James Franco tears it up
Wholphin Speaks to James Franco
According to its makers, Wholphin, the quarterly DVD magazine published by McSweeney’s, is “lovingly encoded with unique and ponderable films designed to make you feel the way we felt when we learned that dolphins and whales sometimes, you know, do it.” In its debut issue Spike Jonze’s never-broadcast commissioned doc on Al Gore shared disk space with a re-subtitled Turkish soap opera, black-market Iranian animation, and a David O. Russell film on soldiers in Iraq, and subsequent issues have remained just as wonderfully eclectic. Beautifully packaged with extensive liner notes, each issue is like your dream TV station broadcasting images that, the Wholphin folks say, “deserve to be seen on very expensive televisions.” On the eve of publication of its 8th issue, Wholphin has generously given to FilmInFocus an exclusive clip of The Room Before and After, a Wholphin Original Short. The concept: the same room is trashed three times by three different actors, each of whom bring their own destructive style and inner backstory to the process. Part One, excerpted here, stars James Franco, recently seen in Milk and Pineapple Express.
Below, Franco is interviewed about the project by McSweeney’s founder Dave Eggers. Wholphin #8, which contains the remainder of The Room Before and After as well as the 2009 Sundance Grand Prize-winning short Short Term 12, Sam Taylor-Woods’ short punk rock coming-of-age drama Love You More, and the surrealist My Friends Told Me About You, directed by Interpol bassist Carlos D, is on its way to bookstores and is also available by subscription from the link above.
Wholphin: So, how do you feel? It’s a few minutes after you finished [the performance].
James Franco: Good. That was like the best experience. I mean, I guess it was kind of like cathartic, but I don’t know, I think it was almost, different. I guess ‘cause everybody has like a…do you want me to talk about this?
James Franco: Okay, ‘cause I guess everybody — well, I guess not every body — but a lot of people have childhood bedrooms. And there are these iconic things around it and so you know a bed or dresser or whatever will draw up memories of your own childhood, whatever that may be. It felt cathartic, but it felt more, I dunno, inspiring if that makes sense, where it was like inspiring a certain performance rather than just — getting all my shit out.
Wholphin: Did you have an entry point that you would want to talk about?
James Franco: Uh, yeah. You asked me to do this about a week or so ago and I started thinking about it, and there was a very loose idea that it would end with some sort of admission of guilt, or that whatever was going on here was actually my fault, or this character’s fault, so I think that kind of sat with me for a little while. And I was- at the risk of sounding pretentious- I’m in school for writing, and I was working on this story, which I won’t say too much about, but there was a character that was sitting in his closet, and didn’t know why. And then he starts thinking about his childhood closet, and how it had connected to his parent’s closet. It was a long closet ‘so you could walk through and go to his parent’s room. And it was kind of, for me, like this weird metaphor for, I dunno, being able to go to the adult world and then switch back to his childhood world.
And then after you asked me to do the project, the story became more like: he’s in the closet…possibly because of some (he’s an adult character now) infidelities or something like that. So then he’s about to come out of the closet, sounds funny though because of the wording — “come out of the closet” — not to say he’s gay so much, but come out of the closet and maybe exact some sort of retribution, and that kind of thing. So I think all that was in the back of my head. Is that a horrible answer?
Wholphin: No, that was great, that was exactly what I meant. There were a lot of really serendipitous moments when you would find an object, like the shirt that said “Jerk” on it, or whatever. How often would you see something and then decide on how to interact with it?
James Franco: Yeah. I think I was thinking of, not consciously thinking of it when I was doing it, but going in to the performance I was thinking about…I just watched like, every Paul McCarthy video that I could find. I hope it wasn’t too close to him, but I love him, he’s amazing. And then, I think I told you, I just met this artist- Jonathon Meese — who does these extended performances, where he tries to go in and not impose anything on the performance. So I think I took something of that idea and went in here, and then when I’d come across something, just try and react to it. Or, see how it played on me. And like I said, you know, a childhood bedroom has, or I guess this isn’t a kid’s bedroom, but a bedroom has so many things that can, you know, inspire reactions, that there was no shortage I guess.
Wholphin: You’ve made films yourself where things blow up or get shot at out in the desert and little homes get destroyed by a few hundred rounds from a gun — can you talk about what inspires those, and what you get out of them?
James Franco: Yeah, well it was funny when you asked me to do this project ‘cause I was like, oh man, it’s like what I’ve been working on! And you know, I was just at UCLA, I’d gone to UCLA and then left to start acting, and then went back about three years ago in the literature program. But I also had a chance to work with the head of the art department, Russell Ferguson, and I was working on these projects that involved explosions. I would get children’s play structures, or we’d make our own small houses, and then I’d get the special effects team from the Spiderman movies to come and blow them up. Or I’d get armorers to come and shoot live ammo at them. Or we’d burn them. Or we’d do…kind of almost exactly like this- I’d have a friend just hack at ‘em with an axe, until he was so exhausted he vomited. I think I went longer than he did though. I mean, he only went for like 15 minutes and I think this was like at least 30… And I didn’t vomit.
But I think those projects were about a lot of things- it’s got a loose connection to, you know, these childhood impulses- at least I had them- to like, destroy. And I’m not quite sure what that is…like with my Legos, I’d always get a real big kick out of destroying them, and I came across this video I made with friends when I was 12, and we were burning GI Joes. I mean, you might think it’s like, “oh, it’s a young schizophrenic or sociopath,” or something, but I don’t think so. I like to think it’s something else — so I guess I was exploring that.
And destruction is just like, so much fun to watch.
[Interview conducted by Dave Eggers.]