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Interview: James Franco for "The Great Raid"

By Paul Fischer Wednesday August 10th 2005 04:01PM
James Franco  for "The Great Raid"

James Franco has emerged as one of Hollywood's most interesting performers since breaking out in The James Dean Story. From character roles as in is latest film, The Great Raid, to Spider-Man, Franco rarely repeats himself. He talked to Garth Franklin.

Question: Nice suit. You're taking over for your Spider-Man director? Franco: Yeah, but he always wears- - Sam Raimi always wears construction boots or something. Maybe I'm wrong, but on set he always has really, really nice suits. At junkets I guess he wears nice shoes as well but he usually wears boots.

Question: Are you pleased this movie is finally coming out? Franco: Yeah, of course. I'm very proud of it.

Question: Are you disappointed it's taken this long? Why has it? Franco: I guess it's kind of the name of the game. They have to exercise I don't know what but you have to surrender to the powers that be. I have no control over when my movie's coming out, so just be patient. I guess I'd be more upset if I hadn't done anything between then and now. But I'm just glad it's coming out and they're so behind it.

Question: How do you stand out in an ensemble? Franco: Going into it, I don't know if the motive is to stand out, but I guess the way I felt that this character could come alive or maybe be a little different than most characters in war films I've seen, and it was just the key to his character is he's a very soft spoken kind of thinking soldier who when he has to do a job, gets it done. So I tried to stay away from a lot of dumb, macho bravado.

Question: He was an ordinary guy? Was that an attraction? Franco: Yeah. There's a nice contrast, a couple contrasting sides to Prince. He ultimately is a hero but he's also just this young guy, a Stanford student, he's trying to make a modest life for himself and he starts into this incredibly difficult situation and rises to the occasion.

Question: Was he still alive? Franco: He is alive. John Dahl did about six hours worth of taped interviews with Captain Prince and he gave those to me. I guess he felt that was the best way to get that information before the film. He was supposed to come to the premiere in D.C. There were a lot of World War II veterans there but he couldn't make it so I'm going to go see him in a few weeks. [UNINTELLIGIBLE]

Question: What information helped you? Franco: Most of the information had been taken and distilled into the books Ghost Soldiers and Great Raid on Cabanatuan. So I had an idea for it so a lot of it wasn't new information but what I find just as an actor is there's something valuable for me to hear it first hand or hear it from people that were there rather than just reading it. Like when I did James Dean, there are a ton of biographies on James Dean and I read them all. But there was something about going and meeting his old friends and hearing a lot of the same stories but hearing it from their mouths. I don't know, there's just something that you come into contact with. I don't know, it maybe just gives me kind of like a blessing as an actor to go and inhabit that person, but it was great just to hear it from his mouth. And the thing that I heard, basically, that I saw him as a kind of guy who was typical of that generation who were asked to go over and fight a war and sacrifice everything and put their lives on hold and possibly sacrifice their lives, and they did it willingly. And then with courage but for the most part were very modest. I think it's typical, most people I know who know World War II veterans say they don't talk about it. They come back and don't consider themselves heroes. They just did what they had to do and that's it.

Question: How much prior knowledge did you have of the period and the war in the Philippines? Franco: Yeah, it's true, isn't it. I didn't know anything about this raid. Most people I talked to don't know anything about this specific raid. When I think back to what I was taught in high school, most of the stuff about World War II that we're taught is in the European theatre like the holocaust which is of course necessary. I guess what I knew of the Pacific was the main battle, Iwo Jima and I guess I knew something about McArthur having to leave and vowing to return but I don't think I even know about the Tong Death March before I did the film.

Question: Were you concerned that the movie not become flag waving? Franco: The tone seemed right. I guess it waves the flag in the best way. I consider the men of World War II heroes. I'm proud to have depicted one. I didn't see anything.

Question: How did you guys lighten the mood behind the scenes? Franco: Everybody got along. On a war film like this, it's dominantly guys, like males. This is my first of three military films so I'm kind of becoming used to it.

Question: Do you feel like you've done a tour of duty in the army? Franco: I mean, it's making movies. It's not that bad. We went to boot camp so everybody really got to get to know each other. You're out there for almost two weeks. So everybody got along. It was a lot of- - actually, a lot of the soldiers in the company, not the main parts but a lot of the other parts, smaller parts were Australians. So they were always playing cricket.

Question: How did it go? Franco: I usually- - I got along with everyone. Most of my scenes were with Benjamin, we got along great. But I guess the thing I found to do on these military pictures is I just bring my book and read because there's a lot of time between set ups on something like this. We shot the actual raid, just the raid alone took I think a month and a half to shoot. So you can think of all the time between setups.

Question: You run, then wait another two hours? So it's not fun? Franco: No, it is. It is. You just have to find a routine.

Question: Isn't Spider-Man the same? Franco: Except you're doing a low budget thing and you don't have the time to take a breath.

Question: What's the routine? Franco: Which is reading.

Question: Books on the subject or anything? Franco: Yeah, I like to do a lot of research, but usually most of that is done beforehand. I'll usually get-- I can usually sign onto a movie at least a few months beforehand so I have plenty of time to do all the reading.

Question: Did you get to travel around Australia? Franco: That was the one stupid thing I did. I didn't travel a lot in Australia. We shot near Brisbane and we stayed in Surfer's Paradise right on the coast and it was gorgeous. I travelled a little bit but.

Question: How intense was the boot camp? Franco: Boot camp was great. It was the perfect level of intensity I guess. I'm sure it's nowhere near what real boot camp is, but Dale Dye, who I'm sure you all know, started this whole thing on Platoon. I guess he became very big after doing Saving Private Ryan but he's perfected this thing, this kind of actor boot camp. It's designed to give actors everything they need to look and behave like soldiers. He does a lot of research. He's a Vietnam veteran but he did a lot of research on the time. And he'll cater to the specific needs of the main actors as well. So I was playing a captain and I come up with a plan in the film, so at the boot camp, after a few days of initiation, he had me giving orders as if I were a captain, and then after we practiced some of the military manoeuvres and strategies, he had me come up with plans that E company would execute. That's the kind of preparation that I love. I love reading. You get a lot of information from books, but to actually go and play act and pretend you're a soldier for two weeks, that's the best preparation you can ask for.

Question: What else you working on? Franco: I just finished a film in London called Flyboys which is about World War I aviators. The Red Baron era, he's not in it, but that kind of thing. Dean Devlin producing, Tony Bill directing.

Question: What about Spider-Man 3, hobgoblin? Franco: See, that's a- - I obviously can't talk about it but it's weird. Everyone asks me about the Hobgoblin because actually Harry Osborn never became the Hobgoblin. He became the second Green Goblin. But I think Marvel and Sam and everybody, they're not going to be obvious about it.

Question: Are you looking forward to the third? Franco: Yeah, I mean, they're always great. If I had to go make three movies with a group of people, this would be great to do.

Question: Is 3 your last? Franco: That's what we signed the contract for. I really don't know what their plans are after this one. Everybody signed a three picture contract at the beginning. I really don't know what's happening after. I don't even know what Sam is going to do.

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