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Interview: James Franco for "Spider-Man 2"

By Paul Fischer Sunday June 20th 2004 03:32AM
James Franco for "Spider-Man 2"

James Franco is Hollywood's quiet acvhiever. Shy, reticent, and as much like the James Dean he played, he is an actor who prefers the work to speak for itself. Uncomfortable when he met the press during the Spider-Man junket, yet meet them he did. Paul Fischer was there.

How was it playing a happier character (for a time)? Well, I don't know if he's such a happy character. Maybe the happiness you're talking about is when he thinks the business is going to succeed. He's very invested in the business because it's his father's business and his whole life, he's been trying to please his father. Now that he's gone, maybe that is the one way he can still please the ghost of his father, so there is a bit of hope there, but underlying out there, I think there is still a deep sadness because no matter what he does, he'll still never be able to get that acceptance because the father is gone?

Do you look forward to developing further in the third movie? Am I looking forward to it? Yes. It's been a great experience and Sam is wonderful to work with. I know whatever happens in the third one- -

Will he be the next generation goblin? That's what happens in the comics, but I don't think Sam will be predictable anyway.

What did you want to bring to the character this time? Well, I don't think we changed the script much. I was so pleased with the script, I called the last writer on the script, Alvin Sargent and thanked him because I just thought it was so solid and he gave me so much to do. I really didn't want to change much. I guess all we talked about and all I brought up was reinforcing the arc of the character and how important the element of his father's love and acceptance and all that is and just bringing that about by making the hope and eagerness to succeed in the business bigger, and just really tying in the father more.

How did Harry know where Doc Ock's lair was? Yeah, well, Doc Ock and I have a lotta dealings together.

With comic book movies, should you not look too closely? No, I think for the most part it's pretty solid. I think you can go at it.

What are you saying? I mean, it's pretty solid. I don't think you have to- - I mean, it's a comic book movie. Yeah, there's people with super powers, but I don't think it's weaker in structure than most films or anything like that. I think you can look closely. I think people have really thought out the characters and how they interact and storylines. I don't think you have to compensate for it.

What can you say about Sam Raimi? Yeah, he brings a relaxed atmosphere. But he's also very serious. In I think everything he does, there's a nice mix. He brings kind of a dark feel while also making things a bit comedic and as a director, he's very relaxed and very kind but he takes the movie very seriously and somehow gets what he wants even by being easy and relaxed. Yeah, he's a funny guy.

How did the first Spiderman's success affect you? Are you offered more scripts? Yes, I guess back then, when that one came out, I had done James Dean and I got a lot of critical acclaim for that but it was still a television movie and then Spider-Man came out and kind of the combination helped a lot. So yeah, I was offered a lot more.

How about your own celebrity status, how do you deal with it? I don't know. It hasn't changed much. The first time I was confronted with more than one person coming up to me was in D.C. and there was some junior high field trips and I was in the cafeteria and it kind of spread, but other than that, my life hasn't been much different except a few kids on the street [ask me to] sign.

Easier or harder to date? It's- - it hasn't changed much.

How do you choose roles now? Just look for serious pieces. I look for script, director and who I'm working with. Good script being most important and I'm looking for- - I'm gonna do a movie called Annapolis about the Naval Academy and the boxing team there and I just look for strong parts.

Who do you play? I play a plebe who grew up in Baltimore and was accepted to the Academy, although he doesn't have the best grades or history, but he goes to make it- - goes to the Academy. He's always wanted to go to the Academy and he proves himself on the boxing team.

Period or contemporary? Contemporary.

Fictional? Yes.

Talk about Tristan and Isolde? Yeah, sure. Tristan and Isolde, it's based on a legend and there's no- - it's not a musical, there's no- - it's not an opera, there's no music. We don't sing. And Sophia Myles plays Isolde, Kevin Reynolds directs and it was a great script. In some renditions of the story, there are a lot of fantastical elements like dragons and magic potions of course and all that, but they've made it a little more realistic. Still a great love story and a lot of action.

Shot in Ireland? We shot in Ireland. We shot on the west coast of Ireland in [SOUNDS LIKE: Catamara]. And we also shot in Prague.

Tragic love? Yeah. THE tragic love story. Kind of the precursor to Romeo and Juliet.

And the John Dahl movie? The Great Raid, yeah. I don't know. I think that'll be released in February. It was supposed to be out in the end of the summer and for some reason it's not, so poor John. I've seen it. It's great and he's been working on it for about two years and I go in every so often and do voiceover, but it's a great movie and it's been testing great. I don't know why they don't release it.

Is it historical? Oh yeah, it's based on- - it's a World War II movie. It's about the American soldiers who surrendered and were taken on the Baton death march in the Philippines and were imprisoned. And then United States forces finally decided to focus on the Pacific, there were a few hundred left and it was a real sentimental mission to go in and save them.

Where did you shoot that? We shot that in Australia.

Four years ago? No, not four. Maybe two or three years ago.

Is it frustrating to see a film you worked on take so long? It's a little frustrating, but what can you do?

Is that the way you felt about Freaks and Geeks? Yeah, that was even more so. I mean, because we were- - that was an early project for me and I really didn't know how things worked. I guess Judd Apatow, the producer, had the confidence that even if it didn't make it as a show, that he would make it the best he could and it would eventually be released on DVD as it was and it's a great, great DVD set. But at the time, we didn't know and it would go off the air and we'd still be shooting episodes. It was demoralizing, but it turned out great.

Do you find a lot of people approach you for that? I do actually, yeah. A lot of people love Freaks and Geeks. That as much as anything.

