“It’s a weird experience,” James Franco said of the hysteria surrounding The Interview. The actor sat down with The Daily Beast at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival to discuss his new movie I Am Michael, Gus Van Sant protégé Justin Kelly’s first feature about Michael Glatze, a former gay rights advocate and editor at the popular gay-themed magazine XY who publicly renounced his homosexuality and became a born-again Christian. Franco delivers a layered performance as the movie’s fraught-with-contradictions protagonist.
Our talk eventually turned to The Interview, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s action-satire about a narcissistic, hare-brained TV host (Franco) and his wily producer (Rogen) who are tasked by the CIA with assassinating North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un—a big fan of their program.
In case you’ve been living under a rock, if President Obama and the FBI are to be believed, the film incited the North Korean government to commission a crippling cyberattack against the film’s distributor, Sony Pictures Entertainment, resulting in an unprecedented leak of internal company files and salacious emails about A-listers online. After Guardians of Peace, the hacking group responsible for the breach, threatened to bomb theaters showing the film, the five major theater chains backed out of showing it. Sony initially decided to cancel the release of The Interview—but, after being called out by a gaggle of politicians and patriots, including President Obama in a nationally televised address, the film was released in arthouse theaters and online. It is currently streaming on Netflix.
Franco found it odd how the film was used as a political tool for “right-wingers,” many of whom, despite harboring resentment towards liberal Hollywood, championed seeing the movie in the name of the U-S-A, the First Amendment, and as a gut-punch to North Korea—including possible 2016 presidential hopeful Mitt Romney.
“It’s funny to see all the different reactions, and the way they also changed,” Franco told The Daily Beast. “At first, it was as if all of Hollywood was under attack and we’re representing Hollywood, and then you have these right-wingers coming out and saying, ‘Go see this movie!’ Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney are saying, ‘Go see this movie!’ without having even seen it themselves, just because.”
While support for The Interview was intense in the immediate wake of the Sony hack, once the film was released, it was met with very mixed reviews. Because of the entire hullabaloo, expectations for the action-comedy-satire had reached mammoth proportions, and many audience members felt let down by the actual product.
“And then when it came out, it’s a genuinely funny movie, but the older crowd also had these weird expectations that it would be Zero Dark Thirty or something, when I think what Seth and Evan did—which was great—was blend their normal, genuinely funny comedy with a subject that is pretty serious,” said Franco. “It felt like there was some resentment from people that Seth Rogen, the lovable stoner, would dare take on such a subject. Like, ‘How dare you! You should just stick to your frat house movies!’ when in fact I think it’s an amazing film.”
Regardless of what you think of The Interview, history will undoubtedly look back on the film as a fascinating moment in cinema history for all the havoc it wreaked. And recently, activists in South Korea have been venturing to the border dividing North and South Korea and launching balloons containing posters about the movie into the totalitarian country, next they plan to send DVDs.
“I heard they were going to do that!” Franco said of the ballooning. “I don’t even know if [North Koreans] have DVD players, though.”
This is a portion of a longer feature on the film I Am Michael that will run later this week.