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James Franco on Playing Sailor-Chasing Poet Hart Crane

James Franco wrapped his twenties-set Hart Crane biopic, The Broken Tower, on Tuesday morning, he told us at Rob Pruitt’s 2010 Art Awards at Webster Hall on Wednesday night. Though he said he’d originally planned only to direct the film, based on the Paul Marianna biography of the same name, Franco tells us he also played the gay poet, who killed himself at age 32: “I read that biography like six years ago in New Orleans while I did this movie called Sonny,” he explained to us after the awards ceremony. “I was really taken with [Crane’s] life. He had the quintessential tortured artist’s life. Even before he killed himself, he was a huge drinker and had lots of sex. He had one love in his life — this sailor named Emil — it was very short-lived, but lustful. He wrote 'Voyages' about him, with a lot of water imagery. There’s some lust there." He added: "There are other great writers and artists who produced great art, but they didn’t all have the most interesting lives. It’s like VH1’s Behind the Music: You don’t want the boring man, you want the man who did all the drugs and had a big crash."

The film began as an NYU assignment, apparently: “Six years ago, I didn’t know how to put a movie together, so I was just waiting around for somebody to do it for me or something. And then I went to film school at NYU, and you have to make a series of short films, so I made a series of three shorts all based on poems. But we didn’t use the text of the poems, it was just translated imagery. So when I had to do my thesis, I thought this would be the perfect next step. It wouldn’t be based on a single poem, it would be based on a poet’s life, and there would be many poems within it, and we could include some text.”

Franco said he played a Crane who was “amazingly comfortable with his sexuality.” He explained: “He was fine with it, from a young age, and this was in the twenties! He didn’t come out to his parents, but that was because his father made millions off of chocolate and he was afraid of losing his inheritance. A very weird thing happened at the end of his life, where he had a single heterosexual affair with Peggy Cowley, his friend’s ex-wife, while he was in Mexico. But that never seemed to me to be as if he had been tortured or trying to be straight or that that affair was an attempt to renounce who he had been. On the way back from Mexico to New York he jumped off the boat. But even on that boat ride, he hit on some guy.” And, good news: Franco told us he’ll have a gay sex scene in the film ("Yeah!"), but when we pressed for details, he joked, “You don’t get that exclusive.”

Photo: Jemal Countess/Getty Images