  • samo

    M no17 james franco isn’t gay either. If he was really a closet case do you think he would accept numerous gay roles and direct a gay themed movie? Not to mention the fact that he’s dated some of the top actresses in Hollywood. I’ve never once her of rumors that John Goodman is gay you only hear about rumors of young hot actors that gay men fantasize about . If gay men didn’t run around acting like gossipy little girls calling this or that guy gay (when they’re obviously not) then maybe straight people wouldn’t hate us so much

  • DenverBarbie

    I really do not think Franco is gay. I wouldn’t doubt that he’s experimented, sure, but I think we can only (only- ha!) claim this one as one hell of a fierce ally and not of our own cloth. We’d know if he was- what could he lose by coming out? His new title as a director of gay art films? His upcoming Robert Mapplethorpe biopic role?

  • Dave

    Barbie, if he’s ‘experimented’ then he’s bisexual and closeted. Actual hetero/straight guys don’t experiment or have sex with other men at all. Franco also idolizes the bisexual actor James Dean and is taking on the role of the bisexual photographer/artist Robert Mapplethorpe for a movie about him.

    I agree with the comment that most of Hollywood is closeted or lives in a glass closet.

  • James M. Martin

    Where I am coming from is wanting for years to write a stage play or film of Crane’s life: I read every biography, including Mariani’s, as well as the life stories of some significant characters in his life,including one that Mr. Franco, for whatever reason, glossed over: Katherine Anne Porter, whose break-up with Crane precipitated his downfall. Where was Wilbur Underwood or especially the man who became Hart’s literary executor, Samuel Loveman? (The Brooklyn suicide attempt in the movie replaces Loveman with the love of Hart’s life: the merchant mariner Emil Opffer, probably for economic reasons.) The most important event in Hart’s life is totally absent in this picaresque picture: his severe beating outside a sailor bar in San Pedro and coming out to his mother Grace in her Hollywood house shortly thereafter. Hart urged Grace Hart Crane to read books favorable to homosexuality, but she told him she’d prefer he spent the night somewhere else. I don’t think it was the seaman’s beating that brought about Hart’s Eight-Bell Folly. It was a combination of things, including his attempt to live against his grain, that simply played themselves out. I liked Mr. Franco’s movie a lot, but it is not definitive, nor did it try to be.

  • samo

    Again people name one incident of documented proof of franco messing around with another guy? That’s right there isn’t any. He seems like a straight guy who’s comfartable in his sexuality to play gay roles I mean after all it is acting. And once again must people at least 90% of the population are straight. Has amybody on this site had a group of straight guy friends that they hung with if you did you would realize that getting pussy means EVERYTHING to them and the thought of doing stuff with another dude is foreign to them. I mean most straight guys o know would kill to get lots of pussy. I have some friends that are hot and straight and they would mess around with an ugly girl just to get some. I thought of being with a guy mo matter how good looking would never cross their mind. Just the fact that moat straigh guys can’t even tell if a guy is good looking or not speaks volumes. Again male beauty is not celebrated in our culture but that’s a whole other topic

  • James M. Martin

    @samo One can fulfill wishes in dreams, and dreams are the stuff movies are made on.

  • James

    Samo-You can say the same thing about ANY closeted male celebrity, that there hasn’t been any documented proof of them having sex with another man. Or when there is proof they’ll pay to have it squelched or just deny it. Look at John Travolta, everyone knows that he’s bisexual or gay but he’s deeply closeted, a clam ($cientologist), and yes he denies it and even out gay director John Waters claims that Travolta is actually “straight” which is total BS.

    It’s true that a lot of Hollywood is deeply closeted and lives in glass closets thinking that they appear “straight” but they’ll sleep with the many male prostitutes in or around Hollywood and L.A., and have ‘discrete’ relationships with people all while in a marriage or relationship of convenience just to appear hetero and to save their ‘careers’ being total cowards and pussies instead of just being honest with themselves and coming out.

