The Observer Heads Out for a Chat with James Franco and Ends Up At an AA Meeting with a Full-Service Bar

A scruffy Franco, post open bar, pre Q&A (Julie Cunnah Photography)

In our post-fashion week hammock of a lull, with the Presidents Day exodus to boot, we were surprised when our inbox lit up yesterday afternoon with a short note from our friends at the Film Society of Lincoln Center: “Hey, do you want to meet James Franco?” What a silly question.

Doing a quick bit of research, we learned he was hosting a remixed screening of Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho. Mr. Franco aptly redubbed his take on the cult classic “My Own Private River” an homage to the late River Phoenix, a young actor that had made a lasting impression on an even younger James.

As we approached the Walter Reade Theater for this Franco flavored chapter of the Film Comments Select Series, we spotted our PR contact and he yanked us inside. “Come on you have to see this, they’ve decorated the reception exactly like an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting … except there’s an open bar.”

Having seen our fair share of flicks depicting AA meetings, this fit the bill: chintzy channel fabric hung the walls in medieval monotones, utilitarian foldout tables piled high with pamphlets, a respectable snack area in the corner. Atypical from the scene, however, was the wide grin smacked across the face of a bartender, holding court over an impressively stocked open bar.

Drink in hand we eyeballed the projector displaying what had been discarded footage from Van Sant’s original cut of My Own Private Idaho, turning back around to attack the cheese booth, in walks Franco.

Typically swaggered, slightly squinted (a la Oscars), and donning a quilted Gucci leather jacket, Mr. Franco beamed around the room, shaking hands, kissing babies and then, finally, speaking with The Observer.

JF: Hey man, have we met before? You look familiar.

NYO: I don’t believe so, but that’s not terribly important. Mind if I ask you what it was like to obliterate an apartment with a sledgehammer on film for Wholphin films?

JF: You saw that! Haha! I love those guys, we had a ton of fun. I really fucked that room up didn’t I? Funny you mention Wholphin actually, it’s a bit under wraps but I’m doing a whole new project with them, basically focusing on all of my short films from film school. It’s gonna be fun.

NYO: Speaking of film school, we seem to remember a scurrilous headline from the Huffington Post trumpeting the fact that you received a “D” in one of your film courses at NYU–it’s good to see that that blow didn’t make you rethink your career.

JF: Ahh man, not you, too! Look, everyone who’s anyone who’s ever been to film school can tell you this–it’s not about the grades, it’s about the body of work you produce. I knew I had that grade coming, had discussed it with the teacher, I think there’s actually some sort of lawsuit or something around that whole thing. Either way it’s stupid.

NYO: So what was the initial attraction to My Own Private Idaho? Was it the Shakespearean connection? I mean, you were, what, 15 when River died?

JF: Yeah, I was young, but River had influenced me from an even younger age, along with Van Sant’s work. These guys were idols of mine, so when we found what had been lost footage, the dailes, the cuts, etc, it was a total honor to re-cut the movie in tribute.

“Would everyone please take their seats in the theater!”

NYO: Looks like it’s that time, James.

JF: Take Care, man.

Wholphin is the film imprint of McSweeney’s. See James Franco destroy a bedroom on Wholphin No. 8 (

The Observer Heads Out for a Chat with James Franco and Ends Up At an AA Meeting with a Full-Service Bar