The Peculiar Unity of James Franco

I've watched a couple interviews with James Franco in the past month.   Below is a short, funny interview he did with Stephen Colbert. 

For a longer, more serious examination of the same topics, watch his interview with Charlie Rose here: James Franco on Charlie Rose.
One might say that James Franco is striving to turn himself into an idea (his "persona"), but the very immateriality and hence dubitability of ideas makes him profoundly unsure of himself.  He is intensely self-aware, yet the harder he focuses on himself, the more indeterminately the object of awareness appears to him.  His form of life is tragi-comic.  He counters the deep uncertainty dwelling in the foundation of his identity by joyfully experimenting and creating alternative personas that allow for distinct varieties of expression.  Actor, film-maker, author, painter, poet...the list goes on.  Franco is extremely on-guard about being called out as a dilettante or silly playboy.  Yet he displays the typical neophyte academic honesty, strongly insisting that he recognizes his inherent limited abilities in each art form.  "I never said I'd be the best writer," he says on Charlie Rose.  He frequently allows little burps of cocky smile to erupt to the surface, only to quickly double back and qualify himself, show humility, placing his hand to his mouth and looking off into the distance, being not-stoned.

The most interesting thing I've heard Franco discuss is the possible underlying unity of all his various projects.  He's on a soap opera.  He's teaching a class at NYU film school (he's not really teaching it, he's just letting a bunch of film students edit footage of him and make whatever they want while he talks to them on Skype a couple times a semester).  He wrote a collection of short stories.  He made a documentary.  He continues to take on acting roles in mainstream films.  Charlie Rose (admirably) called him out on his apparent schizophrenia:  You like contradictions, he told Franco, you like bridging all of these seemingly unrelated fields.  Yes, Franco replied, he does.  And this is where is gets fascinating.   Again and again, when asked to explain the appeal of a certain project, or reasons for doing something like play a serial killer artist named "Franco" on General Hospital, Franco's responses include the concepts of "vitality" and "energy."  He claims he's not "disrupting" anything, but he is fully aware that its his Hollywood star power that makes these disparate forays interesting.  He tells us to be suspicious of celebrities leveraging their status, yet he's doing it blatantly (Stephen Colbert's response to this is especially good).  He likes the "tension" all of this creates.  He thinks it makes for "vital" performances that generate a lot of "energy." 

I can empathize with him a bit on this.  There is some vitality to be found in the tension created by exploring different fields.  Good for you James Franco, ride that wave.

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