LOS ANGELES—James Franco looked tired and sleepy on this afternoon at the Langham Huntington Hotel in Pasadena, California. But, his spirit was very willing, so he still managed to engage us about his various passions that leave him, well, tired and sleepy.
James plays Oscar Diggs, the Wizard in Sam Raimi’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” which also features Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams.
Excerpts of our interview:
Did you learn any magic tricks as the Wizard?
Yes. They hired the great Vegas magician, Lance Burton, to train me on the ways of magic. He did teach me some secrets. I learned how to have a flame arise in my hand. And I could turn that into live doves. I could pull rabbits out of a hat. I spent two weeks learning all those tricks. Then, a lot of them got cut out of the movie. But, there are still some tricks there.
You’re a true multihyphenate: Actor-director-writer-producer-poet-teacher-painter—everything. Is there anything that you would say, “No, I can’t do that”?
One of the things that I haven’t been able to master is a foreign language. I’ve tried so many times—I’m really bad at it. In order to get my Ph.D. in English, I have to pass a couple of foreign-language exams. They’re looming very large on my horizon. I’m very scared (laughs).
What’s a day in your life like?
Sundays and Mondays are my teaching days. I teach in New York on Sundays. I teach in LA on Mondays. So, those days are full of classes. I have the rest of the week for various projects.
My day usually doesn’t end after the 12 hours of shooting. Maybe I’ll have homework to read for Yale (where he’s pursuing his Ph.D. in English)—or I’ll re-read the books that I’ve assigned to my classes. I just had a show open in Berlin. So, if I have paintings or various forms of art that I need to accomplish, I’ll work on those. Everything finds its place.
Getting a Ph.D. is not a walk in the park. Writing is a time-consuming process. Directing is very stressful. You’re acting, too. How do you cope?
That’s all relative. Harmony Korine (writer-director of his movie, “Spring Breakers”) takes three weeks to write a script. I’ve directed a few movies now. Some were very stressful. I did one called “As I Lay Dying” that I hope to premiere this year. We had a mule-drawn carriage for most of the film. Dealing with mules on a set is very stressful.
Now, I’m directing a movie that has no mules (laughs). It involves actors I love working with. I don’t find it very stressful.
So, who are the folks following you around today with a camera?
They’re filming me, but it’s not because the project is about me—it’s because it allows access to what I do. It’s part of a creative writing class.
The English department at UCLA asked me to teach, I think partly because they wanted more of a film-centered approach or a screenwriting kind of class within the English department but outside of the film department. We’re studying both Disney (which distributes “Oz…”) and the way films are marketed as an example of, as (Guy) Debord would say, the Society of the Spectacle—and how it works in our world.
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