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'Oz' to 'Spring Breakers': James Franco says he likes to 'zigzag'

March 26, 2013|By Mark Olsen
  • James Franco in 'Spring Breakers,' left, and 'Oz.''
James Franco in 'Spring Breakers,' left, and 'Oz.'' (Handout )

Keeping up with James Franco isn’t easy. He can currently be seen in theaters as the Wizard in “Oz the Great and Powerful” and as an outrageously scary-funny rapper-gangster named Alien in “Spring Breakers.” In the last few weeks, Franco has promoted both films while pursuing his wide-ranging outside artistic and academic pursuits. 

He released multiple music videos, including one starring the infamous filmmaker and author Kenneth Anger, as well as a clip with one “Breakers” co-star, Ashley Benson, lip-synching a song by another, Selena Gomez. Even Franco’s grandmother appeared in a clip promoting “Spring Breakers.” And he got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

If Disney's “Oz,” a prequel of sorts propelled by one of the best-known films of all time, can seemingly take care of itself, “Spring Breakers” has emerged as one of the oddest cultural objects of recent memory. Love it or hate it, people who see it need to talk about it.

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Directed by Harmony Korine and starring young female stars Gomez, Benson and Vanessa Hudgens in counterintuitive casting as college girls who fund a hard-partying vacation with a crime spree, the film is engaging and alarming, a sun-kissed head-trip. Two weekends ago, “Spring Breakers” pulled in the biggest limited-release debut so far this year on just three screens, and this past weekend on 1,110 screens it did a solid $5.4 million. But as it went for a more mainstream audience, the gun-toting, drug-stoked story left many moviegoers confused and some a little upset, inspiring frequent use of the Twitter hashtag #worstmovieever.

Franco hopped on the phone with us for a chat last week but wasn't interested in typical promo chatter of, say, how long it took to get into Alien’s cornrow hairstyle. Instead, he delved into headier topics. Of the film’s unique looping construction and uncanny ability to be different things to different people, he said: “The movie walks this weird ambiguous line where it’s a celebration and a critique.”

Why do you think “Spring Breakers” has become such a cultural talking point? In particular, why  are audiences responding so strongly to your character, Alien? Lines from the film are already pop-culture catchphrases.

Good question. Well, I’m not sure, but my guess is that it’s partly because of the subject matter and elements within it. You’ve got actresses coming from a pop world doing something new, you have music by Skrillex, and then you’ve got Harmony Korine’s sensibility that’s pulling them all together in this crazy kind of culture mash-up.  So it’s a movie that’s working on a lot of different levels. It’s not as if it’s aimed at any one group. Somebody who normally wouldn’t see a Selena Gomez movie now can go enjoy Selena Gomez because she still has all the myth and the history that surrounds her because of her other work but it’s sort of almost appropriated and put in a new context. People that wouldn’t normally go see a Harmony Korine movie can go and enjoy it because it’s a Harmony Korine movie with all of his sensibility but it has these other elements infused into it.

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As far as my character, it’s a dream character. He’s a character that’s also playing a character. He is his own creation. If you look at that guy and really think about, if he was an actual person you’d think “What the heck? How did that happen?” He’s quoting things, he’s turning his life into a work of art. And I think that’s very infectious.

[Ever the multitasker, Franco has a brief side conversation with someone else about scheduling -- who needs to be where when and who is available to help pick up paint supplies.]

One of the things about “Spring Breakers” is it’s two movies at once, both this fun, mindless party movie and a more soulful, thoughtful film with a really sophisticated structure. When you were constructing the character and playing Alien, do you feel like you kept that duality in mind?

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