    This is nothing new at all. Franco is just another closet queen and there are many more.

  • samo

    James name one valid reason other than the fact that you think he’s hot of why franco is a closet queen? By your logic every hot straight guy in hollywood is gay. It makes no sense and it’s all wishful thinking. You are right about closeted celebs in hollywood there probably are a lot of them but franco isn’t one of them and again most men are straight

  • tucker

    I think he’s bi

  • James M. Martin

    James, you touch on a major interest of mine: not only Mr. Travolta but Tom Cruise, both tabloid topics in expose’ contexts. But when you stop to think about it, Scientology is the perfect place for “reparative therapy.” The whole process is designed to free you of your neuroses by monitoring on an e-meter, nothing but a “blessed” lie detector test. It serves the same purpose as the confessional in Catholic churches: you have to confess your innermost self so that if the top of the pyramid thinks you are leaving the cult, they blackmail you with who you really are. The one allows alms-taking in the form of collection plate contributions while the other allows purchase of “degrees” while information about you is used to keep you quiet. They do not want you to reveal such secrets as Swiss bank accounts in the name of L. Ron Hubbard, the charlatan who founded the “religion.”

  • James Franco

    Look at me! I have them all fooled and they think I’m “straight”!

  • James

    @Samo-I never said that somehow magically all ‘hot’ male actors/celebs are bisexual or gay.

    Franco clearly isn’t straight at all, and it’s very easy to see how he’s living in a glass closet.

  • James M. Martin

    The conversation here has degenerated into debate of subjects having nothing to do with the movie about Hart Crane. The fact is he was a gay or bisexual male who was heavily closeted in his own mind. The “Broken Tower” was just as easily his grandmother’s turreted house in Ohio as the bell tower of Santa Prisca in Taxco. Or, it could be something as obvious as a detumescent penis. (Hart did, after all, refer to Heminway’s most famous novel as “The Penis Also Rises.”) Whether James Franco is straight, gay, bi, or even asexual should be of absolutely no consequence. He was playing a man who did not know, did not understand, his orientation. A Buddhist would say, the moment you categorize a person you put him into a tiny slot.

  • samo

    How is franco clearly gay? He’s not obviously flamboyant he’s dated some pf the top female stars in hollywood. Oh that’s right its all an illusion. No wonder why straight people hate gay men if I was straight and cool with gay people I wouldn’t like a bunch of gossiping queens running around saying I’m gay to fit onto their fantasies when there is ZERO evidence of it.

  • Dre

    James Martin, nobody cares about Hart Crane. It’s all about the narcissistic media whore junkie faux intellectual/wannabe poet closet queen James Franco!

  • shannon

    @Jay: I AGREE….AND HE IS NOT CUTE IN ANY WAY SHAPE OR FORM….

  • LadyL

    @PerryBrass: gorgeous poem. Thanks for sharing it here; I must check out your website.

    @samo: Straight people who hate gays don’t need gay gossip or wishful thinking to hate, though I’m sure that’s one of their many bankrupt justifications. If you are straight and really “cool with gay people” then you understand the wishful thinking aspect of celebrity and don’t worry about the gossip. You have no reason to; you know who you are (and you know gay is not a bad thing so there’s no reason to be disturbed if someone mistakenly thinks you’re gay).

    Btw–Wishful thinking about attractive performers is completely understandable–that’s what fandom is about, isn’t it? And gay audiences have every bit as much right as straight audiences to dream. (And we’re going to whether the performer, his lawyer, and his publicist want us to or not.) I haven’t the faintest idea if Franco is gay or not. He’s a good actor and seems like a bright, engaging guy.

  • Chris

    Another guy in Hollywood who was closeted and bisexual when he was alive was Paul Newman.

  • Mark

    Perry Brass, your poem sucks and Franco isn’t handsome or sexy. He’s just a closeted bisexual guy. He should stop living in fear and just come out.

