James Franco has been striking a balance between commercial success and indulging his more artistically minded interests for sometime now, and that careful balance came in more handy than usual in directing "The Sound and the Fury," an adaptation of William Faulkner's dense, sprawling tale of a Mississippi family falling into ruin.
How long was the process of getting this one up off the ground?
Once we decided to do it, it didn't take that long because I was already in touch with the Faulkner estate because I had done "As I Lay Dying." I had all those connection. For a minute it looked like David Milch was going to do a Faulkner-based series on HBO, and he had acquired most of the Faulkner rights, but the two that he didn't have were "As I Lay Dying" and "Sound and the Fury," which were the two that I definitely wanted to do, so it sort of worked out.
How about financing it?
It's a tough sell, you know? It's not "Avengers," there are no superheroes or anything like that, so I had to do a bit of scrambling to get the money together, but at this point in my career I just feel like this is one of the main reasons I'm doing it — and one of the things I can use my position in the commercial film world to get done. So we had to scramble a little bit to get the money, but eventually we did.
In an ideal world, this wouldn't be a tough sell, though.
(laughs) I mean, most people are just not that interested. It's largely a young person's medium, at least for the big bucks. But I've learned how to do these movies that I want to do in such a way that they're not burdened with a huge budget but enough of a budget that you can make these movies in exactly the way that we want to make them and still not have to make huge, huge number when you sell them.
You keep making them, so it must be working.
Yeah, exactly. There is truth in the old adage of "one for me, one for them." I'm in a pretty fortunate position where the one for them is usually one that I love anyway. If I do a movie with Seth Rogen — unless it gets shut out of the theaters by another country — a lot of people usually go see those movies. So I'm fortunate. It's sort of one for me and then another one for me because the one for them is also for me.
What do you think is the best American novel?
Obviously I think Faulkner is one of the greats. I think Faulkner got a lot his stuff from Melville, "Moby Dick," the Bible and maybe Cervantes' "Don Quixote," stuff like that. And Proust and Joyce, obviously. I guess as far as American novels go, "Moby Dick," I would say, is the granddaddy, and then maybe Faulkner is the next generation.
You recently did a Bar Mitzvah for charity. How does it feel to finally be a man?
It turned out really well. I had an official Bar Mitzvah and then we had the charity celebration for Seth's Hilarity for Charity organization, and they raised a lot of money to help fight Alzheimer's, so it was great. I feel a little different, sure. I have to say, I started teaching recently — actually I've been teaching for six years now — and once I started teaching, that's when I really felt like, oh s—, I'm kind of an adult now. I'm teaching people with less experience than I have. That's really when I started feeling like, "Oh, I guess I am a man." (laughs)
Follow Ned Ehrbar on Twitter: @nedrick