After a recent showing of “Broken Tower,” a film directed, produced by, and starring James Franco about Hart Crane, a homosexual poet who committed suicide in 1932 at the age of 33, James Franco had a chance to interview himself about the film.
James Franco: What led you to become so gripped by the poetry and life of Hart Crane?
James Franco: I made the film for my master’s thesis at NYU. Crane was an insanely creative person, totally dedicated to his craft. And he was a wanderer, a tortured soul who didn’t fit into society. Crane’s poetry inspired so many poets, like Allen Ginsberg. But Crane couldn’t make a living, and he was totally marginalized. I’m a poet—I have an MFA in poetry—and I think poetry is just totally undervalued in our society, so I wanted to showcase the life of this poet who lived so dramatically for his art.
You’re a poet, but you are also a Hollywood actor. You’re not exactly marginalized, and you certainly aren’t hurting for money.
Well, that’s true. But it’s fun to think about how other people might experience those things.
What’s up with the scene where Crane knocks all those fancy perfume bottles off the desk?
That symbolizes this moment in Crane’s life where he just totally rejects the feminine lure and accepts his homosexuality.
It’s pretty abstract.
I wanted the film to stylistically parallel Crane’s poetry, much of which was abstract and obtuse, so filled with emotion but unreachable.
Why did Crane venture to Paris and Cuba? It seems like he went to Paris to drink wine, and to Cuba to walk around in front of white adobe buildings wearing a white button-down shirt.
Oh, he was just trying to emulate Hemingway.
That makes sense. What did you do to get yourself into character for this role?
Well, besides doing my MFA, playing Ginsberg in “Howl” was an amazing way to get into the soul of a poet, although Ginsberg, unlike Crane, made his marginality public; it was an asset to him. There was a subculture that took Ginsberg in and made him their voice, in a way. With Crane, I had to think about what self-loathing felt like. And that was hard for me, because I like myself, a lot. So, I spent a lot of time drinking alone, and hitting my head against an old typewriter. Sometimes I would get really into it and take out the typewriter ribbon and smear the ink all over my body, and then I would roll around on my floor and pour wine over my face.
Oh, that sounds fun. Actually, I do that all the time; it’s very relaxing.
Was it weird to do the sex scene with Michael Shannon?
It was hard to convince him to do it, in the first place. I had to take him out to dinner and beg him, basically. But it wasn’t weird. I just pretended I was making out with Mila Kunis, but she had been working out a lot and had gotten really muscular.
Is that a Method approach?
Do you think you’ll ever stop going to school for graduate degrees?
No. After my MFAs and PhD, I want to study fashion design and create my own line of clothing, and then I’d like to get an architecture degree and build my own city, where all the streets are named after my favorite poets.
So you’d live at, like, the intersection of Crane and Ginsberg.
Right, and my film studio would be on Pound Street, and there’d be Eliot Park. Exactly.
What is your advice to young actors, filmmakers, and writers?
Don’t be afraid to express your true voice, learn everything you possibly can, and take a lot of Adderall so you don’t need to sleep very much.