A Phone Conversation with James Franco
There’s something about James Franco. Whether he’s dressing up in drag, enrolling in four graduate schools or just acting really weird and high, he manages to keep the public interested in whatever he’s doing. In this celebrity age of calculated Disney starlets and PR soundbites, he’s an anomaly–someone who is willing to take risks (I don’t envy his publicist) and shock the world. At this point, liking his films or his art seems to be almost beside the point. More than an actor/student/writer/artist, James Franco has become famous for being James Franco–a refreshing and necessary presence in pop culture. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s super hot. It’s a known fact that super hot people can get away with anything they want.
– James Franco
Well, pretty much anything. Franco’s latest creative endeavor, a collection of short stories entitled Palo Alto (Scribner), really tested the limits to my love. It’s not that it was downright terrible. The book definitely shows glimmers of promise but, as a whole, it comes across as very “student work.” I just graduated college so I get it. But I also don’t have a book deal.
Thought Catalog tried to interview Franco about his book but quickly hit a wall. So we just decided to make one up.
Thought Catalog: Hello, James Franco. How are you? What are you up to?
James Franco: Great, man. Right now, I’m translating Catcher In The Rye into Latin for fun and talking to Ron Howard on video chat.
TC: Sounds like a blast.
JF: Latin is really magical.
TC: Right. So, you wrote a book….
JF: I did, yeah.
TC: What was the writing process like?
JF: It was pretty organic. I mean, this one night at UCLA, my friend Samantha and I were on Adderall and feeling super creative. And I was telling her these stories about growing up in Palo Alto. Samantha finally was like, “You should write a short story collection about this and call it Palo Alto.” So I thought about it and went to Pinkberry and let the idea marinate. And went back to my apartment and wrote the whole thing.
TC: In one night?
JF: Yeah, man. It was like I was possessed. It was like I was pregnant and needed to give birth to these stories, you know?
TC: I guess. So how did you go about getting it published?
JF: Well, I called Esquire magazine and was like, “I wrote these stories. Do you want to publish one?” And they’re like, “Duh, James Franco.” And then I texted Scribner Publishing my stories and they wrote back, “OMG. Loves it. Publishing it in October. XOXO.”
TC: Oh. You’re really hot, James Franco.
TC: Can we, like, have sex?
JF: Maybe. You’re a dude, right?
JF: Only if we can videotape it and then submit it to The Whitney.
TC: So the stories all seem to be about bored teenagers in Palo Alto, would that be an accurate description?
JF: I see it more as commentary on the rampant consumerism of the closeted post-modern era. But, yeah. Your description works fine.
TC: It’s also about random acts of violence. People die a lot, get in car crashes, get shot.
JF: Yeah, I like that shit.
TC: You also touch on race a bit.
JF: I do? Where?
TC: Well, in one story, “Chinatown (in three parts),” a teenage boy hooks up with a half-Vietnamese classmate named Pam.
JF: Pam, I love that.
TC: Right. And afterwards, this boy pawns her off on all of his friends and she sleeps with them, for no apparent reason. At one point, they even gangbang her and she’s somodized by a carrot. They give her the nickname, Chinatown.
JF: Oh my god, she DOES get sodomized by a carrot. I remember that. That’s insane. Tell me more.
TC: Well, she eventually stops sleeping with them but four months later, the boy gets arrested by a “Mexican cop” who wants to charge him with rape. Appaarently Pam went to the police? I don’t know. You weren’t very clear on that. Anyways, he gets off because it was consensual (I guess) and the boy never talks to Pam again. You end the story with: “When we got older, I did things with my life and she did things with her life.”
JF: That sounds beautiful. Who wrote that? I need to get their info.
TC: You did, James Franco.
JF: Oh my god, you’re right. I’m sorry. I’m distracted by Ron Howard. We’re playing charades on video chat right now. He’s such a maniac.
TC: So, in the story, Pam is very much “the other” and she’s essentially sexually abused by all of these boys. The interesting thing is that we get no insight into Pam’s thought process or her character. Was that intentional or just bad writing?
JF: Oh, bad writing for sure. Sorry,man. Like I said, Adderall. One night. You know.
TC: You never had a book editor?
JF: Sort of. It was just this gay guy who took me to lunch sometimes and would, like, touch me underneath the table. He never gave me actual notes. Except he did tell me once to wear more blue because it would contrast well with my eyes.
TC: I don’t know what to say, James Franco.
TC: Um, in another story called, “Lockheed,” a lonely girl meets a boy she likes at a house party and then-woops- he dies in a fight. Like I mentioned earlier, there’s a lot of hate and violence in this book. Do you see the youth of Palo Alto as being more angry than most?
JF: I don’t really know. I think I’m just attracted to violent things and, um, the work should just speak for itself.
TC: Isn’t that the same thing you said about your films, Tristan + Isolde and Whatever It Takes?
JF: I can’t confirm or deny. You’re a horse!
JF: Sorry. Charades, again.
TC: OK, let me just wrap it up with one last question. Are you gay?
JF: I don’t know. People will have to read the book to find out.
TC: But it’s not a memoir.
JF: Yes, it is.
TC: No, it’s not.
JF: Yes, it is.
JF: Yes. (DIALTONE)
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5. The Phantom of the Opera