Actor James Franco seems to be everywhere these days. He’s starring in serious dramas (Howl) and goofy comedies (Date Night), directing a Saturday Night Live doc and a Cannes short, making art (he has an upcoming New York solo show of photos, drawings and videos) and falling asleep during class at Columbia’s MFA program in creative writing (he’s prepping a children’s book). While Franco, 32, is not the first actor to pursue artistic outlets other than on-screen performing, his choices do reflect a certain self-aware humor and intelligence. After all, he plays an unpredictable painter named “Franco” on General Hospital who seduces a girl at MOCA (see clip below).
And now he’s penned an essay on the art of acting. Entitled The Limits of Control, the piece for Lapham’s Quarterly is an insightful, albeit rambling, account of the role of actors and directors.
Franco has also got plenty of acting coming up. There’s the summer romance Eat, Pray Love, opposite Julia Roberts, and the Planet of the Apes prequel, Rise of the Apes, which follows a brilliant scientist (Franco) as he navigates the Ape/Human end war. It marks a return to the big-budget action of Spiderman after Howl and Pineapple Express. At SXSW Franco missed his Saturday Night premiere because he was filming Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours. And did we mention he draws?
Clearly this is not your orthodox career path. Most major film screen actors would never dare to make a recurring appearance on a daytime soap. But that’s probably because they haven’t thought about it. Franco is, whether intentionally or not, crafting a public persona that doesn’t take Hollywood too seriously. He also makes a point of enriching himself intellectually. That appeals to his fans, and demonstrates that he has a personality that exists outside of Tinseltown’s all-consuming void. He can act equally well as either a burnout stoner or Allen Ginsberg–and he makes fun of himself.
Franco isn’t the only actor to possess eclectic artistic interests: Tony Bennett paints and croons, Kirk Douglas and Jamie Lee Curtis write books, Viggo Mortensen is a painter/poet, Jeff Bridges takes pictures, sings and plays guitar, and Tilda Swinton runs film festivals. And he’s not the first academic. But while Natalie Portman went to Harvard and Claire Danes and Jodie Foster studied at Yale, Franco plans to pursue a Ph.D. in English there.
Media consumers today are sophisticated. They are equally comfortable ingesting online content as they are breaking down television commercials. Franco’s online presence and semi-ironic pursuits in daytime television are well-calibrated to a modern audience that seeks a little more intelligence in their idols.