James Franco’s Face: A Subjective Account of the New Yorker Festival

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10:00pm – James Franco Talks with Lauren Collins: Starry Dynamo (Cedar Lake Theatre) “Uh…prosthetic penis [pause] yes. Uh…it wasn’t my idea and it was never meant to be shown on screen. I still have it…I actually made a mask out of it.” – James Franco I looked down. I saw mainly freshly shampooed heads of young women and their bare backs. Their shoulders had thin straps or glittered shirts or shirts that looked sliced. Many of these young women carried large leather bags to balance themselves as they walked. They looked unbalanced. Their shoes clanked. The men wore expensive jeans. The lights went on on stage and I saw James Franco’s face. James Franco looked tired. James Franco’s body was low in the chair. He wore a black sweater and gray jeans. Earlier I watched a video of James Franco drinking a glass of water. He drank it many ways. He turned his hand upside down and drank it that way and spilled water on himself. Then he poured a glass and drank again, this time normally. Then he drank another glass  very slowly. He looked like he was thinking. He put the glass down and exhaled. Lauren Collins, an assistant in the fiction department at the New Yorker asked James Franco about being on the soap opera “General Hospital.” James Franco said he was going to play a “mysterious person.” “I think it’s going to be really fun. I started watching it about a week ago.” He said his role was part of a collaboration with an artist called Carter. He made the soap opera seem glamorous, like it was terrain that was underexplored as an art form, as a means for collective reflection as a society. Lauren Collins said “Did anyone [here] watch “Freaks and Geeks”?” People in the audience screamed and whistled. A clip of the show was shown. James Franco talked about fighting with Judd Apatow because he [James Franco] wanted to wear Air Force shirts and Judd Apatow didn’t want him to. There was a pause. Lauren Collins said, “Who won that fight?” James Franco talked about a cologne-stealing ring he had in high school. “Maybe you’ve heard?” He said his major targets were “Drakkar, Cool Water, Eternity. We’d sell ’em out of our gym lockers.” He rubbed his lip slowly with his forefinger. Lauren Collins said, “What’s it like being a stoner icon?” James Franco said, “People think [pause] I’m stoned anyway [exhale]. People who think stoners are cool [pause] are really nice people, and…uh…[inhale] I don’t mind. A Clip of the film Milk was shown where James Franco kisses Sean Penn. James Franco looked at the floor. James Franco talked about wearing a prosthetic penis. “Uh…prosthetic penis [pause] yes. Uh…it wasn’t my idea and it was never meant to be shown on screen.” He said, “I still have it…. I actually made a mask out of it.” He said some people thought that was weird.” “I was in Paris and we made an 8mm movie. It has a character that has a penis nose.” Lauren Collins said, “After Pineapple [Express], are you excited to play someone articulate and verbal?” She was talking about Hell, a film in which James Franco will play the poet Allen Ginsberg. James Franco lifted his arm slowly off the arm rest and slapped it back down again. He said the Beats were important to him in high school. He talked about the Beat movement for a while. He said, “It’s fifty years since…uh…I’m going off on a tangent now.” James Franco talked about being simultaneously enrolled in three schools, NYU Film School, the poetry program at Asheville, Warren Wilson and the fiction program at Columbia University. James Franco said, “I love it. I know everybody…in each program. So it’s not a weird thing….. Only when I go to art talks late at night and people take pictures of me sleeping.” Lauren Collins showed a clip from Pineapple Express. James Franco laughed. James Franco said he did his own stunts. “I knew we were going to get hurt. We had never done action…. Danny cracked his head open…. When I’m running into that tree, I’m really running into that tree.” He put one hand on each of his legs and pushed back his torso and exhaled. James Franco read the poem “Herbert White” by Frank Bidart, which is in the voice of a psychopathic child murderer and necrophiliac [following is an excerpt]: ”                                 I got in the truck, and started to drive,

and saw a little girl—
who I picked up, hit on the head, and
screwed, and screwed, and screwed, and screwed, then
buried,
in the garden of the motel…”

Lauren Collins swiped her hair behind her ear. Q&A Someone said he was an actor, screenwriter, director and producer and asked if there was one thing he liked to do best. James Franco said, “Good question…. I dunno…so hard…pick one…I dunno. I like to do a lot of things.” James Franco slapped the palm of his hand against his fist. He bought one of Carter’s paintings. They had a mutual friend. They met and created a piece called “Erased James Franco” where Carter had James Franco reenact scenes from his previous work, but without getting into character. “It’s based on the [Robert] Rauschenberg piece ‘Erased De Kooning Drawing of 1953.'” He said the idea was to have an actor give a performance in his or her head but not have it come to the surface, that “10% will come out.” James Franco said, “I said, well Carter, that’s really interesting, but is that really what you want. So we did a test and it looked like this.” James Franco sat up straight and very very still, his hands on his legs, and looked straight ahead without blinking for five seconds. He looked more alert than he did at any point during the entire interview. Then he sat back and looked tired and said Carter agreed to expand it from there. “We’re planning a new film,” he said. “It will be like [John] Cassavetes’s A Woman Under the Influence, but it will be a man.” He laughed quietly. He smacked his lips. He exhaled loudly. Someone said, “I don’t mean any disrespect.” James Franco said, “Disrespect” like it was a fighting word. The same person said, “If you can remember the last time you smoked pot and how it influenced your work.” James Franco said, “Wow,” as if he was a very old man and had difficulty remembering things so far in his past. “The last time…. Yeah, I do remember…. It just stopped being fun. I started when I was thirteen…. After three years it kind of changed… thinking ‘I haven’t accomplished anything’…I dunno…it stopped doing that for me. I was not a fun person to be around. The last time I smoked pot I picked a fight with a guy who did acid with my girlfriend. I dunno…. I guess I don’t do it. When the interview was finished, women got on stage around James Franco to take pictures with him. He was standing with a woman in a black spaghetti-strap top with slick brown hair. He smiled. Someone shouted, “We love you James.” Two women walked by me. One said, “You want to go talk to him?” It was 11:35pm. 12:35 – James Franco’s Face I got home and on television was James Franco, in the same black sweater and gray jeans. It was “Saturday Night Live” and he was in a skit where he played himself as a guest on a talk show. The camera panned. It showed the face of James Franco looking at the camera. It panned to the “talk-show host” who was dancing. It panned to James Franco who was smiling but didn’t look like he felt like smiling. I waited for him to speak, to be asked a question, to say something. He looked at the camera. The “talk-show host” said time was up and thanked the guests and said “James Franco,” and the camera panned to James Franco’s face. *** Original Papercut Illustrations by Sybille Schenker.


Rozalia Jovanovic is a founding editor of Gigantic, a magazine of short prose and art. She is the Deputy Editor of Flavorpill and has received fellowships from The MacDowell Colony and Columbia University. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming from Unsaid, The Believer, Everyday Genius, Guernica, elimae, and Esquire.com. She blogs at The Astonishing Egg and is The Rumpus New York Editor. More from this author →