Franco talks acting, films at winter event for A&O, Hillel


Lan Nguyen/The Daily Northwestern

Actor James Franco speaks Saturday night at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall. Franco was the winter speaker for A&O Productions and the Fiedler Hillel Center.

Lan Nguyen, Reporter

James Franco shared his thoughts on acting and directing to a sold-out crowd Saturday night at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall.

The event, presented by A&O Productions and NU Hillel, featured a discussion moderated by RTVF Prof. Jeffrey Sconce, and a question-and-answer session with the audience.

Throughout the night, Franco discussed the development of his career, commented on specific movies and spoke about relationships with fellow actors — all while joking around with students.

“Let me just cut anybody off who has the smart idea to ask me to smoke anything with them afterwards,” Franco said. “In case you were planning on asking that, I can’t.”

Franco started out the night by discussing his experience with education. He attended the University of California, Los Angeles to major in English and later attended Columbia University’s master’s of fine arts writing program and New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts for filmmaking, while taking breaks to focus on his career.

“Once I went back to school … it was like ‘you had the brain all along; here’s the paper,’” he said.

Sconce pointed out Franco’s interest in literature, noting his “commitment to the arts and the humanities” and referencing stories he had heard of him reading novels during free time on film sets.

“There was one weekend when all my friends were out partying and I was reading Faulkner and loving it,” Franco said.

Franco directed and starred in a movie adaptation of William Faulkner’s novel “As I Lay Dying” in 2013.

“If you’re a serious reader or a serious film lover, you start to learn which works are speaking a language or playing a music that jives with yours, and Faulkner played that music for me,” he said.

He also discussed his other films, including the 2010 film “127 Hours,” for which he received an Academy Award nomination for best actor.

Franco specifically highlighted the difficulties he faced during the filming process.

“We did very long takes, sometimes 20 minutes, so that through cutting my own arm off and dehydrating myself, I’d go through all the motions that Aron Ralston went through,” Franco said.

He then pointed out the differences between working on films and working on plays.

“With a play, it’s a whole different thing,” Franco said. “It’s not about getting it once and moving on, it’s about honing it.”

Franco is currently in Chicago as part of a Broadway adaptation of John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men,” directed by Northwestern theater Prof. Anna Shapiro.

He also talked about his opinion on his public image in response to a question about his playing a satirical version of himself in “This is the End.”

“I don’t really care about my public persona,” Franco said. “I have experience with people saying whatever about my public persona. It’s supposed to be deconstructed.”

Near the end of the night, students were invited to ask Franco questions. One of the audience members asked for advice for aspiring filmmakers.

“If you want to get into television or film or whatever, there is no reason you should not be out there making your own things,” Franco responded. “It’s a way to develop yourself more. Stop this deadly waiting around.”

The last audience question referenced Franco’s New York Times piece, “The Meanings of the Selfie,” and requested a selfie with him. Franco responded by inviting audience members to join him for a picture, which he later posted on his Facebook page and Instagram account.

Weinberg freshman Brittany Bair shared her thoughts on the discussion.

“He seems really superficial in some of his movies, but in settings like this where he can talk about his motives as an actor and director, he seems much more like an artist,” she said.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @LanNguyen_NU