James Franco: Part 1, An Education

James Franco isn’t your average A-list actor.

When he’s not raising apes, hacking off his arm, or hanging out with Spider-Man on the big-screen, he’s a writer, director, and artist, as well as a student and teacher at several US universities.

As a writer, he’s published a collection of short stories called Palo Alto. As an artist, his work’s appeared at the Clocktower Gallery in New York, MOCA in LA, and the Peres Projects in Berlin.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

And as a student, he’s read a host of subjects including fine art and creative writing at universities such as UCLA, Columbia and NYU.

On Sunday 1st July, he was at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts for a Q&A where he talked about what he gets up to when he’s off screen.

Over the next few days, I’ll be posting a series about what he had to say at the event.

Update: here are links for all those James Franco posts!

  • To read what Franco says about his stint on American soap General Hospital, click here.
  • For his work on the movie Deuces Wild with actor Brad Renfro, click here.
  • For his art work inspired by Rebel Without a Cause star James Dean, click here.
  • For his version of the movie My Own Private Idaho with River Phoenix, click here.

In this first post, Franco talks about learning, teaching, and his public image.

Why education’s so important to James Franco:
I left UCLA at 18 or 19 years old to go to acting school. So I was learning a lot of things on my own from the age of 19 to 27, trying to compensate for having left school.

I don’t think school is for everyone. I know plenty of people I’ve worked with who learned much better by being out in the world and by just doing things.

But for me, the organised world of the university and classroom is a place I thrive mainly because the programmes I’ve gone to have had the best writers and teachers around.

In our world many writers can’t support themselves on their books alone so they teach. That means if you go to university for writing you can have some of the best writers alive as your teachers. And it’s the same with the art world.

It’s akin to being directed by Martin Scorsese or Danny Boyle in the film world… you have the equivalent as your writing teacher.

What the ‘Editing James Franco’ course at Columbia College Hollywood involved:
I wasn’t present [during the course]. I have a friend who teaches editing there.

I act in mainstream films, so I have a persona that I think of as myself… the person I present to my friends, family, people I’m close to.

Then there’s this public persona, which is something that comes from interviews I do promoting films, the roles I do and how people read them… all that adds up.

Half of that persona is generated by things I do, and half is created by the way I’m represented in different outlets or how people perceive what I’m doing. I’m not complaining – I wasn’t surprised about the situation when I started acting.

I gave the class every bit of material I had on myself and they worked on a feature-length documentary to create a new persona.

It wasn’t a class where they had to study the facts of my life or were tested on my opinions or roles or anything.

It was actually a class that, I think, put me in a very vulnerable situation as they got access to everything.

So, what it would teach is that how someone’s represented changes how they’re perceived.

On his public image:

Generally what I’ve been taught, or wise thinking in Hollywood, is to protect one’s image… build a body of work and make it attractive so one can keep working.

But I like to make that public image very vulnerable and to use that and risk that.

Want more James Franco?

  • To read what Franco says about his stint on American soap General Hospital, click here.
  • For his work on the movie Deuces Wild with actor Brad Renfro, click here.
  • For his art work inspired by Rebel Without a Cause star James Dean, click here.
  • For his version of the movie My Own Private Idaho with River Phoenix, click here.