STRAIGHT JAMES: Hey bud, this is weird, you’re interviewing yourself.
GAY JAMES: Yeah, I know. Who’s doing the interview and who’s being interviewed?
STRAIGHT JAMES: Let’s just have a convo, and we’ll both try to get to the bottom of James.
GAY JAMES: Ok, deal. But my question is, who is the real James, and who is the mask?
STRAIGHT JAMES: I guess that’s what everyone wants to know, right?
GAY JAMES: I guess, but I also guess that even though I have this public persona that is all wacked out, and hard to pin down, or annoying, or whatever, that in some ways I’m still more real than if I were just hiding behind a façade or whatever.
STRAIGHT JAMES: Façade, meaning, like a movie star façade?
GAY JAMES: Yeah, like just hide behind my movies, and try to look cool, and don’t talk about anything of substance, just give bland answers to everything like an athlete: “Yeah, we played with heart out there tonight. Really brought it.”
STRAIGHT JAMES: Okay, so, good place to start, let’s get substantial: are you fucking gay, or what?
GAY JAMES: Well, I like to think that I’m gay in my art, and straight in my life. Although, I’m also gay in my life up to the point of intercourse, and then you could say I’m straight. So, I guess it depends on how you define gay. If it means whom you have sex with, I guess I’m straight. In the twenties and thirties they used to define homosexuality by how you acted and not whom you slept with. Sailors would fuck guys all the time but as long as they behaved in masculine ways they weren’t considered gay. I wrote a little poem about it:
“Gay New York”
Is the name of a book
About Gays in New York.
From the 19th century on.
Back in the thirties
Before the Second World War,
Gay wasn’t even a word,
Unless you meant happy.
You were “queer”
If you acted queer.
But you could turn a sailor
And still be straight.
As long as you didn’t speak
With a lisp or wear a dress.
Funny how a concept can change
A whole culture.
We have to worry
About who we have sex with.
Weird how one little blowjob
Will make you a fag nowadays.
STRAIGHT JAMES: Yeah, Hart Crane fucked a lot of those sailors.
GAY JAMES: Okay, Hart Crane . . . so, when you played him in the film you directed, The Broken Tower, you felate a dildo on screen and then simulated sex with Michael Shannon. What’s up with that?
STRAIGHT JAMES: “What’s up with that?” Well, I wanted those scenes to be explicit, for two reasons. One, I knew that Crane was a openly gay man in a time when that was rare, and he was so up front about it he scared his more conservative poetry friends, so those scenes were a way to parallel the in-your-face nature of Crane’s own sexuality. I also knew that the movie was going to be full of dense poetry so I wanted to break it up a bit with some hot sex.
GAY JAMES: Okay, but didn’t you know that that would be the only thing the reviewers would talk about?
STRAIGHT JAMES: Of course, but that’s their shortsightedness. And once I went to film school and started directing my own movies I realized that I was going to only direct movies that I really cared about in ways that I wanted regardless of critique. As an actor I have been in huge blockbusters like Spider-Man, and Planet of the Apes; and in critical hits like Milk, and 127 Hours, as well as successful comedies like Pineapple Express and This is the End, so I know all sides of success. But when directing my own projects the primary focus is the art. Yes, I want people to see them, and sure I’d like people to like them, but my primary allegiance is to the work itself.
GAY JAMES: Okay, whatever you say. But you’re also a goofball, especially on your Instagram account. Do you want people to think you’re gay? Wouldn’t it be a good thing if you were just a straight dude, like Ryan Gosling, just straight and cool?
STRAIGHT JAMES: Why would you say that it was a good thing that people would consider me straight? I actually like it when people think I’m gay, it’s a great shield. Like the guy in Shampoo, or the play that Shampoo is based on, The Country Wife by Wycherley.
GAY JAMES: What do you mean? You want to be able to go around screwing other people’s wives by pretending to be gay?
STRAIGHT JAMES: No. I guess I mean that I like my queer public persona, I like that it’s so hard to define me, and that people always have to guess about me. They don’t know what the hell is up with me, and that’s great. Not that I do what I do to confuse people, but as long as they are confused, I get time to play.
GAY JAMES: Some people think it’s annoying.
