After four years of relative silence about the allegations of sexual misconduct leveled against him by multiple women, James Franco says he’s ready to “take some ownership over some things.” But if you actually listen to the actor’s hourlong interview on The Jess Cagle Podcast, you might begin to notice that the “things” for which he actually assumed accountability were the ones that posed the least risk to his career.
The interview, available in full on SiriusXM, carefully addressed allegations from the 2018 Los Angeles Times article that forced Franco to address his alleged sexual misconduct and exploitation of multiple female students and mentees. Franco said he’s refrained from addressing the allegations so far—although his lawyers did call a lawsuit brought forward against him and his acting school “a travesty of justice”—because “there were people who were upset with me, and I needed to listen… I’ve really used my recovery background to start examining this and changing who I was.”
“I guess there was a lot of work to be done,” Franco said at one point. “In that silence, in the vacuum of me speaking out, now my family and friends have had to answer for me. And I don’t think that’s right. I don’t want anybody to have to answer for me. So now I’m speaking out.”
Among the allegations that emerged in the 2018 exposé: Franco’s acting school provided him with access to a bevy of young female performers—several of whom alleged that Studio 4’s classes pushed them to perform intimate scenes outside of their comfort zones. Two actresses from one of Franco’s independent productions, including one of his students, said he’d removed protective guards from their vaginas before simulating oral sex during an orgy scene.
Violet Paley, an aspiring filmmaker who met Franco in her early 20s and began a romantic relationship with him after they met in 2016, told the Times Franco had pressured her into performing oral sex on him—an incident five people confirmed she’d mentioned to them contemporaneously.
Throughout his hour with Cagle, Franco framed his behavior as the result of a “hole” in his “soul” that he’d been trying to fill through various external sources—alcohol during his teen years, followed by work and sex once he entered recovery and got sober.
“A year before the article, I had already hit a wall,” the actor said. “After 20 years of working like an insane person, I was done. People had warned me, ‘Hey, you’re gonna get burned out.’ The problem is, I took that as a badge of honor.” He claimed that a year before the Times article came out, he’d stepped back from work and dating; he also said he’s been in recovery for sex addiction since 2016.
But for all the “accountability” Franco wants us to believe he’s taking, it’s hard not to notice just how precisely the interview sidesteps any allegation or admission that might carry even a whiff of liability.
In 2019, two former Studio 4 students—Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal—alleged in a lawsuit that Franco had founded his school to gain access to a pool of young performers he and his male collaborators could exploit. Franco and his co-defendants settled this summer for $2.2 million.
The lawsuit alleged that Franco’s schools required students to audition for classes like “Sex Scenes” on video so that Franco could review them. (Franco denied he selected students for the class or saw any of the videos.) The complaint further alleges that nudity riders and other standard industry protections were absent.
Studio 4 abruptly shuttered both its locations in late 2017. Franco claimed to Cagle that the “Sex Scenes” class at the heart of several allegations against him in both the Times article and the lawsuit had been named to sound more provocative than it was. He also denied that Studio 4 was intended to create a “pipeline” of women for sexual exploitation but did admit to sleeping with students.
“That was wrong,” Franco said. “But like I say, that’s not why I started the school. And I wasn’t the person that selected people to be in the class. So it wasn’t a master plan on my part.”
The actor added that he’d internalized the idea that as long as his interactions were consensual, they were “cool”—a notion he says he’s since realized was mistaken.
Valli Kane & Vagnini LLP and Hadsell, Stormer Renick & Dai LLP—the law firms representing survivors behind the suit—responded to Franco’s remarks with a statement on their clients’ behalf.
“In addition to being blind about power dynamics, Franco is completely insensitive to, and still apparently does not care about, the immense pain and suffering he put his victims through with this sham of an acting school,” the attorneys wrote in a statement provided to The Daily Beast. “It is unbelievable that even after agreeing to a settlement he continues to downplay the survivors’ experiences and ignore their pain, despite acknowledging he had no business starting such a school in the first place.”
“This wasn’t a misunderstanding over a course name, it wasn’t the result of him being overworked—it was, and is, despicable conduct,” the statement continues. “Nobody should confuse this interview with Franco taking accountability for his actions or expressing remorse over what happened. It is a transparent ducking of the real issues released just before a major holiday in hopes that he wouldn’t face any scrutiny over his response.”
Despite two women’s allegations that Franco had removed the plastic guards covering actresses’ vaginas to simulate oral sex on them during a shoot, he claimed to have “footage that shows that never happened on that particular project.” (Cagle did not press Franco for details.) The actor also denied he’d ever become angry when performers declined to engage in nudity not previously discussed ahead of filming.
Most striking about Franco’s interview, however, were the allegations he outright ignored or seemed to mischaracterize.
The interview made no mention Paley’s allegation of sexual coercion, despite several sources’ claim to the Times that she’d described the incident to them shortly after it happened. Paley did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment about the interview but appears to have responded with a pointed retweet of Harvey Weinstein accuser Sarah Ann Masse: “Claiming ‘consensual’ sex w/ students while claiming ignorance of power dynamics & blaming sex addiction is not the accountability some are making it out to be. Waiting 4 yrs & still not admitting to any abuse is gaslighting his survivors.”
And when Franco addressed his alleged attempt to meet up with a 17-year-old at a hotel, his description left out an important detail. Although Franco claimed that after he learned the girl was “a couple weeks short of 18,” they “sort of called that off,” the screenshots from their conversation that surfaced indicated that he continued to pursue her after she’d confirmed her age.
Throughout his interview, Franco tethered his improper conduct to his struggles with addiction and atrophied social skills. “I hid behind the facade of my fame,” he said. The final third of the interview delves into how his social skills “atrophied” as he used his status as a “lure.” Now, Franco says, he’s changed—and will “keep working at it for the rest of my life.”
“I do think I was put on this Earth to be creative,” Franco said toward the end of the conversation. “I don’t know what form that comes in in the future. I’m just trying to be open, and hopefully whatever does come around, I can be an example of somebody that creates safe environments and makes that a priority.”
As wonderful as James Franco’s recovery might be for James Franco, however, true accountability requires recognizing and taking full ownership of the pain one has caused. Franco and his attorneys might argue that this interview constitutes such an acknowledgement, but something tells me his accusers (and a lot of sexual abuse survivors) would prefer that he continue to work on himself silently.