Like many guys in young Hollywood these days, Freaks & Geeks alum James Franco appears offbeat, rather broody and terribly concerned with being taken seriously as an actor. Ah, youth. Fortunately, those qualities came in handy for playing the original sexy brooder, James Dean, in TNT's James Dean biopic (airing Sunday at 8pm/ET).
Asked why he prefers portraying edgy boys, the 23-year-old sighs impatiently to TV Guide Online: "Easily, they're more interesting. You always want to deviate from the norm." He certainly does that in Dean, which doesn't whitewash the hungry thesp's rep for opening doors in Tinseltown by cozying up to gay male producers.
"I didn't have a problem with playing it," says Franco, "and I thought it was nice how we [included] Rogers Brackett" as played by Andrew Prine "who was a real [person] in his life. He was this older man who had connections, took Dean under his wing, gave him a place to stay and gave him an artistic education. A lot of James Dean's friends who I've talked to recently have said that there was some sort of sexual relationship there."
Yet, intriguingly, Franco seems somehow more comfortable viewing Dean as an opportunist than simply a man who loved men. "[Brackett] must've been at least 30 years older than Dean," he points out, slightly incredulously. "If James Dean was gay, he was gay. It just doesn't seem like a one-on-one type of homosexual relationship. It was more of getting something from this man. I think it was part of his personality a type of behavior he could turn on but I don't know how many homosexual relationships he had."
If his insight into Dean's romantic life seems rather limited, Franco's admiration for his talent is boundless. The actor especially enjoyed re-enacting a crucial Dean scene from director Elia Kazan
's 1955 classic, East of Eden
. "It's the one that most closely parallels his own life," Franco says, "and thus creates the most emotionally honest portrayal. It's a father turning his back on his son, and the son having to work out all that pain. It becomes almost intrusive to watch."