James Franco is an unlikely Hollywood star, refusing to be typecast and happily going from blockbusters such as Spider-Man 3, to more low-key cinematic affairs. Very busy, this week he stars in the beautiful romantic epic, Tristan and Isolde. In the medieval legend of Tristan and Isolde, young lovers become doomed against the forces of royal politics. English knight Tristan wins the hand of the daughter of the Irish King, but the love threatens the truce between their two countries. Franco will also be seen in Disney’s naval film, Annapolis as well as 2007’s Spider-Man 3. In this exclusive interview, Franco talked about all three films to Paul Fischer.
Question: When you read this was it the character that was of interest or was it the legend that was of interest to you?
James Franco: Well I guess mainly the character. There are so many different versions of the legend and this was its own kind of version so it was really about playing a guy who has to choose between love and honour and it was…
Question: Were you familiar with the legend before doing this?
James Franco: No not really. I mean I’d heard references to it as in oh Tristan is as all the great lovers and that kind of thing but I had never read the actual legend.
Question: Yu are the only American in the cast so were you kind of surprised they were interested in you doing this and do you think being the outsider was a help in playing this character?
James Franco: Yeah there weren’t many Americans on the whole shoot Kevin, myself a couple of producers and then most of the cast was British some German and then make up and costume were Italian and we had a bunch of Czech crew and just from all over. I guess it helped being an outsider I guess…I don’t know I’m always…I don’t know if I am an outsider but I’m…I definitely keep to myself a lot on any film I do I guess it is just my nature or I just don’t know have a hard time talking to people I don’t know.
Question: You play a lot of very introspective characters even the guy in Spiderman is not a showy. e those the kinds of characters that interest you?
James Franco: I mean they definitely interest me not that I wouldn’t do something else. I guess those are just the…the better roles I found are those types so far. Like I look at Robert Duvall’s career and for a long type like early on he was playing kind of introspective characters then all of a sudden is wow here is Apocalypse Now or you know those types of things it was just so different from Tom Hagan in The Godfather but he had a whole bunch of them and I guess hopefully my time will come.
Question: You are not an actor I would say somebody who has a persona. So you don’t need to worry about being an all type cast, which is obviously a huge advantage. So what kinds of characters do you look for and does Hollywood know what to do with you?
James Franco: Well it seems like people actually if I fit anywhere they put me toward the brooding type guy, but I get offered all types I don’t think it has been a hindrance it is just a matter of…I mean I haven’t been typed cast…
Question: What are you looking for what are your criteria for picking something?
James Franco: Criteria are good script, good director and who I am working with and you know every project has different levels for each. You know what I don’t even know anymore, I really don’t know what to pick anymore. In the last year…I have 3 films coming out this year and I’d say they are all kind straight leading men types or classic kind of heroic types. So that is what I did for a while. But you know I don’t know if that is the way to go anymore. I mean I am not including Spiderman. That is not the leading man that is the supporting man…
Question: And he is not naturally a hero either I would think unless he goes into a completely different direction that we don’t know about. But did that franchise afford you the kind of opportunities that allowed you to do the smaller films that clearly you relish and the kind of characters that you seek?
James Franco: Yeah. Yeah I mean I definitely get offered a lot more films and lot of independent films. Yeah it is hard…I guess they say it is a business there are charts of actors’ value and definitely in the independent world you have a foreign value so doing a film like Spiderman puts you at a certain level on a list so…
Question: Is that weird. Do you find that a bit strange? Do you find it disconcerting that actors are treated like a commodity almost ?
James Franco: I mean the way they do it is they pre sell it so they kind of know and it is almost like it doesn’t even matter how good the project is but I guess it is an all right process if you are valuable. You know I guess I wouldn’t mind it if I was at the top of the list and I could get anything made I want.
Question: Is Spiderman 3 definitely going to be the last one…do you think enough is enough after this Spiderman movie? You were only contracted for the 3 of them.
James Franco: Yeah exactly. I mean I have a great time with Sam…there is part of me that would miss that and Toby. You know it is funny cause when we both signed on to do the first one it was still you know he had done great projects but he was still kind of kind of new to the stardom thing and he now he is Toby Maguire he is Spiderman he is big…and I don’t know where I am going I am just saying I guess we’ve gone through a lot together and I will miss him too.
Question: What about the theatre. You write for the theatre I mean do you have any plans to do a play or would you like to do a play for a long period of time on Broadway?
James Franco: You know I have had offers and you know what I didn’t do them and I am kind of kicking myself. I was offered one of the incarnations of [inaudible] and This is Our Youth in London and I didn’t do it…
Question: You were just too busy or you just didn’t feel it was right or?
James Franco: I think I was busy but you know I should have done it.
Question: How surprised are you at your success as an actor. I mean you know you have had an interesting career that has kind of been very slow and steady and increasing. Are you happy at the way it has gone? Are you surprised that you are working as much as you are?
