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James Franco Shot His New Movie at the Venice Film Festival and I Was in It

The actor-filmmaker-performance artist was being honored with an award in Venice, and used the opportunity to shoot a scene for his latest movie, 'Zeroville'—shaved head and all.

Tiziana Fabi/AFP/Getty

People were admittedly startled when James Franco, the multi-hyphenate actor/filmmaker/performance artist/selfie extraordinaire, posted an Instagram photo on Thursday of himself with a shaved head and mustache—resembling Tom Hardy’s hell-raising thug in Bronson.

Well, now we know what he was up to.

The actor adopted the imposing ‘do for his upcoming role in Zeroville, an adaptation of Steve Erickson’s 2007 novel of the same name. Franco optioned the tome back in March 2011, and will star and direct the flick. He’ll play Ike “Vikar” Jerome, a 24-year-old demented film fanatic—or “cineautistic,” as he’s described—who travels to Hollywood to explore the 1970s movie scene. Vikar sports a shaved head with a tattoo of Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor from A Place in the Sun on the back of his chrome dome, and soon embarks on a surreal journey navigating the Tinseltown terrain, rubbing shoulders with characters like Robert De Niro, John Milius, Brian De Palma, and others.

I was one of the members in attendance at a ceremony on Friday afternoon honoring Franco, who was in Venice both to receive the fest’s Glory to the Filmmaker Award, and to premiere his latest film, an adaptation of William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury.

Things got strange as soon as I sat down. A festival flack asked me to move, so that an Italian gentleman in a tuxedo could take my seat. “We are going to shoot a scene…it will just take five minutes,” she told me. Then, Franco strutted in and sat down—sporting a shaved head, mustache, A Place in the Sun tattoo on the back of his noggin, and a tuxedo baring his exposed chest. Everyone inside the Sala Grande of the Palazzo del Cinema, a glamorous 1,036-capacity movie theater, was told to holster their phones and not take any pictures.

The cameras started rolling. Alberto Barbera, director of the Venice Film Festival, took the stage, flanked by a woman holding a trophy and a medal. He gave a speech in Italian honoring “Isaac Jerome.” Franco got up from his seat, and—looking startled—lumbered up to the stage, accepted the hardware, looked around quizzically, and muttered, “That’s not my name,” before being escorted offstage. The film scene was shot twice—for a wide shot, and a close-up—and the crowd was mostly left scratching their heads for being unwitting extras in a Franco joint.

“We’re shooting this for another movie I’m doing,” Franco told the audience in between takes. “Maybe it will be here next year.”

And, before you can say, “What the f*ck?”, Barbera took the stage once more, and the actual ceremony honoring Franco began.

“[Franco] is one of the most versatile and multi-talented auteurs on the current American scene, as an actor in cinema and theatre, director, screenwriter, producer, soap-opera star, video-artist, and much more—indeed, a relentless ‘manufacturer’ of cultural imagery,’” said Barbera.