The actor James Franco is known for his movies like 127 Hours and Spider-Man, but in his new book A California Childhood he plays with the concept of memoir through personal snapshots, sketches, paintings, poems, and stories about growing up in Palo Alto. Franco will be appearing at Kepler's Books and Magazines (1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park) tonight at 7 PM. He recently spoke to San Francisco about the book, the porn industry, and his mother.
The back cover reads: "Boys, girls, love, heartbreak, sex, drugs." Does that really sum up growing up in Palo Alto?
Well that's what the book is, everything I think of when I think of those days. Palo Alto is in hindsight a great place to grow up, but I see myself as a troubled, sensitive kid. But I also see it as a time that I started getting interested in all the things that colored my life, in theater and art.
Speaking of which, what was it like revisiting art and writing you produced back in high school?
It's weird. Some of it is silly, but some of it is touching. A Rolling Stone writer told me once he went back to Columbia years later and destroyed his thesis, but I'm not embarrassed about what I did when I was younger. Even though the craft is not that polished, it has a degree of authenticity I'll never have again. I wrote another book [Palo Alto] looking back on that time, and we were shooting an adaptation while I was working on the design of the new book.
What's a movie you loved in high school that still influences your work?
I started watching James Dean movies in high school, and like all teenagers I identified with his angst. When I got older and started studying acting I was very drawn to how nuanced and emotionally raw his work was. So I have two perspectives on him, then and now.
You've done several films about Bay Area emeritus; who is a San Francisco figure you'd want to play in the future?
Jerry Garcia, but I think I'm too old to do the version I want. I really want to do a movie about his younger life up until the Dead, and maybe up through the Acid Tests. And I'd also like to do something about Kesey and the Merry Pranksters at their prime.
You've done several recent films about the porn industry: About Cherry, Kink, Lovelace. What resonance do you keep finding with that topic?
It's not a master plan, it's really for a lot of reasons. [Bay Area writer] Stephen Elliot asked me to do About Cherry after I optioned his book, The Adderall Diaries. When we shot some Cherry scenes at the Kink facility I became fascinated by the idea of documenting the people over there and showing what they do in an honest way. Kink is playing at Frameline, I'm really trying to be there for that. And then Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman asked me to be in Lovelace and the role that was open for my schedule was Hugh Hefner, so I thought, okay, why not?
What about Interior. Leather Bar., your Sundance offering?
Interior. Leather Bar. has actual sex in it, but that again arose not out of an interest in porn as much as we were trying to explore the way that different lifestyles and subject matter are portrayed in film, and how and what is accepted, and how different it was representing things thirty years ago.
You optioned The Adderall Diaries years ago, when might we see something concrete happening with the film?
I am not going to direct that, I am producing it and I will play a role, though not the lead. It's going through the Sundance lab right now and it'll be directed by one of my NYU classmates.
You're doing this reading with your mom the day after Mother's Day; what did you get her?
I got her some flowers and a framed picture of both of us together, hugging.