As Your Highness, his latest film, comes out this week, a critical look at his other projects, from a short story collection to an art installation
James Franco been a celebrity for a long time by 2009. He'd starred in the cult TV show Freaks and Geeks, the Spider-Man franchise, and the acclaimed Milk. But on March 10 of that year it became clear that his fan base—or, at least, those interested in the minutia of his life—extended well beyond awkward teenagers and biopic fans. On that day, a photo of Franco sleeping during a grad school lecture went viral. TMZ was the first to publish it, but soon, Gawker, the New York Observer, and other slightly less celeb-centric sites jumped on the story. Ever since then, whatever Franco does—or is suspected of doing—is considered newsworthy in the blogosphere, and that includes his onanistic habits.
How did we get here? Franco's intimidating handsomeness helped make him famous, but this growing fascination with his life likely stems from his equally intimidating extra-thespian activities, leaving many to wonder—despite that infamous photo—when he finds time to sleep. His resume is exhausting even to summarize: He has earned an M.F.A. in creative writing at Columbia University and Brooklyn College, and is an M.F.A. candidate in filmmaking at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. In 2009, he joined the cast of General Hospital (where he played a man named Franco) and published a short story in McSweeney's (about an actor). Last year, his debut fiction collection came out—the concluding story of which was published by Esquire—and one of his many short films, The Feast of Stephen, won a Teddy for best short film at the Berlin International Film Festival. Currently, he's a doctoral student in literature at Yale, studies digital media at the Rhode Island School of Design, and teaches at Tisch (on adapting poetry to short film) and Columbia College Hollywood (Master Class: Editing James Franco...with James Franco). Meanwhile, a solo exhibit of his artwork is now on view at a Berlin gallery, and later this month he's reading his poetry at the O, Miami festival.
Franco remains, despite these (over)achievements, a movie star. He co-hosted the Academy Awards in February, and now he's following up his Oscar-nominated performance in 127 Hours with a goofy turn in Your Highness, his second stoner comedy with formerly promising director David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express). But is Franco spreading himself too thin, creatively speaking? Franco's reply to that question, via New York Magazine: "Why not do as many things I love as I can? As long as the work is good." Is all of his work good, though? Prolificacy is one thing, quality another. With that in mind, here are my vaguely professorial grades of Franco the writer, artist, farceur, and, yes, actor.