  • Allen

    Franco’s acting isn’t that good and he was the worst Academy Awards co-host I’ve ever seen. He’s overrated and a media whore. I agree with others that he’s not that handsome or even as intelligent as he tries to be or wants others to think he is.

  • JT

    @Jay:
    What, exactly, is YOUR talent? Where are YOUR contributions? What have YOU done? Seems like another negative keyboard critic. The world needs more DOING and less of your sort of yammering.

  • Derek Williams

    @Allen: Well to me is is handsome. My taste is different to yours. There is no law as to who is ‘handsome’. After I read your declaration that he is “not that handsome”, Franco still seemed just as handsome to me as he did before I read your comment.

    Essentially, actors are people who are pretending to be other people. Gay actors the likes of Rock Hudson and Dirk Bogarde spent their careers playing straight roles but it did not make them straight, any more than Ledger Gyllenhall, Radcliffe, Penn or Franco playing gay roles makes them gay.

    There are no negative consequences for the career of an actor playing a straight role, however as comments on this page make obvious, gay roles are a minefield.

    Straight actors can get along just fine playing *zero* gay roles. With all the nasty, snide comments here coming from the very people who stand to benefit the most from dramaturgical portrayals of gay characters by A-List actors, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if that’s what Franco et al end up deciding to do. It ain’t worth the heartache.

  • Danny

    Great interview. Very charming.

  • DALI

    I have seen this film and in that BJ scene, you actually see, very graphically, James Franco suck an erect penis. It was probably a prosthetic.

    I’ve never heard of a straight actor go that far in a role, unless, of course, those gay-for-pay porn ones.

  • Pete

    I saw the movie too it’s a dildo. “Gay” for pay is a myth and it’s just marketing on biphobia and homophobia and the guys are clearly bisexual and gay. No hetero guy is going to have sex with a guy, and he’s certainly NOT going to do it in porn that’s shown all over the internet. It’s also a myth that you somehow make lots of money doing all male porn since you don’t make a lot of money at all doing any type of porn or sex for pay while being filmed.

  • Keith

    Derek-Gyllenhall is a closet queen and is gay. Franco is clearly bisexual and living in a glass closet pretending to be “straight”.

  • Derek Williams

    @Pete: @Keith:

    Please provide your proof of this?

    Btw, if only gay people play gay roles, then by your rationale, only straight people play straight roles, therefore Dirk Bogard and Rock Hudson were straight after all, and by that rationale, only murderers play murderer roles.

    I’m afraid you are confusing ‘acting’ with ‘snuff porn’.

  • Keith

    Jake G. was part of Leo DiCaprio’s “pussy posse” and Leo DiCaprio is gay and closeted, and all of the guys in his “Pussy posse” are either bisexual or gay men and the only “pussy” they got was Man pussy!

  • EvonCook

    Has ANYBODY seen Dave Franco’s xtube video: “Dave Franco Fucks Himself” or better yet “You’re so hot?”
    Attractive as James is, he has a very hot, quick, ambitious and highly intelligent bro named Dave. I suggest all the drooling Jamie fans here, can’t blame them, but go to xtube and have a go at the sweetie Dave Franco! That would be far more my ideal. And he doesn’t seem to shirk away from gay material either, in fact he seems to enjoy it!

  • LadyL

    I am not being sarcastic when I say that I am always intrigued by the furious “he is/is not” debates that erupt here over certain public people. It’s a maddening, fascinating topic, because history and reality support both sides of this eternal argument.
    On the one hand, as Derek points out, actors playing gay is not proof positive of anything. I thought Sean Penn was very believable as Harvey Milk but it never occurred to me to wonder if he was gay. And Cary Grant played straight characters with such conviction and panache that, years after his death, I know people who still can’t bring themselves to even consider the possiblity that their favorite movie star wasn’t in real life what he appeared to be on screen.
    On the other hand, the whole history of Hollywood is deception and subterfuge on an epic scale. And with paranoia and money still ruling the industry it’s impossible not to wonder if Keith is right about Jake and Leo being in the closet, because, Jesus, damn near everyone (still) is.

