James of all trades

In The Deuce, the eight-episode HBO orig­i­nal drama se­ries about 42nd Street, the sex cap­i­tal of New York City in the ’70s, James Franco not only co-pro­duces but also plays twins (above) and di­rects two episodes, while teach­ing in a film class in the Big A

The Philippine Star - - FRONT PAGE - with Ricky Lo

NEW YORK City — Is there any­thing that James Franco could not, would not, do?

“I couldn’t imag­ine my­self not fill­ing ev­ery minute of my life with some­thing,” Hol­ly­wood’s busi­est body con­fessed to a group of in­ter­na­tional jour­nal­ists last week. He writes, acts, teaches film and, in The Deuce, the HBO orig­i­nal eightepisode drama se­ries (air­ing Mon­days at 9 a.m.), James doesn’t only co-pro­duce but also plays twins and di­rects him­self in two episodes (the third and the sev­enth).

Cre­ated by David Si­mon and Ge­orge Pele­canos, with Marc Henry John­son as co-pro­ducer, The Deuce was the nick­name of the 42nd Street, the seedy Man­hat­tan block (in­hab­ited by pimps, hook­ers, hus­tlers and cor­rupt cops) that was shut down years ago. Si­mon is known for, among other projects, The Wire, the 2002-2008 TV se­ries about the Bal­ti­more drug scene viewed from the eyes of drug deal­ers.

With the same in­ten­sity that he im­bues his ev­ery per­for­mance with (think 127 Hours, Spi­derMan, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, etc.), James plays twin broth­ers (based on real peo­ple) Vin­cent Martino and Frankie Martino, the for­mer a bar­man who finds him­self at the cen­ter of the city’s sex trade af­ter he at­tracts the in­ter­est of a well-con­nected mob player, and the lat­ter a free­wheel­ing, free-spir­ited guy who gets by on his brother’s sup­port.

In the cast is Mag­gie Gyl­len­haal (more on her in a fu­ture is­sue), also a co-pro­ducer who plays Candy, an in­de­pen­dent pros­ti­tute who re­fuses to work un­der any of the mul­ti­tude of street pimps. Con­ver­sa­tions talked to James at the HBO of­fice in Times Square, two blocks away from the now “clean and safe” 42nd Street which used to be the “un-safest” place in the city. Ex­cerpts: What did you find fas­ci­nat­ing about the ’70s New York?

“Well, I was born in 1978 but when I was com­ing up as an ac­tor, most of my fa­vorite movies were from the ’70s. I think it was the golden age of Amer­i­can film. In par­tic­u­lar, I love movies that were shot around New York, such as those by Martin Scors­ese (Taxi Driver, Wolf of Wall Street, etc.) and Wil­liam Fried­kin (The

French Con­nec­tion, Cruis­ing, etc.).

“So when I was do­ing Of Mice and Men on Broad­way three and a half years ago, and I met David Si­mon, I told him, ‘I’m

your big­gest fan; I love The Wire. Is there any­thing you have on the pipe­line that we can do?’ I kept that at the back of my mind. I hadn’t done much tele­vi­sion at that time and I was look­ing for­ward to do­ing one. I read this book called Dif­fi­cult Men which was about all the show run­ners of this new… third, I guess…golden age of tele­vi­sion, and I re­ally got turned on by the idea of do­ing tele­vi­sion again.” What got you ex­cited about the drama se­ries?

“I re­ally love di­rect­ing. I got ex­cited about the prospect of be­ing an ac­tor and di­rec­tor. And I am also a co-pro­ducer on the se­ries. I love all as­pects of film, and tele­vi­sion, and what I’ve re­ally come to en­joy most about the process is when you are the di­rec­tor, you get to col­lab­o­rate with a lot of peo­ple. To be able to be in the mix with peo­ple like the two Davids…Si­mon and Pele­canos…was kind of a dream come true. It’s not about the power, es­pe­cially on a se­ries like this, but the fact that the writ­ers give you free­dom to play within their world.” And what im­pressed you most about the se­ries?

“You know, David (Si­mon) has got ab­so­lutely zero in­ter­est in pornog­ra­phy for pornog­ra­phy’s sake. His in­ter­est in porn is like ex­pos­ing po­lit­i­cal cor­rup­tion. And that’s ex­actly how he pre­sented the ma­te­rial to me three and a half years ago. He said, ‘I got this show. Ev­ery­body would ex­pect me to put a lot of sex in it but I’m not gonna give it to them.’