STRAIGHT JAMES: If I’m so annoying why do they write about me? If they were truly sick of my shit they would just ignore me, but they don’t. I don’t do what I do for attention, I do it because I believe in what I do. Of course some of it is tongue in cheek, but that’s just a tonal thing. It’s not like I call the paparazzi on myself or anything like that, I’m just having a conversation with the public. If you don’t want to be part of the convo, check out. If you do, cool.
GAY JAMES: Okay, but some people tell you to just screw a guy and then you’d get over all this gay art stuff like playing the gay poet Hart Crane, or the other gay poet Allen Ginsberg, or directing the movie Interior. Leather Bar, which has actual gay sex in it, or painting paintings of Seth Rogen naked. Maybe if you just f***ed a guy you’d get over all this exoticizing of gay life styles?
STRAIGHT JAMES: Maybe sex with a guy would change things, but I doubt it. Like I said, I’m gay in my art. Or, I should say, queer in my art. And I’m not this way for political reasons – although sometimes it becomes political, like when I vote for same sex marriage, etc. But what it’s really about is making queer art that destabilizes engrained ways of being, art that challenges hegemonic thinking.
GAY JAMES: But inevitably people will think that you’re gay, they will think that you’re in Milk, and Howl, and The Broken Tower, andInterior. Leather Bar because you are actually gay. That all these projects are ways of playing gay hide-and-seek.
STRAIGHT JAMES: These are all works of art, and art is free, art is its own realm. Of course they can be read through a biographical lens, and of course something like Interior. Leather Bar uses my persona to talk about some of these very issues, but they are still works of art and not exactly non-fictional statements about who I am.
GAY JAMES: Is this interview a non-fictional statement about who you are?
STRAIGHT JAMES: Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that I am answering as James Franco, but no in the sense that it is a public statement in an entertainment magazine which means that it is part of my public persona, and not my private veridical self – and even if it were in the New York Times it would be the same, it would be an expression of my public self.
GAY JAMES: Well, why don’t you stop playing games and give us a little of your private self?
STRAIGHT JAMES: Kind of impossible, don’t you think? As soon as I share it it becomes public. Here’s a little poem back at ya:
There is a fake version of me
And he’s the one that writes
He has an attitude and swagger
That I don’t have.
But on the page, this fake me
Is the me that speaks.
And this fake me is louder
Than the real me, and he
Is the one that everyone knows.
He’s become the real me
Because everyone treats me
Like I’m the fake me.
GAY JAMES: And why is the public self any less sincere than the private self.
STRAIGHT JAMES: That’s a good question. I guess for me I’ve disowned it a little bit. When I was young I tried so hard to control the public’s perception of me, but I found that to be a waste of energy, partly because I couldn’t control how people saw me, and partly because I stopped caring.
GAY JAMES: You don’t care if people don’t like you?
STRAIGHT JAMES: Sure I care, but I don’t let that stop me from doing something I believe in. And let’s say all my fans suddenly turned against me overnight, if I was honest, I couldn’t complain, because I have had an awesome life so far. I’ve had a life many people dream about, and if it went away tomorrow, I could still say I had my share of the good stuff.
GAY JAMES: Is that why you teach? To give back some of the good stuff to others?
STRAIGHT JAMES: Duh.
GAY JAMES: Want to elaborate on that?
STRAIGHT JAMES: Sure. I teach to stop thinking about myself for a bit. But also because I find the classroom to be a very pure place, largely unaffected by the business world. I like people who still dream big, who are consumed by their work, and that’s how most students in MFA programs are.
GAY JAMES: Okay, last question. What do you say to people who criticize you for appropriating gay culture for your work?
STRAIGHT JAMES: I say fuck off, but I say it gently. This is such a fraught issue, and I am sensitive to all its aspects. But first of all, I was not the one who pulled my public persona into the gay world, that was the straight gossip press, and the gay press speculating about me. I really don’t care what people think about my sexuality, and it’s also none of their business. So, I really don’t choose to identify with my public persona. I am not interested in most straight male bonding rituals, but I am also kept from being fully embraced by the gay community because I don’t think anyone truly believes I have gay sex.
GAY JAMES: Oh, some do, believe me.
STRAIGHT JAMES: Well, good, I like that.
GAY JAMES: Why?
