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Only In Hollywood

James Franco to direct docu on porn industry

By: - Columnist / @InqEnt
/ 09:32 PM August 13, 2011

JAMES Franco photo by ruben nepales

LOS ANGELES – Oh, the interesting projects that we learned James Franco was doing when we recently talked to him in New York!

Not only is the actor overachieving academically (we’ve lost count of how many degrees he has earned or is earning), he’s also busy directing feature films and documentaries. “I still love acting but I love directing, too,” said the prolific artist who sports a wild mass of curly hair.

A question to James about what it was like to work with Dev Patel of “Slumdog Millionaire” led to his disclosure of a new project.

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Dev, the boyfriend of Freida Pinto (James’ costar in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”), stars in “Cherry,” a movie set in San Francisco’s porn industry. James is in the cast of “Cherry,” too, but as he told us, “I worked only a day on that movie and I didn’t even work with Dev. The film is directed by a writer named Stephen Elliott. I optioned a couple of books from him. One is ‘Happy Baby’ and the other is ‘The Adderall Diaries.’ That was how I met Stephen. He asked me to do just a

day on that movie. He is very connected with the sex industry.”

THE MULTITALENTED artist remains an overachiever. ruben nepales

James added: “Stephen shot some of the scenes in a place called The Armory in San Francisco. It’s an old Coast Guard building made in the 19th century. But now it houses a pornography company that I think is the biggest porn studio in the country. I have to say it was extremely impressive.”

People are still hypocritical about porn, James pointed out. “Just go to RedTube or YouPorn and look at the number of hits for each of the videos. It’s in the millions for every single one. People are watching porn like crazy but if you talk about it, people are like, ‘Oh, I don’t watch it.’ So I’m doing a documentary about this place.”

He begins directing the docu this month.

But James doesn’t portray a porn actor in “Cherry.” “I play a lawyer,” he said and then teased, “You can watch the documentary if you want a bit more porn.”

In the coming Venice Film Festival, a biopic of Sal Mineo, an actor who was murdered in West Hollywood in 1976, directed and cowritten by James, premieres in the sidebar, Orizzonti.

Sal was James Dean’s costar in “Rebel Without a Cause.”

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“I’m very proud of the film,” James said of “Sal” (he’s also in the cast as Milton Katselas). “It’s a tragic tale of an actor who falls out of favor. Any artist who can’t practice his work in the same way that he once did—to me, that is a horrible place to be. If I ever fall out of favor, I hope I have enough resources so I can do things on my own without needing to work in mainstream cinema. Or that I have enough things that I can do that would sustain me artistically. Sal Mineo was working in a time when to act professionally, you still go with a studio system. He was having a hard time. It was tragic because he loved acting. He was very passionate about it.”

ANDY Serkis (in costume) and James Franco in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”

Great vessel

James believed Sal Mineo was “a great vessel to tell a tragic story. He was murdered in front of his apartment building. He was stabbed. They didn’t catch the man who killed him until a year or two later. The tabloid press found out he was gay and tainted his name. They said it was a lovers’ quarrel or at least hinted that without any justification because his boyfriend was, in fact, in New York at the time.

“A lot of people still go, ‘Wasn’t Sal Mineo’s death drug-related or his boyfriend killed him?’ A guy was eventually convicted. He was a random guy who didn’t know Sal at all. He was lurking around Sal’s apartment and was probably going to burgle somebody. He stabbed Sal randomly. I have a lot of reasons in  wanting to tell the story so I made it.”

James also directed, cowrote and acted in “The Broken Tower,” a biopic of American poet Hart Crane, who committed suicide by jumping off a steamship. The film debuted in the LA Film Festival last June. “It has just been purchased by Focus Features so directing has gone well and I’m very happy,” James declared. “It enables me to really focus on the stories that I want to tell.”

Both artists

On portraying Sal and Hart, who happen to be both gay, James commented: “Their being gay is both important and not important. It’s important in the sense that it’s who they were. It’s not like I was drawn to these two guys specifically because of the gay aspects of their lives. There are a lot of things about them that are as important to me. If I’m going to depict them, I want to be true to who they are and not shy away from that side of their lives.”

He continued: “They’re both artists but nobody says, ‘Why does James always do films about artists?’ They always say, ‘Why does he always do the gay roles?’ There are sides that interest me because it’s still something that’s not depicted with the same frequency as heterosexual relationships. I’ve played more straight roles than I have gay roles, but people like to talk about the gay roles.”

As if he’s not busy enough, James also published “Palo Alto,” a collection of his short stories. “I do want to adapt those stories into a movie,” he said in response to a question. “I’ve thought about it. I’m not so interested in doing absolutely everything. Because one of the great things about collaboration is that it pulls you outside of yourself. It gives you ideas that you wouldn’t normally have if you were just working on your own.”

Interesting development

The multitalented artist said he wrote the stories on his own, although he had teachers who worked with him. “They helped me edit them and pushed me in certain directions – people like Michael Cunningham, Amy Hempel, Ben Marcus and Mona Simpson. So in a sense, that was a collaboration but if I adapt those stories on my own, it’s one more step in the same direction.”

James revealed another interesting development as he continued talking about “Palo Alto”: “I want to vary it up. It would be too much about me. So I have hired Francis Ford Coppola’s granddaughter, Gia Coppola. She’s a young artist and a filmmaker. She’s going to adapt them. We’ve been working on it for a while now. She shot a 30–minute test for it and I was blown away. It was, in both ways, loyal to the spirit of the stories but she has her own take on them. She’s going to start filming in September.”

Out in the woods

Acting-wise, James is, of course, in the critical and commercial hit, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” He plays a scientist who ends up raising a chimp played by Andy Serkis, whom he praised as “a great performer. He should have top billing in the film. Andy gives a great performance.”

Of a memorable scene in the film, James recounted: “It was especially weird being out in the woods and having Andy Serkis on a leash and walking him around. Then when I saw the scene in the movie, it was striking to see a chimpanzee on a leash instead. I thought, is that right? Is that how that should be? He’s walking upright, you know.”

James is also in front of the camera these days. He plays the title role in “Oz: The Great and Powerful,” a prequel to the beloved “The Wizard of Oz.”

“It’s going to be great,” he told us, eyes sparkling. “(Director) Sam Raimi is my old friend. I’ve known him for 10 years. We’ve been filming for a few weeks and it’s going very well.”

E-mail the columnist at rvnepales_5585@yahoo.com.

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TAGS: Celebrities, cinema, Documentaries, Entertainment, films, Hollywood, James Franco, Movies, Pornography, Ruben V. Nepales
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