James Franco is perhaps the most enigmatic star of his generation. Most young actors with his looks and his chops would be gunning for Brad Pitt-level celebrity. Yet Franco seems to actively resist such a designation. He's wrapped up in so many side projects and extracurricular activities, he needs a personal assistant to feed him. "He’ll do the hand-to-mouth part, but I definitely bring it to his hands," says his assistant in this week's New York magazine.
In the sweeping profile, writer Sam Anderson tries to get to the bottom of the eccentric heartthrob-cum-littérateur. Are Franco's strange side-projects (like starring in General Hospital or appearing in a weird book trailer) deliberate pranks or earnest pursuits? You'll have to read the whole profile to get a better sense (fair warning: even Anderson's 6,000-word depiction never really pins him down).
Regardless, the article is intriguing if only for its chronicling of Franco's many pet projects. Behold:
Plenty of actors dabble in side projects—rock bands, horse racing, college, veganism—but none of them, and maybe no one else in the history of anything, anywhere, seems to approach extracurricular activities with the ferocity of Franco.
Take, for instance, graduate school. As soon as Franco finished at UCLA, he moved to New York and enrolled in four of them: NYU for filmmaking, Columbia for fiction writing, Brooklyn College for fiction writing, and—just for good measure—a low-residency poetry program at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. This fall, at 32, before he’s even done with all of these, he’ll be starting at Yale, for a Ph.D. in English, and also at the Rhode Island School of Design. After which, obviously, he will become president of the United Nations, train a flock of African gray parrots to perform free colonoscopies in the developing world, and launch himself into space in order to explain the human heart to aliens living at the pulsing core of interstellar quasars.
Franco says all of his pursuits are possible, at least in part, because he’s cut down on his acting, but he’s still doing plenty of that. In the next year or so, he’ll be appearing in the films Eat, Pray, Love (as Julia Roberts’s boyfriend), Howl (as Allen Ginsberg), 127 Hours (as the one-armed hiker), Your Highness (a medieval comedy), William Vincent (an indie film by one of his NYU professors), Maladies (put out by his own production company), and Rise of the Apes (a prequel to Planet of the Apes). And of course there’s his epically weird stint on General Hospital—the crown jewel in the current science project of his career.
All of which raises a small army of questions:
(1) Can James Franco possibly be for real?
(2) If he is, then—just logistically—how is all this possible?(3) And perhaps the biggest mystery of all: Why is Franco doing it?
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.