Award-winning actor and writer James Franco is a Hollywood Renaissance man, who's now earning praise for a film he's directed about a cult classic movie that won nothing but raspberries. Tony Dokoupil has our Sunday Profile:
"The Room" has become the stuff of Hollywood legend, a 2003 film so bad isn't almost ... good. It's considered one of the worst movies of all time. And the film's director and star, Tommy Wiseau, has become a cult hero.
Fourteen years later, his film is still in theaters, with a line down the block for a midnight showing at the Landmark Regent Theatre in Los Angeles.
"There are a lot of things I would like to do other than watch a bad movie for two hours. And yet you have hundreds of people in there. Why are people packed for this?" asked Dokoupil.
"Well, you'll see," James Franco replied. "It's an event!"
Wiseau and his critical flop are now the subject of a new film that's a critical darling, "The Disaster Artist," directed by and starring Franco as Wiseau.
Wiseau introduced him to "The Room"'s fans -- and Franco decided to address them in Wiseau's curious accent. ["Everyone close your eye and see if you know who talking!"]
"I think Tommy is artist, you know, and I, like, tell story about artist, great artists," Franco said.
Franco, too, is an artist, and a serious one. You may have seen him in "Spider-Man," or his Oscar-nominated role in
But he's also written fiction and poetry, and stage dart exhibitions over the course of his two-decade-long career.
Today, Franco -- now almost 40 -- says he's slowing down ... and putting a new focus on Franco.
Two weeks ago he got a new surfboard, and invited Dokoupil along for its maiden voyage.
To hear him tell it, the new James Franco swims with a different kind of Hollywood shark. On his very first day surfing, a shark appeared: "A baby great white," he laughed. "This fin, like 'Jaws,' pops up."
No fin sightings this time. But Franco barely escaped Dokoupil's wobbly first ride of the day.
His board wasn't so lucky. "Brand new board. Virgin session. Tony sliced it!" Franco said.
You could say Franco's wild ride began as a restless teen in northern California. "By the time I was 17, I was on probation. I was a ward of the court," he said.
He soon found a more creative outlet for his energy: art. "And I needed it. When I stopped acting out and getting arrested, I threw all that energy into art."
In fact, he dropped out of college to pursue acting. Franco's parents -- especially his father -- thought their eldest son was being foolish.
Franco said, "If you want to be an artist of any kind, like, people are not gonna beg you to do it. You have to want to do it. You have to put in the work. You have to prove it. My parents didn't believe me. You know, it's like, I had to do it."
Franco's career took off. "From the outside, looking at that, people are thinking, 'Guy's got it all. Money. Success," said Dokoupil.
"Yeah, but …" Franco smiled. "It sounds like you have a 'but' coming!"
"But, how are you feeling?"
"I was at this point where I was really depressed. And like you said, from an outside perspective, looked like, 'Hey, I've got this great career.' But I was depressed."
In search of relief, Franco became a student again in 2007. And in typical Franco fashion, he didn't get one degree, he got seven. And let's not forget he was still acting, directing, and teaching at several universities.
"At one point, I was doing a Broadway play, "Of Mice and Men," I was acting in a film and producing a film during the day, and on my day off, on Mondays, I was flying back to L.A. and teaching at three schools. And so that is insane. That's an insane person!"
These days he's playing a new tune, with his weekly ukulele group -- another one of those hobbies he didn't used to have time for.
And as for his relationship with his father, who passed away in 2011, he has had time to ponder that as well. "It was really hard for him to express how proud he was. But my mother did tell me, like, he would follow my career and get really excited when things were going well," he said.
"Maybe he didn't even know that he wasn't telling me as much as he could have. But my mom said that he was really, really happy. And so, I'm very fortunate that I got those moments before he passed."
Now, James Franco is having something of a moment, with two Golden Globe nominations and, yes, Oscar buzz, for "The Disaster Artist."
But he's bringing to it some new perspective: "Hard work does pay off," he said. "But what I didn't realize is that you need balance, and you cannot make your happiness contingent on work, or on anything outside of you, for that matter, right?
"At the risk of sounding cheesy, it's gotta be a more spiritual thing. I didn't learn that until a year ago."
For more info:
- "The Disaster Artist" (Official A24 site)