STRAIGHT JAMES: Because it means that I can be a figure for change. I am a figure who can show the straight community that many of their definitions are outdated and boring. And I can also show the gay community that many of the things about themselves that they are giving up to join the straight community are actually valuable and beautiful.
GAY JAMES: Okay, can we talk about Child of God for a minute? You adapted the Cormac McCarthy novel and your buddy Scott Haze gives an amazing performance, already singled out by the New York Times.
STRAIGHT JAMES: Yup.
GAY JAMES: So, what the hell, James? Necrophilia? This dude is out in the woods having relationships with dead people! Everyone is going to think you’re more crazy than they already do.
STRAIGHT JAMES: Well, let’s remember that it’s a faithful adaptation of a book by Cormac McCarthy who won the Pulitzer and was on Oprah’s book club. But you’re right, it’s grizzly material. But I didn’t make the film because I was interested in sex with dead bodies, I did it because I was interested in who we are when we are alone and who we are when we’re intimate with another person. Lester Ballard is a character who has full relationships with his corpses, meaning he fills in both sides of the mental relationship but he gets a body to interact with.
GAY JAMES: Sort of like this conversation with yourself, except there is only one body.
STRAIGHT JAMES: Shit, I’d love to f*** you. Would that make me gay?
GAY JAMES: You jerk me off all the time.
STRAIGHT JAMES: Yeah, but I’m thinking about women when I do it, or watching straight porn.
GAY JAMES: So, I know tons of gay guys who watch straight porn.
STRAIGHT JAMES: Anyway, this interview is going a little south and I don’t think my publicist will appreciate us talking about porn.
GAY JAMES: FINE, whatever, one more question.
STRAIGHT JAMES: You said the other question was the last.
GAY JAMES: Well, you have a lot of f***ing projects to promote and your publicist wants you to talk about all of them.
STRAIGHT JAMES: Don’t tell me what my publicist wants.
GAY JAMES: Why not? She’s my publiscist too.
STRAIGHT JAMES: Yeah, but she wants you to stay out of the public eye because you’re gay.
GAY JAMES: That’s bullsh8t, Robin Baum doesn’t give a sh*t what I do.
STRAIGHT JAMES: I don’t know about that, but anyway, what’s your question?
GAY JAMES: Tell me about this new film directed by Justin Kelly, one of the editors from Milk.
STRAIGHT JAMES: Basically it’s about this guy Michael Glatze who was this huge gay activist in San Francisco in the early 2000s who worked for XY Magazine and would go around to high schools telling kids it was okay to be gay and then he had this huge turn around, and he found God, and then became Christian, and then was ordained as a Christian minister, and now he’s married to a woman. At first he turned on his ex-boyfriend and all his friends and said that if you’re gay you’re going to hell, but I think he’s since pulled back a little.
GAY JAMES: Well that’s nice of him.
STRAIGHT JAMES: Ha, yeah, he went a little extreme for a minute.
GAY JAMES: Hmmm, and why did he go straight?
STRAIGHT JAMES: He thought he was going to die.
GAY JAMES: And why are you gay?
STRAIGHT JAMES: Because it’s more fun.
GAY JAMES: And why would you make that movie? I mean, what’s the point?
STRAIGHT JAMES: Well it’s not as if it’s a movie itself is anti-gay. It’s just a very interesting and unique way to examine the way that straight and gay is defined, by others and how we define ourselves.
GAY JAMES (thinks for a minute): You know, you’re pretty arrogant.
STRAIGHT JAMES: Why do you say that?
GAY JAMES: I don’t know, this whole interview. Like, how dare you interview yourself? And it’s just so annoying because you’re always trying to be so Meta, like in This is the End.
STRAIGHT JAMES: Dude, this interview wasn’t my idea, I was asked by this magazine to interview myself. And I didn’t write This is the End, but I’m glad I was in it. It was a way to talk about a lot of stuff without being threatening because it was comedic.
GAY JAMES: Ok, let’s kiss in the mirror again.
STRAIGHT JAMES: You got it, baby.
(Editor’s Note: This story was originally assigned by me when I was the Editor in Chief of FourTwoNine magazine. The publication has since gone bankrupt and all evidence of the content has been scrubbed from the internet. I will be publishing some of its content here at sessumsMagazine.com to give it a renewed life. – Kevin Sessums)