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James Franco Finally Fully Explains How His Grand General Hospital Plan Came to Be

For months we've obsessed over the reasons behind James Franco’s bizarre-but-fascinating decision to join the cast of General Hospital as a murderous artist named Franco. So when we ran into the coy actor Monday night at a Cinema Society screening of his Sundance-bound Allen Ginsberg biopic, Howl, we asked for — nay, demanded! — a straightforward explanation for his soap-opera move. And he finally gave it to us.

It turns out Franco has been a soap fan for a long time. “I was home sick a lot because I didn’t like school when I was little,” he said. “So if I wasn’t watching my VHS copy of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, or Whoopi Goldberg’s movie Jumping Jack Flash — because those were the only two movies we had the foresight to record — I guess I was watching soap operas.” So he called up the folks at General Hospital, who were, of course, ecstatic. He only gave them one bit of direction: “I said, ‘I want to play an artist, and I want him to be crazy.’ And they wrote this character that was better than I could have ever asked for. It was their idea to call the character Franco. I said, ‘That’s crazy. Thank you.’” It was only after he’d signed up that he decided to bring his own crew along to film the filming, he said, “because I wanted to really have ownership over the piece.” (This footage would be part of his yet-to-be-confirmed performance-art show at Deitch Projects' Long Island City space this spring. And, in true meta form, that show might in turn be taped for a special episode of General Hospital.)

In the next year, Franco will star in Danny McBride’s medieval adventure comedy, Your Highness, and play a small role in Tina Fey’s Date Night, which he said is how he ended up on 30 Rock as himself, in love with a Japanese body pillow named Kimiko-tan. When Fey told him about the role, he said, “I thought it was pretty weird at first, but then I met Kimiko and she’s so pretty and sweet. I kept her. She’s at the apartment. I haven’t been around for a while, so she’s been a little lonely.”

Franco said the soap has made him a better actor. He recently auditioned for the role of Aron Ralston, the real-life trapped hiker who amputated his own arm with a pocket knife, in Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire follow-up, 127 Hours. The director asked him to quickly memorize and deliver his audition speech, and Franco nailed it. “Because I had just done General Hospital, where I was doing 77 pages a day, I can memorize like that,” he said snapping his fingers. “I have to give credit to General Hospital for being able to memorize like that, and I got the part!”

In the next year, Franco will star in Danny McBride’s medieval adventure comedy, Your Highness, and play a small role in Tina Fey’s Date Night, which he said is how he ended up on 30 Rock as himself, in love with a Japanese body pillow named Kimiko-tan. When Fey told him about the role, he said, “I thought it was pretty weird at first, but then I met Kimiko and she’s so pretty and sweet. I kept her. She’s at the apartment. I haven’t been around for a while, so she’s been a little lonely.”

While Franco’s career choices of late may seem random, they don’t surprise those who’ve known him for a while, like John Cameron Mitchell, who was at the Howl screening. Mitchell recalled that Franco had auditioned for the role of protegé rock star Tommy Gnosis in the 2001 movie version of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Mitchell ultimately gave the part to Michael Pitt because he thought Franco was too conventionally good-looking for the role. “Remember him in the movie?” said Mitchell. “He was kind of, you know, odd. He’s more Goth or something, whereas James was so classically good-looking that it was like, ‘There’s no way that he can be a freak.’” Nine years later, Mitchell has reevaluated. “But when you meet [Franco] and see his work, you realize he is a freak. He’s a holy freak! He’s cool, because he loves all this stuff. I mean, you don’t see Tom Cruise wanting to do all these interesting projects and fuck with everybody’s expectations.”


See more from the Howl screening in the Party Lines slideshow.

Photo: Chris Chavira/ABC