Deep Soap: James Franco On Sexual Ambiguity And ‘GH’s Family Affair

by | July 13, 2010 at 4:08 PM | Deep Soap, Interviews, TV News

James Franco (ABC)

James Franco (ABC)

[Editor's Note: This is a continuation of Sara Bibel's James Franco interview from Tuesday. Click here for part one of the interview]

Last November, movie star James Franco surprised the entertainment industry and his fans when he decided to appear on multiple episodes of the soap opera ‘General Hospital.’ He played the character of Franco, a renowned artist who was also a serial killer. He wrote an article characterizing his work on the soap as performance art. Now James Franco has returned to ‘General Hospital’ to conclude Franco’s storyline. On July 22nd, the show will air a special episode filmed at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary art centered around an exhibition of Franco the Character’s artwork. The exhibition was conceived by James Franco, the actor.

This interview was starting to sound like an MFA thesis proposal.  I wanted some dirt. I wondered how the rest of the actors on GH felt about his essays on the nature of soap operas and soap acting in the Wall Street Journal and Lapham’s Quarterly.  “The only one who said anything to me is [executive] producer Jill Phelps.   She loved them, as far as I know.  Based on what he’s written for the show, I’m pretty sure [headwriter] Bob Guza has read them and he’s really incorporated a lot of the ideas into the show, which is I think a beautiful thing and really helps further blend all the different aspects of this thing.”

I decided to ask something about Franco the Character’s subtext-laden scenes with the object of his murderous obsession, Jason Morgan, that came across as far gayer than any of Franco the Actor’s sex scenes with Sean Penn in ‘Milk‘. “In your opinion, is Franco in love with Jason, in a sexual way?”

Franco the Actor laughed at this question. “Has somebody ran that story?” he asked.  “I haven’t read that.”  I tell him that nobody has written a story about it, but it’s the subject of much viewer speculation.  He nods. “I think on some level he is.  Franco’s certainly a huge admirer of Jason’s.  Franco does art based on death and murder and Jason has murdered people.  It’s certainly a case of idol worship and being attracted to Jason because he is so close and such an integral part of what Franco recreates in art.  So he’s certainly attracted to him on that level.  On a sexual level, I don’t know. I guess some of those scenes could be read that way.  I have never had a conversation about any of that with either Steve [Burton]or the writers or the producers.”

Then there was the matter of GH hiring Franco the Actor’s friends and relatives to play roles in this storyline. How and why had that happened? “Well, they had already kind of set up my character as something that stands out from the rest of the show.  They called him Franco so that called a lot of attention to the fact that it’s me, James Franco, in that role.  So adding my mother and my film producer, Vince Jolivette, as people in my character’s life only reinforces the initial isolation of my character. The highlighting of him as both a fictional and strangely non-fictional character.” Franco the Actor seemed to ascribe a lot of meaning to the television convention of naming a character after the star, a tradition that dates back as least as far as ‘I Love Lucy,’ and to the tradition of nepotism, which surely dates back to the beginning of recorded history.

I was curious whether his experience on ‘General Hospital’ taught him anything about acting that he will use in future roles. “I can memorize things a lot faster now.  I feel like on ‘General Hospital’ everything moves so quickly, the actors need to be ready to go very quickly so it’s taught me to have a very specific take on scenes from the very start which can then change but I like going into a scene knowing that I can just do it.”

Time running short, I cannot resist asking: “How come everyone from your class at Palo Alto High is such an overachiever?”   Once upon a time Franco the Teenager went to high school with several of my cousins.  All insist that Franco’s non-acting brother Tom was the one who made the girls swoon back in the day. Franco graduated the same year as my most academically accomplished cousin, who graduated Summa Cum Laude from Yale despite spending his college years focusing on a variety of weird hobbies, and went on to earn a PhD in math. I know several other members of the class.  They all had off-the-charts SAT scores and multiple graduate degrees.  They were the perfect children everyone in the intellectually snobby home of Stanford University and Facebook dreamed of having.  Yet they all gone down unexpected paths, leaving academia for a Spinelli-esque job in computer encryption, giving up a lucrative job at a big law firm to teach, becoming Orthodox Jews. All of Franco the Actor’s adventures in art and academia seemed like the same thing on a millionaire’s scale.  Perhaps my mixed emotions about Franco: The Multi-Media Experience, were really about my jealousy of my genius relative and his brilliant friends.

Franco the Former Paly Student is surprised by the question about the privileged youth he is chronicling in an upcoming book of short stories entitled Palo Alto. He cites Palo Alto’s intensity as a possible motivation for his ambitions.  I mention my cousin’s name.  He remembers him.   I end up telling Franco the Actor what became of several of his high school classmates. It could be viewed as adding another layer to the whole experiment, the journalist informing the interview subject about the people in his past.  Or it could just be a starstruck blogger trying to make an impression on a movie star.  With Franco, there are always multiple possible interpretations.