James Franco is best known to soap fans as General Hospital's Franco, a multimedia artist and serial killer. Now, Franco once again takes on the role of a bad guy in his starring role in Open Road Film's action-thriller Homefront.
Homefront is an edge-of-your-seat film about widowed ex-DEA agent Phil Broker (Jason Stratham), who retires to a quiet Southern town for the sake of his 10-year-old daughter (Izabela Vidovic). A chain of events forces him to face off with the local drug lord (Franco) and confront the past from which he had hoped to escape. He is soon faced with the question: How far will he go to protect his home?
At the press conference for the film's release, the former soap opera star, spoke about teaching, revealed why the role of Gator appealed to him, how he prepared for it, and what it was like going up against a tough guy like Jason Statham.
As well as being an actor, you're also known for being a great teacher. Do you carry that over onto the set?
These are all professionals. I'm not here to teach anybody, but I think what I've learned from teaching is how to communicate better. When I work with my graduate students, they're trying to make movies. They have ideas and I'm, basically, helping them capture those ideas, articulate those ideas. I am constantly asking them what are you going for, what do you want to achieve here, and then we'll look at what they've done. Well, this is what I'm getting from what you've done, is that what you're trying to say? No, okay then, if you're trying to say this then I think you might try this.
I think it helps my communication skills because I can just go to [director] Gary [Fleder], or whatever, and say, "This is how I think it should be, do you agree?" If so, then how do we capture that, how do we achieve that. I guess that's the connection between my teaching and work on this movie if I could find one.
You are always busy writing, acting, teaching, what do you do to keep the balance between your personal life and professional life?
I don't know. I was acting over a decade and then I went back to school. Nobody in my world thought … they thought, "Okay, if it makes you happy," but nobody thought it was a great idea: "Oh, that means you can't work as much and you're going to get an English degree, what is that going to do? You already have a career, why are you doing that?" Nobody was that excited about it, but it was very important to me. I had to fight for that. I had to fight to carve that out and make that part of my life. Now it's part of my life. I teach here in L.A. one day a week, and I'm doing a movie in Vancouver, and it's just kind of part of the thing now.
I'm very fortunate that I can arrange things so that I get to do everything. Now, sometimes things conflict and I can't do something at a certain time, but more or less I get to do both and it's very satisfying. I don't need tons of time to goof around because when I make movies, and when I do my own projects, it's all the people I love, all my friends, the closest people in my life are working on those projects. There's no relationship that I find that's closer than a creative relationship. I get to have the most intense kind of relationships with all my friends, while we're working, because we get to do the best jobs in the world.
You play a character who is very unpredictable on the dark side with a great humanity, and even some likeable quality to him. How did you find that emotional tone and that balance to create Gator?
When I got the script, I was very interested in the project. I knew Gary a little bit before that. I was interested in working with Jason and was intrigued that Sly wrote it. I read it and I saw that it was a well-constructed movie and that there was a good villain that I could have a lot of fun with. I thought there were two key things to be brought out with Gator. I think in the original script I read, he did everything that was in the script, but he didn't really care about his sister. She was addicted to drugs and he would hold it over her head.
Gary and I looked at the book, and realized that, in fact, there's a much more complex relationship to be had. He actually loves his sister, cares about her, and probably likes her more than she likes him. I took it that she was using him because he can give her drugs and stuff like that. He wants to give her everything that he can and it kills him that the thing that she wants is what he knows is killing her. I thought, "Okay, there's a more complex relationship that'll help humanize this character."
The other thought was that with Winona's [Ryder] character, it was written like I was the boss of the relationship. There was this sex scene in there, and it came at the end of laying out the plan to her. It was like the sex scene was the punctuation: "Yeah, let's do my plan and then we'll have sex." I think it's more interesting if he's kind of insecure about this relationship and it turns out she was seeing one of the other gangsters before and it kind of upsets Gator. I thought it would just make it a little bit more unusual that he could be insecure in this relationship rather than just, "Yeah, I run this show." I mean, that she's the boss of the relationship until the end.
Woody Harrelson recently said he got into the mind of a meth dealer by watching Breaking Bad. Was there anything you could draw upon? Any fun anecdotes behind the scenes?
We've done a lot of meth. [laughs] We don't need Breaking Bad. [laughs]
Preparing, I think, for me the key maybe goes to the character. I think it just helps serve the movie if he's not just a bad guy. That's there as a device, that he is somebody that does bad things and you don't condone his actions, but you can understanding why he's doing it.
What that meant to me was maybe he shouldn't do meth. He sees it as a business. When he goes after Jason's character, yeah maybe he has a little fun with the torture of it, but it's more that he sees this guy. This guy is just a key to helping his business, to helping him achieve his dream of getting out of this town, making something of himself, which is something that we all do. Whatever our business is, we want to succeed. We want to achieve. We can all understand that side of it. Where he crosses the line that, hopefully, none of us crosses is :"Well, okay, I'll hurt somebody else in terms of achieving my dream."
We don't go with him there, but you can understand the human motivation behind what he's doing. That's why I thought the meth is just his way; it's just what he found. It's a way that he thinks he can get out of this wicked little town. I didn't need to really know what it was to do meth or anything like that. We had police consultants there to tell us how the meth lab should look, what kinds of things I should be pulling, and whatever, and that was it.
What was going through your mind as you were preparing to do the scenes where you have to go toe-to-toe with Jason Statham? And when you were done and actually survived it, did you feel a little tougher?
I think Jason does all of his own stunts, I'm pretty sure, at least most of them. I don't. My guy gets really beaten up and there's a stunt guy who was happy to do that. I've done a lot of movies with fight scenes and fight scenes, I think, they're more like dances than they are fights because you're depending on your partner to do the right move at the right time. Yes, a tough person, or somebody that knows what they're doing will look better in a fight scene, but it's also a lot to do with the other person. We had one fight scene in the movie and it was like, "Yeah, okay, this is great, I actually am not scared here, I feel great here because Jason knows what he's doing and I'm not going to get hurt," whereas somebody that hasn't done a lot of fight scenes, is not tough, would probably hit my hand with a sword, punch me in the face by accident, or whatever.
What happened to Luther, the cat, when the movie was over?
Oh, I have him. There were a couple of black kittens that were doubles, and I adopted them so I have them Now their names are Max and Lux. They're sisters.
Homefront hits theaters on Wednesday, November 27.