James Franco’s Alleged Harassment Ruined ‘The Deuce,’ One of the Best Shows About Sex — Opinion

In a show about sexuality, employing an alleged abuser is particularly egregious — and entirely distracting.
The Deuce Season 1 Episode 5 James Franco
Paul Schiraldi/HBO

In 2015, two years before #MeToo, the porn industry severed ties with its golden boy, James Deen. Three days after the “kinky feminist” with boy-next-door good looks was accused of sexual assault by three women, major studios Evil Angel and Kink.com cut all financial ties with him. While its content includes “consensual and exploratory aggressive and rough sex,” a representative for Evil Angel said Deen’s behavior was “contrary to [the] company values.” Deen was a porn star with mainstream crossover appeal who was known and celebrated for performing hardcore sex, yet the porn industry saw no gray area when it came to consent.

That’s a concept Hollywood still can’t seem to grasp. “The Deuce,” a television show about sex, sex work, and the porn industry, did nothing about the allegations against its own golden boy actor and executive producer, James Franco, who stands accused of assault or sexual misconduct by six different women. (Franco denied the allegations.)

In January 2018, amidst his awards campaign for “The Disaster Artist,” the Los Angeles Times reported that five women accused Franco of sexual misconduct. This week, those allegations earned renewed attention when, in a leaked excerpt from her forthcoming memoir, actress Busy Philipps alleged that Franco physically assaulted her on the set of “Freaks and Geeks.” She writes: “He threw me to the ground. Flat on my back. Wind knocked out of me.” Following a Twitter outcry, one user pointed out that Philipps had shared the story on the record multiple times before.

In March 2011, the Los Angeles Times reported Phillips’ recounting of the anecdote as part of its Paley Fest coverage. Franco was not in attendance, with the cast using his absence as the opportunity to roast him in absentia.

It all seemed to be in jest until “Cougar Town’s” Busy Philipps, who played Franco’s hard-edged girlfriend Kim Kelly on “Freaks and Geeks,” chimed in with an odd anecdote. During one scene, she said, the actor threw her to the ground, even though the script didn’t call for the action.

Franco had created a back story in which his character had “maybe been abused by his father, and so he didn’t want any physicality between him and his girlfriend. This was unbeknownst to me,” Philipps recalled, giggling. During the scene, the two characters were verbally sparring, and Philipps was meant to slap Franco lightly on the arm.

After doing so, he blew up, saying “‘Don’t you ever [expletive] touch me again!’ and threw me to the ground. I had the wind knocked out of me,” Philipps said, adding that she then ran into her trailer crying.

[Judd] Apatow, probably trying to change the subject, sarcastically responded by saying Franco was the only cast member to since be nominated for an Academy Award.”And he’s way better looking than all of us,” [Jason] Segel added.

“He’s also the only one too cool to be here,” [Seth] Rogen said, not skipping a beat.

Beyond the awkward tension surrounding Franco, the evening was otherwise light and fun as cast members ribbed one another and even poked fun at themselves.

During that panel, Apatow recalled Franco as being “already method.” A year after “Freaks and Geeks” ended its run, Franco starred in “James Dean,” a TNT biopic about the iconic method actor. To prepare for the part, Franco began smoking two packs of cigarettes a day, learned to ride a motorcycle, and took up guitar and bongos.

"The Deuce Pilot HBO Productions 2015 1114 Avenue of the Americas New York City 10036 Characters: James Franco- Vincent Gary Carr- C.C. Margarita Leveiva- Abby Amber Skye Noyes- Ellen Don Harvey- Flanagan
James Franco in “The Deuce”Paul Schiraldi Photography/HBO

Franco has been accused of hitting a scene partner as part of a “back story,” removing protective guards over someone’s genitals during an orgy scene in his film “The Long Home,” and throwing a tantrum because an acting student wouldn’t take off her top. That’s not method acting; it’s assault.

“The Deuce” aims to celebrate sexuality, humanize sex workers, and contextualize the porn industry, and often achieves these admirable goals. However, “The Deuce” is compromised as long as it employs an alleged sexual abuser. Neither Simon nor HBO pursued any formal or proactive investigation into Franco’s conduct on the set of “The Deuce,” a show with multiple sex scenes in almost every episode. However, Simon did hire an “intimacy coordinator” to facilitate the filming of sex scenes for Season 2.

As HBO prepared to shoot Season 2 of “The Deuce,” co-creator David Simon released the following statement: “Personally I can only speak knowledgeably to ‘The Deuce.’ I’ve checked with all my fellow producers and other personnel. We have no complainant or complaint or any awareness of any incident of concern involving Mr. Franco. Nor has HBO been approached with any complaint. In our experience, he was entirely professional as an actor, director and producer.”

When asked how “The Deuce” had changed since #MeToo, Simon told Rolling Stone: “I felt like we were the right show for the moment. That if you are really interested in discussing the culture of Weinstein and [James] Toback, how ingrained it is and how it’s perfectly framed within the vernacular of how men view women, we had a lot to say about that.” Coming from the man who created what is arguably the smartest television show of all time with “The Wire,” that statement seems willfully ignorant.

The Season 2 premiere opened with Frankie (Franco) surrounded by topless women, waltzing into the peepshow he runs with his twin brother Vinny (also Franco). Later in the episode, Vinny walks onto a porn set run by Candy (Maggie Gyllenhaal). As nude women saunter past, that expression of sheepish bewilderment is Franco at his least believable.

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