TV interview: James Franco - comic who is not afraid to laugh at himself

James Franco.
James Franco.
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In his last film, This Is The End, James Franco played himself.

The comedy, written by his friends Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, features a fictional, satirised version of Franco in which he played up to the image of himself as a pretentious, egotistical Artist with a capital ‘A’.

This send-up says it all really. As well as an accomplished actor, director and writer, who even teaches film classes at the prestigious NYU, 35-year-old Franco is also a successful comedian, who isn’t afraid to laugh at himself.

That doesn’t mean he can’t be serious. As Franco discusses his passion for art with his old friend, performance artist Marina Abramovic, things get deep.

He’s in a reflective mood when he talks about making the new documentary series Iconoclasts, which sees creative visionaries meet with those who inspire them.

“I love Marina. She’s a friend. I’ve done so many projects with her, and she’s one of the great performance artists,” Franco says of the woman who famously sat motionless in a chair in the MoMA atrium for more than 700 hours, returning the gaze of museum visitors.

In the documentary, she invites Franco to undergo the ‘Abramovic Technique’, a method designed to give a clear state of mind.

The pair also discuss risks they’ve taken in their careers and their creative pressures, before Abramovic, who recently announced she’d be making a film about Franco’s life, transforms the Oscar-nominated actor into a dramatic gold leaf sculpture.

So, when trying his hand at so many things, is he never afraid of failure?

“I’m sure I am, but I usually try not to let that fear determine anything that I believe in,” he replies.

His latest project is adapting his book of short stories, Palo Alto, for the big screen. Franco published the stories, based on his high school experiences, after studying creative writing at Brooklyn College a few years ago.

The actor was arrested several times during his school days, and he dropped out of UCLA in his freshman year. But he’s gone on to graduate from several institutions, including studying English at Yale, while juggling his prolific film career.

So when did he go from being a troublemaker to finding the incredible drive he has today?

“I guess it started at school. I got into a bit of trouble. At a certain point I realised that direction was not good,” he says. “That’s when I started being serious about everything that I am now – literature, film, art and acting.”

Iconoclasts starts on Sky Arts on Thursday, August 1.

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