Screw convention. Though James Franco has a red-hot movie career in progress — he'll be seen this summer opposite Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love and as the famous gay Beat poet Allen Ginsberg in the upcoming Howl — this anything-goes actor returns to General Hospital June 30 for his second round of hell-raising and kinky perversion. His role: A sociopathic performance artist, also named Franco, who is obsessed with Port Charles mobster Jason Morgan (Steve Burton). In fact, Franco is so eager to get the hunky hit man's attention that he's about to stage his most outrageously psychotic exhibit yet — at L.A.'s Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). What's behind the guy's creepy fixation? And why would an actor of Franco's caliber be spending so much time on a daytime soap? TV Guide Magazine sat down with the star to find out why he's such a show-biz nonconformist.
TV Guide Magazine: I'm guessing that most of your movie-star pals would consider it ridiculous — if not downright suicidal — to take a role on a daytime soap. What makes you so different?
Franco: I've come to realize that maybe this is my only life, so I'm pursuing everything I'm interested in.
TV Guide Magazine: Still, you seem to find value in even the slimmest of experiences, like when you cameo'd as yourself in a game-show sketch on Saturday Night Live and didn't have a single line of dialogue. You've done countless movies without a screen credit. You put your film career on hold to go back to college. You do not go with the flow.
Franco: I went back to school because I wanted to pursue writing. Rather than trying to do it solo, I needed to be around other serious writers. That's why I go on SNL to try comedy, because those are some of the funniest people around. Why not work with the best?
TV Guide Magazine: Were you raised to be this open and experimental? Is it a Franco family trait?
Franco: My parents didn't consciously infuse that kind of thing. But they met when they both were art majors at Stanford. My mother's been an author of children's books. She's now a novelist for young adults. My grandmother and my uncle are art dealers. So I grew up around the art world and I've been branching out and trying new things since I was a teenager.
TV Guide Magazine: Why do you get off on GH? What's in it for you?
Franco: I'm very grateful for my acting career but six or seven years ago I came to understand that acting in film is all about the director. And that's fine. I have accepted that. But I know that I might never feel a sense of creative ownership working that way. I can feel good about working with a great director but at the end of the day I'm still helping him achieve his vision. So I needed something else. I need outlets where I can feel more a part of the creative core, and I found that at GH.
TV Guide Magazine: You approached them, right?
Franco: Yes, and from the start they were so welcoming and open to my ideas that it allowed me to be creative in a very different way. They asked me what kind of character I'd like to play, so I had a hand in helping create that. They've allowed me to think in larger ways and to bring GH together with MOCA. I am able to collaborate in the best way. I think everybody's happy.
TV Guide Magazine: The work load is rough. How do you think your fellow movie stars — accustomed to shooting two or three pages a day — would survive on a soap?
Franco: [Laughs] I don't know! When I did my first arc on GH I only shot for three days and during that time we logged 21 episodes worth of material. On one of those days alone I did 77 pages! Your normal feature script runs maybe 100 to 120 pages, which you shoot over the course of two to six months. Doing 77 pages in one day is insane!
TV Guide Magazine: Are you satisfied with the level of your performance when you work that fast?
Franco: Yes. In daytime you only get a limited number of takes, but that's also true of a lot of directors in the feature world. Robert Altman did very few takes when I worked for him on The Company. Gus Van Sant did very few takes on Milk. So that doesn't necessarily equate a lower level of performance. In fact, you learn to work with your instincts more. And you learn to align yourself with your character in such a way that they can throw anything at you and you can roll with it without a ton of rehearsal.
TV Guide Magazine: Do you feel more fearless having done GH — like if you can do this kind of work you can do anything?
Franco: A great thing happened after I'd done the first arc on GH. I met with Danny Boyle [the Oscar-winning director of Slumdog Millionaire] for his new feature film 127 Hours. He wanted me to come in and read for him.
TV Guide Magazine: That's not usually the way it works for someone with your resume, right?
Franco: Right, but it was Danny Boyle! And a great project, so I thought, "Okay, I'll read." So I show up and he gives me two pages of thick text and asks me to try to memorize some of it and, then, come back in to audition. And because I had done GH, I was able to go into the other room and learn the whole thing in five minutes — and I got the job! So, yes, having done GH, I feel like I can accomplish more now.
TV Guide Magazine: Let's talk about your character. What drives Franco? What's his obsession with Jason really all about?
Franco: Franco is an artist who works with death. He works in a lot of different ways. He does graffiti, performances, photographs. He creates installations based on murder scenes featuring murders he possibly was involved with. He's interested in pushing the boundaries of art — both aesthetically and ethically — and he will go way too far. There are a lot of artists working today who go too far.
TV Guide Magazine: But they don't become obsessed with another person to the degree Franco does. Aren't most artists more obsessed with themselves?
Franco: There's that guy who had his boyfriend cut off his penis and then cooked it and ate it.
TV Guide Magazine: Okaaay. I'm not familiar with that particular artist, but I'll take your word for it.
Franco: People are doing crazy stuff. Like what's her name? The French artist who does all the plastic surgery on her face.
TV Guide Magazine: So back to the question. What's driving Franco?
Franco: Jason is a master assassin who's murdered a lot of people and gotten away with it, which is very attractive to Franco. He likes that danger. [Long thoughtful pause] There's an underlying sexiness to that....if that's what you're getting at. Yes, there's a underlying sexiness to that connection.
TV Guide Magazine: Well, that could be what I'm getting at. Then again, this is a soap. Maybe these two guys are related. Maybe they're secretly fraternal twins and only Franco knows that.
Franco: Jason descends from the Quartermaines. [Laughs] I don't think Franco's a Quartermaine.
TV Guide Magazine: You clearly haven't watched enough GH! Anything's possible when it comes to that crazy Quartermaine sperm. Anyway, there's buzz around the set that this next story arc will not be your last. You'll return for a third stint?
Franco: I don't know. I can't say. I really enjoy it there so, yeah, I think there's a good possibility. [Laughs] There's one thing I have figured out about soap operas. Even if Franco dies at the end of this arc, he can always come back!
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