    You know who fascinate me the most? The celebs who are not out, but you sense they’re sick of their closet existence and would like to be if only they could summon the courage. They show up at glamorous GLAAD or Human Rights Campaign events, but don’t want to be photographed with their dates. Or suddenly they’re playing gay roles in tv shows, plays or movies… You get the feeling they’re hoping that will be enough, that they won’t have to actually declare anything publicly. You feel for them and you’re annoyed with them, both. It’s crazy-making.

  • LadyL

    @James Franco: Well, not “all” of them. Apparently.

  • David Ehrenstein

    @Dave: Zillions of actors idolize james Dean — who was gay, not bisexual. Read Al Weisel and Lawrence Frascella’s “Live Fast Die Young — The Wild Ride of the making of ‘Rebel Without A Cause’ ” for the lowdown on Dean.

    Franco’s interest in gay culture and gay projects is utterly unique. I can’t think of a single gay actor so wrapped up in gay material. For the self-loathing closet queens who post anonymously in catrooms like this Franco is a prime target for their rage.

  • PerryBrass

    @David Ehrenstein: There is a lot of truth in this—I can’t figure out why people need to exercise all their loathing on of all people James Franco, but I can see they have a need to do it.

  • LadyL

    @David Ehrenstein: What is your take on Paul Newman? Patricia Bosworth seemed to be hinting at something in her Vanity Fair tribute to the late actor when she recalled a moment between Newman and James Dean in an acting class in the fifties. According to Bosworth, Newman and Dean had a scene together. Dean whispered to him “Kiss me!” and Newman whispered back: “Can’t here!” which, she said, sent them both into fits of laughter.

  • David Ehrenstein

    @LadyL: Here’s that screen test with Dean and Newman

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PCZzUxhbRPI

    It’s quite obvious they’re goofing.

    Tons of “everybody knows” type rumors about Newman over the years but no proof whatsoever. He was married twice (Joanne Woodward being his second wife) The death of his son Scott (who was even more beautiful than his father) was an overwhelming personal tragedy to him.

    The Newmans were great pals of Gore Vidal’s — if that means anything to gossip mavens.

    Met Newman once. Surisingly short. Very pleasant and professional. He had a great career.
    I’m particularly fond of the last film he and Joanne Woodward made together — “Mr. and Mrs Bridge” by Merchant-Ivory. Really special and heartbreakingly sweet.

  • LadyL

    @David Ehrenstein: Okay; and thanks for the link. Personally, I’ve not known what to make of the rumors about Newman. Never had the pleasure of meeting the man, but I loved his movies, and admired his social activism and what appeared to be a genuine life with Joanne and their kids.
    And yes, “Mr. and Mrs. Bridge” is a wonderful film; I’d bookend it with “The Long, Hot Summer.”

  • LOVE A GAY MAN TODAY

    DOES IT REALLY MATTER IF HE COMES OUT OR NOT? HE IS A GREAT ACTOR. WILL IT MAKE YOU HAPPIER IF HE SAID HE WAS GAY? I REALLY DON’T CARE IF HE COMES OUT OR NOT. IF HE IS, LET HIM DO IT WHEN HE PLEASES. BUT HE IS DAMN CUTE AND A GOOD ACTOR TO BOOT. LOVELY TO LOOK AT. WE GAYS ARE SLOWLY GETTING THERE, SO KEEP UP THE GOOD FIGHT. GOD PUT YOU ON THIS EARTH AS A HUMOR BEING, HOPEFULLY WITH A GOOD HEART. AS WILL ROGERS ONCE SAID: “I NEVER MET A GAY MAN THAT I DID NOT LIKE? PEACE BROTHERS AND SISTERS, AND MAY ALL YOUR LIVES BE FILLED WITH JOY AND HAPPINESS.

  • shaman

    @samo:

    “No wonder why straight people hate gay men”

    Yeah, you don’t sound like a presumptuous, generalizing, vindictive, homophobic asshole at all.

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