Actor and Director James Franco discusses his new film The Broken Tower

From the short-lived series Freaks and Geeks to the blockbuster Spiderman trilogy to his surprising role on the soap opera General Hospital, actor James Franco has kept audiences entertained and interested over the past decade. That’s aside from gaining multiple Master’s degrees from different prestigious universities and his work as an artist and writer. I recently sat down with the prolific 33 year old to discuss his theatrical directorial debut The Broken Tower about the gay poet Hart Crane as well as his process and fears.

James, this film is a piece of art in a sense. The visuals are gorgeous and I know you have a relationship with the performance artist Marina Abramović and it came to mind as I was watching the film. She’s such a fearless person. What is your relationship with fear like?

Well yeah, I was very conscience of the things you are  saying. You know, this is not the first movie I directed but it’s the first movie I directed that will have a theatrical release and I’ve been acting professionally for I think 15 years and I’ve been in all kinds of movies. I’ve been in the biggest budgeted movies, movies that have broke box office records, I’ve been in movies that have won Oscars and that kind of highest critical acclaim, so I know what all those things feel like.  When I went to do this movie, I thought, why am I making this? It came down to I’m making this really to honor Hart Crane. I found that one of the keys to filmmaking when I make my own movies is to have some element of the movie that I respect greatly, so whether that’s an actor or the book I’ve adapted or the subject in this case, you know it’s Hart Crane and his life and his poetry and what that does is it makes me try to rise to their level to honor them. I feel a great responsibility because of the respect I have for them so I thought the way to be most loyal to Crane is to have the movie reflect his work and his work was notoriously difficult and so all through the development process I’d have some people say “well maybe you could give it more of a conventional arch or more conventional scenes” and I thought no.  I know that it’ll turn off some audience members that don’t want to engage with that kind of thing but in the end I’ll know, I’ll have at least tried to as true to Crane as I could be and so that’s how I kind of navigate the world you are talking about, which is one of being accepted or trying something that maybe won’t be universally accepted.  If I know that I have integrity going into the project then it gets me over my fear. It’s something Sean Penn taught me. It’s like, you go into a project, you never know how it’s going to do in the box office, you know kind of going out that this is kind of not going to be Spiderman, but whatever the response is, if you know that you’re intentions had integrity, it’s fine. You know you’ve filled you’re role as an artist or actor or whatever, so that’s sort of how I get past fear.

Were you ever afraid that the explicit sexual scenes would overshadow the film?

Yes and no.  In this particular case there are two fairly explicit sex scenes and I felt like they were important to include in the movie for a couple of reasons.  First of all, Crane was very comfortable with his sexuality at a time when you know, when it was pretty unusual and so it was very threatening to his friends, his straight friends who were poets.  He would pick up sailors and he wasn’t shy about it. The only people that he kept it from were his parents because he thought he wouldn’t inherit his fathers millions if they knew that he was gay.  To everyone else he was very open and comfortable with his sexuality and it scared a lot of people so I thought if I put these very explicit sex scenes in there it would give a sense of how Crane came off to his friends and based on the response, and I knew the early reviews would only talk about the blow job scene like as if that was the main thing of the movie, I mean it’s just something that they’d latch onto but I think it achieved the effect that I wanted.  Here was a guy who had kind of two sides to him. He was an incredibly dedicated poet, he was so dedicated to his work that it probably at least partially drove him to suicide when he felt he couldn’t write anymore. But he also had this other side, what they called this roaring boy side that was very scared of people so I thought if I do the scenes in that way, it’ll give you a sense of Crane in a more pure way and not just kind of a suggestive thing that we do for movies and keep it clean so that audiences won’t be offended.  That is part of Crane so I wanted to put that in there.  The other thing is that I also thought that they’re very kind of surprising when they first happen, those scenes, and I thought that would be a nice kind of balance or juxtaposition with the more slower paced, poetic scenes and would kind of give you the balance of Cranes personality.

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About Tim Needles

Tim Needles is an artist, photographer, humorist, and writer from Long Island, NY. His writing and art work has been seen in multiple exhibitions and publications around New York as well as the Photographer’s Forum, French Photo, the New York Times, and LI Pulse magazine. He is also an educator and currently teaches art and film at Smithtown, NY and as an Education Leader for Adobe. He was recently the recipient of the Robert Rauschenberg Award in Washington DC and serves as the director of Strictly Students, a non-for-profit group for media and education. His work can be seen on his website: www.timneedles.com
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