The wonderful wizard of all trades
James Franco, star of the new Wizard of Oz prequel, discusses his many, varied projects
James Franco at the European premiere of Oz: The Great and Powerful in London. Photograph: Neil Hall/Reuters
James Franco is the polymath of the moment. This week, the scalpel-cheeked Californian, known for turns in 127 Hours, Milk and Spider-Man , turns up as a dishonest conjuror in Sam Raimi’s beautiful Oz the Great and Powerful , a prequel to The Wizard of Oz .
A second volume of his collected writings emerges shortly. He is a university lecturer. He has directed avant-garde films. He presented the 2011 Oscars (with mixed results) alongside Anne Hathaway. He recently unveiled an exhibition of his painting. Busy man.
When do you sleep, James? I am very busy. But a lot of the projects I do take a long time. I did Oz over a year ago. I have another small book coming out in April. I have days that are dedicated to the teaching in New York. Mondays, I am in LA. I arranged the press tour for Oz so I could have Sundays and Mondays off. I am in a fortunate position. I can’t always dictate my schedule. But I make time for the things that I do.
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I believe, for Oz , you got some tips from slick Las Vegas conjuror Lance Burton. I used more tricks than I learned from Lance. But I give a lot of credit to Lance Burton for teaching me how to hold myself on stage and for those tricks of his that I do use.
Did you always want to act? Were you yearning to be Marlon Brando and James Dean as a teenager? Yeah. But those weren’t the first actors I watched. I was very into Stand by Me . I liked River Phoenix and people like that.
I loved film and TV, but I grew up I northern California and it doesn’t have a very big film industry. I didn’t know how to get into it. These other kids all seemed born into it. I thought I was too old to get into it.
Yes. Ha, ha! Then I went to study English at UCLA and realised there were other ways into it. I took some classes. The bug hit. I realised that if I was going to take my shot, this was the time.
It is said you got into a bit of trouble as a kid. You were even arrested on one occasion.
It was the usual teenager trouble. Maybe I pushed it a stage further. I did get arrested. But I grew up in Palo Alto, which is like the heart of Silicon Valley, right next to Stanford University. The “trouble” I was getting into was in that context.
You mean had you been doing the same things in, say, the south Bronx you wouldn’t have got arrested?
Maybe. Ha, ha! I don’t know. But I am sure in other places what I was doing was more the norm.