By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood February 1, 2011 at 6:20AM
Never has one movie inspired more men to put on makeup and tights: see Johnny Knoxville at the Critics' Choice Awards and Jim Carrey on SNL, below. And here's the latest incarnation, The Real Black Swan: Lionsgate used Madea to promote Tyler Perry's latest, Madea's Big Happy Family (April 22).
Let's hope Anne Hathaway and James Franco do better on Oscar night. They are rehearsing now. 127 Hours Oscar nominee Franco was late to Oscar co-host rehearsals on Saturday because his driver missed the plane from NY to LA. Franco booked himself a replacement flight, sleeping on the plane. He's easygoing and professional, according to one observer of the rehearsals. Franco was reading Shakespeare the whole day when he wasn't acting. Then his manager for 15 years, Miles Levy, got lost on the way to Santa Barbara's Arlington Theatre Saturday night; Franco arrived on stage an hour late for his tribute Q & A with Leonard Maltin. Finally, it was worth the wait.
The Arlington erupted in ear-piercing screams from female fans as Franco took the stage, smiling. He said that he's been working professionally for 15 years since his debut in TV's Pacific Blue which he described as "Baywatch on bicycles." He didn't have the patience to wait to get into the UCLA theater department; his father wanted him to study math, but Franco liked acting, art, film, Lit. So Franco ditched UCLA to sleep on a pal's couch in Sherman Oaks. He got a job at a place he could walk to: Macdonalds.
Robert Davi of The Profiler helped Franco with the audition for Freaks and Geeks. He had two offers from two high school shows and had to pick the one he wanted to do. The one he picked didn't want him, so he went with Judd Apatow's Freaks and Geeks.
James Dean was his big break after the canceled Freaks and Geeks and his role as a heroin addict in the VH1 film Whatever It Takes opposite long-term girlfriend Marla Sokoloff. Everyone told him not to play James Dean for director Mark Rydell, but to take the offer for The Hole instead. Franco rented Rebel Without a Cause, East of Eden, and read for Rydell. His acting teacher told him to do James Dean, and helped him to prep for it. The way Franco dealt with the pressure was to just be prepared: he started smoking, and didn't talk to anyone.
On City by the Sea, Franco worked with Robert De Niro in just a few scenes. But Franco went to the set every day to watch him. Sonny was directed by Nic Cage. During the "very crazy shoot," said Franco, Cage drank absinthe and wanted to meet male prostitutes, which they did, under cover, in New Orleans. The lead role in Spider-Man could have been him. He clearly didn't want it: the sheer prospect of spending six months in his Spider-Man 3 trailer sent Franco back to school.
During Freaks and Geeks, Apatow asked the cast for lists of ideas; one was a stoner action comedy. Franco did a funny short called The Ape which he took to the Austin Film Fest, where Apatow saw it and told him, "you're doing weird dramas, but you're drawn to comedy! Yes, I'd love to make movie with you and Seth, you should do a movie together." Franco thought the Pineapple Express script was funny and took the stoner, not the lead, role. Before Pineapple he was in a "tortured actor place," but learned that "you can work with people you like and have fun and not control everything. That's what I do now."
He attended four schools, and now is studying at two more. "At least I am taking it seriously," Franco said of his education. He directed three shorts based on poems he was studying at school. "It's taken the pressure off acting, where I derived my identity." he said. "I tried to control my movies. Now I study, write. And it's OK for acting to be collaborative." He got a "crazy response" to Pineapple Express." Seth Rogen told him: "I would never make a movie I would never go see." Now Franco follows that dictum.
Franco played a series of pot smokers (Pineapple Express, Milk, Howl, Date Night, Eat Pray Love). And he's happy to do supporting roles: "Sometimes I like idea of working with someone like Tina Fey or Julia Roberts, if it's a short bit." Why not play Julia Roberts' lover? What was he doing on General Hospital? "Making art," Franco replied with a straight face. It was part of his art project "Erase James Franco." He's going back on General Hospital, and will direct an episode.
127 Hours director Danny Boyle likes to do "movies that pull out him of his safety zone," said Franco. "He wanted to do a character in isolation. And he loves to entertain people as well. It was weird," Franco admitted, for everybody to be working on a movie about one character: "It was like they all shared him."
Rogen presented the SBIFF performance award to Franco at the Arlington Theatre. "It's the first time I have seen theater built inside a Mexican restaurant," he quipped in his hilarious stand-up intro. Rogen pointed out that although he and Franco both presented at the Oscars, it is Franco who is co-hosting. "I thought I was funny!" Franco thanked Rogen (see clip below) for being there for him at the beginning of his career, and when he wanted to give up acting, talking him into wanting to do it again, on Pineapple Express."
In this clip, Rogen presents and Franco accepts his award:
Exhausted as he was, Franco went through his paces, signed autographs and talked backstage with two young reporters from the Santa Barbara Middle School Teen Press who got him to recite one of the poets he's studying at Yale, Byron:
Knoxville on Critics' Choice:
Carrey on SNL:
[Hat Tip on "The Real Black Swan": Shadow and Act.]