James Franco: Yeah I mean I guess if I look back when I started it is like wow and I look around and there are so many actors trying to do it and I’m very fortunate. So I guess I shouldn’t loose sight of that. There is always more that you want to do.
Question: You talked about being a loner when you were at school. How hard is it going from being a loner to putting that aside an being an actor cause it seems that acting is not a profession for someone who likes to be alone I mean there is so much of yourself that you have to give.
James Franco: Yeah well I think there are a lot of examples of people like that. I think it was Duval who said he wasn’t use to talking to a lot of people but you know became an actor anyway and De Niro seemed very much the same way. for me it was…by acting and inhabiting a different part and pretending to be in a different world there is something about it that frees up whatever isn’t free in the real world. So it is not such a contradiction really.
Question: Is it why you became an actor?
James Franco: I guess so. When I first did it, it was kind of a relief it was a voice that I didn’t have before and then you know I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be an actor or a painter or a writer or something else…
Question: But now you do all 3 really don’t you?
James Franco: Yeah but the acting is kind of what’s taken precedents and you know. It is kind of a curse you know like I want to do the others but you know I have to keep up…for right now I thing I have to keep doing movies and I want to go an focus on the others and it is kind of like well are you willing to possible give up you know the trajectory of your career right now. It is like I have been able to develop the acting I’ve gone to school for that but I haven’t been able to continue with the others and it is a little bit of curse.
Question: And yet you want to try out university to finish studying to be a writer do you think it will be difficult?
James Franco: Yeah well right now I am taking extension courses and than up hopefully…They actually get quite good people at the UCLA extension but that will be while I am doing a movie what else can I do to keep me in…but that is the first step and then hopefully you know down the road I will be able to manage my career like Daniel Day Lewis and be able to do one every 2 years or something…
Question: How old were you when you decided that you wanted to be an actor?
James Franco: You know I always had the desire to do it. I grew up in the Bay Area so it wasn’t like growing up in LA where kids are going out to auditions all the time it didn’t seem like a reality. But I did want t do it and then started doing plays in high school and then when I came out here to go to UCLA it was suddenly a possibility everyone was trying to do it around me so…
Question: Do you live here now?
James Franco: Yeah.
Question: Do you enjoy the LA experience?
James Franco: I do. I’ve worked around the world and I’ve seen a lot of beautiful places.
Question: Now what is Annapolis? What do you play in that film?
James Franco: The movie is about Annapolis Navy Academy and the experience of going there. I play the lead who is a guy who doesn’t necessarily meet all of the requirements all the academic requirements but he has a lot of heart and he is allowed to go to the school. But because he is rough around the edges has kind of a hard time there and then he joins the boxing team and that is kind of how he makes his way through.
Question: With all your attention to research detail what did you do to prepare for something like that? Did you go to an Academy and hang out?
James Franco: Yes. I went there for a lot of the major events you know the graduation. You know they have these traditions where they climb this monument they grease it up with Crisco and then they have to climb to the top…
Question: You did that?
James Franco: No, no I observed it. They wouldn’t let me participate it is only the graduating herd that…first year. But yeah then we had our boot camp…Navel Academy boot camp where we worked with somebody from the Academy…they had graduate from the Academy and showed us how they…
Question: This is the second time you have played a military…
James Franco: That is the second one and then I have a third one coming up after that and then the boxing I boxed for about 6-8 months.
Question: How tough was it to remain in peak condition to do a movie like this?
James Franco: Well boxing is tough if nobody has ever done it…
Question: It is a very hard activity?
James Franco: Yeah I mean not just getting hit even before you get to that point it is takes a lot of stamina and actually the Navel Academy makes everyone go through boxing training girls and guys whether you are on the team or not, and at the end they have to have a 2 minute sparring session with and after 2 minutes they’re exhausted. I mean even athletes in other sports are surprised at how hard it is.
Question: What is the other military movie?
James Franco: It is called Flyboys it is about World War 1 and a group of Americans who went over and volunteered before America joined the war and they fought with the French Air Force and they were called the Lafayette Escadrille…
Question: That is probably a little less strenuous than…
James Franco: No but I did get my pilots license…
Question: You did?
James Franco: Yep.
Question: As a result of doing that?
James Franco: As the training and I just went for it and got it.
Question: Are you going to become a John Travolta now ?
James Franco: Well he flies jets doesn’t he and I can fly single engine…
Question: I was thinking the World War 1 plane. Why did you decide to do that?
James Franco: Just because I enjoy the research.
Question: So you are now filming Spiderman 3. Are you looking forward to returning to the weird costume?
James Franco: I like working with all those guys.
Question: What can you say about that movie?
James Franco: Not much. It is bigger; it has a bigger cast than the other 2.
Question: Does your storyline come to a natural conclusion do you think?
James Franco: I think the second one suggests one thing but I think people will be surprised.
Question: So there are some nice surprises ahead?
James Franco: Yeah I think there will be surprise yeah.