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Interview: James Franco on directing films of difficult novels, like 'Child of God'

James Franco talks about "Child of God," the 11th feature he's directed, and the state of his movie about Tommy Wiseau's "The Room."

"Child of God" is the 11th film James Franco has directed. Credit: Getty Images "Child of God" is the 11th film James Franco has directed.
Credit: Getty Images

Quietly, actor James Franco has amassed a considerably large and prolific career as a filmmaker. And it’s a diverse lot: there are documentaries, faux-documentaries, plus literature adaptations that tackle tough novels. Last year he made a film of William Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying.” He followed that up by diving into Cormac McCarthy’s “Child of God,” an early work sketching the miserable and deeply unpleasant life of a mountain man (Scott Haze).

What attracts him to McCarthy:"His writing is in line with so many classic American authors that I love, Faulkner and Melville in particular. But he has this other aspect, which is the violence. I’m not attracted to violence for violence’s sake. But it gives [his novels] this weird authenticity that breaks through what I feel is the normal barrier of reading fiction."

On the book and film’s portrait of isolation:"I love the private quality of a guy we would never know about. We would never know what he’s doing in that cabin alone unless somebody told us about it. I love seeing somebody in their private moments, especially someone as extreme as Lester."

Working with Scott Haze:"There was a lot of room to let Scott explore and live as the character, because there are so many scenes where he’s isolated. I learned in ‘127 Hours’ that you can film it in such a way that you can allow the actor to just live it out in long takes. We had two cameras going all the time, so we could cut between different angles and he could do it for 20 minutes. Because he gets to just live it out, the behavior’s much more authentic. It’s not me saying, ‘Alright, we just need that one moment of you drinking.’ He’s just doing it, living it, really doing it. and then we select the best parts."

James Franco drags Scott Haze around in "Child of God." Credit: Well Go USA James Franco drags Scott Haze around in "Child of God."
Credit: Well Go USA

Adapting “unfilmable” novels:"I love the challenge. It’s one of the reasons I do it. When people say difficult novels often don’t make good movies, I think part of that is what we love about the book can’t be translated. We love the style, we love the structure, we love the texture of the prose. That isn’t always adapted into filmic terms. I love the challenge of trying to capture that spirit. I can’t do it literally, because they are different mediums. I try to figure out how to get that feeling with another medium’s terms."

On going into films with an open mind:"That’s how I work as a director. I want to discover things as we make it, and I want other people to help me discover them. I want my actors, the designers, the photographers, the editors to help me discover them. At the same time, there is some structure. I’m drawn to adaptations, which already have a structure built in. It’s a mix of discovery and planning."

Franco's Tommy Wiseau movie:Next year Franco will start shooting his adaptation of “The Disaster Artist,” Greg Sestero’s bestseller about the making of “The Room,” the new worst-movie-ever cult monster. Franco will direct and play notorious, unplaceably European director Tommy Wiseau opposite his younger brother Dave, as Sestero, with a script by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, who did “The Spectacular Now” and “The Fault in Our Stars.”

“I want to involve [Wiseau] as much as possible…but I also don’t want him to try and take it over,” Franco says, laughing. When asked what he’s like to deal with, Franco says, “Everything you’d expect.”

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

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