“And I thought he’s not gonna be able to help but show the street-level of this kind of thing; he’s got to show the grey­ness. The dan­ger is that you don’t show enough and not give the full im­pres­sion of what the life­style of the peo­ple in it was. But David did with The Deuce what he did with The Wire in which

he showed both sides of the drug war. So he showed the two sides of the misog­y­nis­tic world that was 42nd Street.” Are the twins you are play­ing still alive?

“They are both dead. But Marc Henry John­son, be­sides be­ing the pro­ducer, was also the lo­ca­tion man­ager and he was able to find one of the twins and make him tell a lot of sto­ries from that era as they walked around the block for more than three hours. The guy passed away a few months be­fore the se­ries be­gan film­ing.” How chal­leng­ing was it play­ing

two char­ac­ters and di­rect­ing at the same time?

“It was awe­some play­ing the twin broth­ers Vin­cent and Frankie. I would say that the Har­vey Kei­tel char­ac­ter in Mean Streets and at the same time, play the Robert de Niro char­ac­ter in the same movie. The twins are op­po­sites. One is re­spon­si­ble and the other can’t get his life to­gether.

“When I called David af­ter read­ing the book, I said, ‘I want to do this but I also want to di­rect an episode.’ He said, ‘Wow, you are play­ing twins and you’ve got a lot on your plate. Let’s see how

you do it. I will leave a di­rect­ing slot open and if you prove your­self, then…’ I didn’t know how he thought I fared but I ended up di­rect­ing two episodes.” What was the hard part, if any, of play­ing twins?

“I guess it’s in the third episode (air­ing next Mon­day, Sept. 25) in which the twins have the most scenes in­ter­act­ing with each other in the whole sea­son. I was do­ing triple du­ties. When you do scenes with both twins, you have to shoot them twice es­sen­tially. When you’re on a TV set, you keep on watch­ing that clock and I had to

bust my ass. One mo­ment I was Vin­cent and the next mo­ment I was Frankie, and the whole time I was di­rect­ing my­self do­ing the two char­ac­ters. It felt like do­ing mul­ti­ple chore­og­ra­phy.”

You are one of a kind, a “James of all trades,” act­ing and di­rect­ing and writ­ing and teach­ing at the same time. How do you do it with­out miss­ing a beat?

“Af­ter fin­ish­ing The Deuce shoot in Oc­to­ber last year, things didn’t end there. On my days off, I was teach­ing in a film class here in New York and busy with weird projects I was pro­duc­ing. I have since changed my ways. I have a new ap­proach where I do fewer things and dig deeper into them. I felt that I couldn’t go through life with­out fill­ing ev­ery minute of my life with some­thing. Maybe that worked for the first 20 years of my ca­reer but I re­al­ized that it had di­min­ish­ing re­turns af­ter a while.” What would you con­sider your most dar­ing per­for­mance?

“My most dar­ing per­for­mance? Hmmm…I don’t know.

Uh. I guess, well, I don’t re­ally con­sider it dar­ing but I re­mem­ber the time I was do­ing Milk but that wasn’t as big deal, es­pe­cially since Broke­back Moun­tain had just only re­cently come out. Peo­ple were ask­ing me if I want to do a gay role. And other peo­ple were ad­vis­ing me against it, so…”

(Milk, the 1972 movie, is in­spired by Har­vey Milk and his lover Scott Smith who leave New York for San Fran­cisco with Milk de­ter­mined to ac­com­plish some­thing mean­ing­ful in his life. In the city’s Cas­tro Dis­trict, Milk opens a cam­era shop and helps trans­form the area into a mecca for gays and les­bians. In 1977, Milk be­came the na­tion’s first openly gay man elected to a public of­fice, win­ning a seat on the Board of Su­per­vi­sors. Sean Pean plays Milk and James plays Smith.)

(E-mail re­ac­tions at ent­philstar@ya­hoo.com. For more up­dates, pho­tos and videos, visit www. philstar.com/fun­fare or fol­low me on In­sta­gram @the­re­al­rick­ylo.)

— Pho­tos reprinted from Out mag­a­zine

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