By Steve Pond
LOS ANGELES (TheWrap) – Remember that disastrous Academy Awards show back in February?
Well, it wasn’t James Franco’s fault that he was a lousy host. In fact, he didn’t even want the gig and acted dull on purpose.
Four months after a brief Twitter-fueled tiff in which he criticized Oscar writer Bruce Vilanch (and then made up with Vilanch the next day), Franco is in the August issue of Playboy magazine with his first in-depth comments about what was widely seen as a debacle of an Oscar show, with Franco’s listless performance drawing near-unanimous scorn.
And there’s nary a mea culpa to be found in Franco’s comments, which repeatedly circle back to the same theme: I didn’t write that stuff, and I did what I could with substandard material.
Oscar observers could be forgiven for thinking that Franco in fact did what he could to sabotage lackluster material by appearing dazed and confused while co-host Anne Hathaway was unnervingly chipper.
After the show, one staffer told TheWrap that Franco had been even more lethargic during rehearsals, leading staff members to hope that he was “saving it for the show” — while others said that the actor’s performance was the object of some serious 11th-hour discussions among top show staffers, who knew his detached style presented a huge problem.
To read Franco’s comments in Playboy, though, he was simply a victim of bad writing, and a loyal deckhand who figured there was nothing to do but go down with the ship.
In fact, he uses that exact metaphor at one point, after saying that he considered himself “trapped” by the material.
“I felt, this is not my boat,” he told Playboy’s Stephen Rebello. “I’m just a passenger, but I’m going down and there’s no way out.”
Other tidbits from Franco’s interview:
* He didn’t want to do the show, but he thought it’d take some of the pressure off Fox Searchlight’s push to get him a Best Actor Oscar for “127 Hours,” because “at the time I thought no one had won an Oscar the year they hosted the show.” (He was mistaken: David Niven had.)
* He figured he could handle the gig even though he was attending Yale and couldn’t show up in L.A. until a few days before the show, because the Oscar host doesn’t really have all that much to do. “They knew I could rehearse only on weekends because of school, but how much do you have to rehearse?”
* After first seeing the material, he told the show’s producers, Bruce Cohen and Don Mischer, “I don’t know why you hired me, because you haven’t given me anything. I just don’t think this stuff’s going to be good.”
* He acted blase on purpose. “I thought, Okay, Anne is going the enthusiastic route. I’ve been trained as an actor to respond to circumstances, to people I’m working with, and not to force anything. So I thought I would be the straight man and she could be the other, and that’s how I was trying to do those lines.”
* He tweeted during the show as a “cutting-edge” way of reminding people that he didn’t write the stuff he was saying.
* Contrary to rumor, he wasn’t high.
* He didn’t want to come onstage in drag, and in fact was so mad about that that he once planned to deliberately trip and fall when he came onstage. “Me in drag is not funny,” he said.
* When it comes to the writing staff, “there were a lot of cooks who shouldn’t have been cooking.” And Judd Apatow wrote some funny stuff for the show that wasn’t used.
* But afterwards, Cohen told him that Steven Spielberg had called it “the best Oscars ever!”
That last comment reminded me of Allan Carr, who produced the even-more-disastrous 1989 Oscar show, and afterwards defended his own debacle by announcing that Ronald Reagan had called it “the best television show I’ve ever seen.”
But the scariest part of the Franco interview isn’t the Oscar material — which, after all, is old news at this point.
The unsettling thing is that Franco starts hitting many of the same notes when he talks about his upcoming film “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.”
“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” Trailer:
He says he “doesn’t feel the same way” about the film that he feels about “Milk” or “127 Hours”…that he doesn’t think of “Apes” as showing off his creativity…and that reshoots pushed the film in the direction of more action and less character development.
“I was just doing my job,” he says, and later adds, “I was an actor for hire.”
And then he adds, “critics will be out to kill this movie and blame me for it.”
Hear that, critics? “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” it seems, belongs in the same category as the last Oscar show: if it isn’t good, it isn’t James Franco’s fault.
The entire interview is available at Playboy.com.