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The James Franco Project

A few seconds pass.

“Hi, Sam,” James Franco says.

I feel the same low-grade thrill of intimacy I felt at our first meeting in the NYU bathroom—this time spiced with a new kind of danger.

“I think we’re not supposed to be talking,” I say.

“Why, what happened?” he says. “Did somebody call you? Did you get a talking to?”

I tell him that his inner circle has done everything short of surrounding him with barbed wire.

“You know that’s not coming from me, right?” he says.

I don’t know if this is true, here in the room that’s consuming itself, or if James Franco is just trying to paralyze me with his charm. But my heart melts a little anyway. I have the feeling I had once when I ran into Bill Clinton, randomly, and he shook my hand in a way that made me want to devote the rest of my life to hugging him.

Franco slaps me on the shoulder. “Don’t be scared,” he says. And he walks back out into the thickening crowd.

After that I stand for a long time, just outside the plywood house, watching old home videos being projected onto a gallery wall: Franco in a diaper, spraying a garden hose wildly around the yard; Franco climbing in and out of a laundry basket; Franco naked with a yellow balloon. Franco putting both hands up against a mirror, trying to disappear into his own reflection.

I go back and watch the obscene films again, trying to square them with the expensively dressed man standing across the room. This is the paradox of James Franco: Dicknose in Gucci. It’s either hypocrisy or complexity, self-delusion or radical self-acceptance. It’s the defining fault line of his career, the source of much of his energy. Were he to resolve it in one direction or the other, he might cease to be so interesting.