The violence in this movie, up a notch from the last Spider-man? Is it appropriate for young kids? Apart from one or two scenes- - I don't have children so I don't know what to shield young kids from, but apart from one or two scenes, I didn't find anything too shocking. But, you know, it's spectacular. I think Sam does it in a way that it's on the edge of being frightening. He's supposed to be a villain but he's not out to terrify anyone. I guess if I had a child I'd think he'd be fine watching it.

Are you worried about putting on a big green costume in #3? Who knows what's going to happen in number three?

Interests outside of acting? I've been directing. I've directed two small budget films this year. One is called The Ape and one is called Fool's Gold. That's just kind of been for fun. They're based on plays I wrote with a partner and I used people from the theater group that were in the play, so that's an interest. And I've just been boxing I guess for Annapolis.

Is directing an ambition you hold? Yeah, but I guess the nice thing about these two is I financed them and there's really no pressure to succeed. I don't need it. I have a- - I can support myself on the acting and I don't need this to break in or anything, so right now I'm just- -

Will you take them to festivals? I think so, yeah. But they're mine, so- - one is in the editing stage and it's pretty good. I think we can take it to festivals, The Ape. And then we just wrapped the other one a week ago. If- - you know, if I don't like it, I can just shelve them.

Are you in them as well? Yeah, yeah.

Is that daunting? No, actually, I was very relaxed. I had a great DP, Dave Klein, he worked on all the early Kevin Smith films, and the editor, Scott Mosier, worked on all the Kevin Smith films and produced them. They're very experienced guys and I could depend on them. I guess I found it was kind of a way to direct. If I was in the scene with the people, I could kind of direct them while- - by acting with them in a way. So it was a very relaxed set.

Have you watched boxing films? Yes. The other night I watched Requiem for a Heavyweight. That was very good. I think it's regarded as a precursor to On the Waterfront, and then Raging Bull was the next level. That was good. Classics, there's the Bogart one, Harder They Fall.

Did you see any fights? Yes, for the first time, I saw the Paquiet fight in Vegas and I was gonna go see the Roy Jones fight but I had to promote Spider-Man in Japan. And I couldn't make the De La Hoya fight because of the movie, but I've been going to little fights around. I'm going next Saturday.

Why is Spider-Man such a phenomenon around the world? Well, I'm not up on like how popular he was compared to others, but I assume he's a very popular character. But I think of course there's a lot of comic book films out now and more coming, but Spider-Man I think is the most successful and I think the secret is the story is the best. Sam and Avi and Laura and the writers and everyone focus on the characters more and it's true. Before we did the first one, we spent weeks going through the characters and building up the scenes between the action. It's not all- - I guess the point is they really tried to bring more than just the action and the scenes in between action are not filler. It's really touching and I think the second one even more so. I think the second one is 10 times better. There's no doubt about it and it's because of the story. I mean, the action is better too but the story is.

When do you find time for a social life? All my friends are in the theater so we socialize while we're rehearsing.

Were you concerned about Tobey's back problems? I was concerned for his health. I hoped that he was okay but for all of us, I think it was really great that he came back. I don't think it would be as good if we had a replacement. So I was concerned, yeah, and I'm really glad that he did.

Is Harry suicidal and depressive? Yeah, yeah, he's very troubled. Yeah. At some points I think maybe considered that.

Did you want them to write a scene where you go to a therapist? I could see Sam doing that. I didn't say that, but yeah, I could see maybe that happening.

Working with high caliber costars? Yeah, that year, I think I shot- - I shot City by the Sea with DeNiro and then Spider-Man 1 back to back, and Willem Dafoe and DeNiro have been actors that I really look up to and both very different. And I would go, on City by the Sea, I'd watch DeNiro every day. You know, the movie kind of revolved around our relationship but we had only two scenes together, so but I'd go and watch him even if I wasn't working with him. You know, it was an education. He's a very serious and very reserved man. And then Dafoe, I worked with Dafoe right after and he's a very outgoing and sociable person. And maybe it was also the roles they were both playing were very different and I guess I took a little bit from both. You know, directors kind of want different things. Some of them think that if they just are always talking to you and keeping your spirits up and everything that it helps you, and then some leave you alone and give you your space. So I guess I can just take both, things I learned from both for different parts, depending on what the part. I'm sure when I'm playing the goblin, I'm out there- - or if I play, whatever happens. No, honestly, I don't know what happens in the third one. I don't. You can say I'm playing the goblin but you're going to be wrong.

What super power would you want to have? I don't know, speed reader.

Do you keep the set lighter than usual to get out of the angst? No, it was fun. I've been on- - I mean, I took the role very seriously. I took this as seriously as I do other films, but I guess just something about the atmosphere of Spider-Man. I mean, they have a lot of resources and it's very comfortable and everybody's very friendly and it wasn't painful. It was nice.

Is it fun to play someone troubled? Yeah, I mean, why not? Acting is an art form and you want to take roles that are challenged and it's more of a challenge I think to play dark characters. Not that I want to always play those, but it is a challenge and challenges are rewarding and fun.

Is it wrong for us to think you have to feel dark to play dark? Yeah, I mean, as an actor, the way I work, you try to find that emotion, find a real emotion and so I guess I am feeling it. Plus it's- - some roles stay more than others but I don't think- - I'm a well adjusted person. I don't think it hurt me in anyway, but I guess it hangs around a little bit.

How important is your character? Well, for the success of the film, it's important. That's what people are drawn to and I guess that's kind of one of the things about movies. You want to relate to the characters. You want to be taken on a ride and you don't want kind of a superficial ride. It's a much more rewarding experience to go see a movie that has characters that are dealing with more complex things.

Is being in a Spider-man movie positive for an actor? Yes. Nothing breeds success like success I guess.

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