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But ever since he’s gone back to school, I’ve seen a transformation in him. He can’t get enough of it.”How does he get it all (films, graduate work, art) done? But he’s also quite possibly the most focused human being currently walking the planet. ”These days, Franco spends most of his time writing.Franco’s youngest brother, 25-year-old actor David Franco, recalls what it was like to live with James for a year in Los Angeles. I said, ‘You know, you go to the park with your friends or you just relax and watch TV.’ He said, ‘I don’t know what that means.’ He literally does not understand the concept of downtime, of doing nothing.” O’Reilly shares a telling anecdote: When Franco was 4, someone close to the family died. He’s had fiction published in , a collection of his short stories.In addition to the two gay-themed poems he adapted for student films (Frank Bidart’s “Herbert White” being the other), Franco portrayed a 17-year-old swimmer dating an older man in the gay indie film , took a queer studies course at NYU, and created performance art pieces about gender and sexual confusion. I suppose that’s the reason one wouldn’t do that, right? He also grew up in a liberal household—his mother is a poet and author—where he says it was OK to be unique and artistic. They didn’t think me acting in a soap opera was the greatest idea.And then there’s Franco’s first solo art show this past summer in New York City; it featured video monologues with lines like “We’re all gender-fucked—we’re all something in between, floating like angels.”And now, just in case Franco hasn’t confounded us enough (and blown the lid off the conventional thinking about how many gay projects an A-list actor can tackle without imploding), he’s taking on arguably his most challenging role yet: iconic gay poet Allen Ginsberg, a man who discovered within himself “mountains of homosexuality.”As the City Lights poetry room grows suspiciously crowded with gay men (has someone alerted a float? He leans back in his chair and ponders the question. It’s more interesting to me to play roles and relationships that haven’t been portrayed as often.”“If you were gay or bisexual, would you tell me? “Are we at a point where someone like yourself could matter-of-factly come out without the world stopping for a day or two? But no, that wouldn’t be something that would deter me. Everyone thinks I’m a stoner, and some people think I’m gay because I’ve played these gay roles. I ask Franco if he’s ever been counseled to slow down on the number of gay-themed projects he accepts. “You want to know what my agents did try to talk me out of? But they know that I’ve always wanted to do a movie about the Beats, so no one tried to stop me from playing Allen Ginsberg.” At first blush James Franco as Allen Ginsberg seems like a counterintuitive casting choice. We’re seated by a window in the upstairs poetry room at City Lights Books in San Francisco, where several earnest-looking college students pretend to read obscure poetry collections.Franco speaks softly so that he doesn’t disturb them. If anything, they’d probably like the 32-year-old, who’s hiding his curls under a San Francisco Giants hat, to speak up—to project.” and “who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and screamed with joy.”The film explores a Ginsberg many people don’t know, one who Friedman says “was searching for a way to express fully who he was” in his writing, friendships, and love life.“Ginsberg at that time was still trying to figure himself out and figure his work out,” Franco adds.
It’s an unusually hot day in San Francisco, and only blocks away the city is celebrating gay pride by dancing on floats and trying to keep up with the overwhelming number of possibilities on Grindr.
It’s not as big a stretch as you might think.” Indeed, in , Franco doesn’t look all that different from a young Ginsberg.
Casting Franco certainly wasn’t a stretch for Epstein and Friedman once they heard Franco read the first few lines of the landmark 1956 poem: I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, / dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix, / angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night.“He blew us away,” Epstein says. It feels like a deep, nuanced understanding.”That first impression doesn’t surprise Vince Jolivette, Franco’s close friend and producing partner. And they’re both fascinated by art and who gets to decide what art is.” That’s certainly a big theme in , which centers around the obscenity trial of City Lights owner Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who published the poem in the fall of 1956.
“It was hard for us to imagine anyone being able to embody a young Allen, but James just threw himself into the role and knew what was going on emotionally and intellectually for Ginsberg in every line of the script. “James is probably more similar to Ginsberg than any other character he’s had to play,” Jolivette says. In March 1957, less than two years after Ginsberg, at 29, first read “Howl” publicly in San Francisco, U. Customs agents seized copies of the poem as the books were on their way from England, where the second edition had just been printed.
Police arrested Ferlinghetti and charged him with publishing obscene material, leading to a historic free speech trial at which literary “experts” debated the merits of a poem with lines that include “holy the cocks of the grandfathers of Kansas!
All you have to do is be candid.” James Franco was a brooding, troublemaking 15-year-old when a friend first introduced him to “Howl.” Franco—a voracious reader who loved Faulkner, Hemingway, Kerouac, and Melville—and his friends were so inspired by the Beats that they made the occasional drive north from Palo Alto to City Lights.