The enigmatic James Franco seems bent on playing characters who are, well, bent.
WHAT James Franco plays Allen Ginsberg in Howl
WHEN Opens Oct 1
What’s up with James Franco these days? Since the 32-year-old actor’s role as Harvey Milk’s boyfriend in 2008’s Milk, he’s smacked lips with half the cast of SNL, and his first solo art show, “The Dangerous Book Four Boys,” which opened June 23 at the Clocktower Gallery in Manhattan, explores the “sexual confusion” of adolescence. This fall, he’ll play gay again in the Allen Ginsberg biopic Howl. In anticipation of the film’s release, we look at the evolution of Franco’s sexually ambiguous career.
James Dean (2001)
Franco stars as the allegedly bisexual actor in this TV movie. Do yourself a favor: Fast-forward to minute 71:36 for a spectacular ass shot of a young Franco on the beach in Malibu. Otherwise, this ho-hum film glosses over the star’s purported same-sex relationships, but in the few scenes that do hint at Dean’s come-what-may attitude toward sexual orientation, Franco’s clearly having fun.
In Nicolas Cage’s directorial debut, a young Franco plays a hustler who trolls the French Quarter in New Orleans for rich cougars. On the plus side, Franco is naked for half of the film, but for gay content Sonny is only noteworthy for a scene in which Cage, playing a flaming gigolo, sets up Sonny with a man (Franco beats the shit out of the guy).
Watch Franco nervously tug at his ’70s ’fro when Sean Penn’s Harvey first seduces him, or the way he stares longingly at Penn. But most impressive is the way Franco’s mannerisms and swagger capture the breezy sexual vibe of San Francisco during the heyday of gay lib. He nails it.
Returning to his role as Dean, Franco finally gets to play him gay in the sketch “Vincent Price’s Christmas Special,” in which Fred Armisen as Liberace goes down on Dean at the piano. Even better, the “Kissing Family” sketch finds Franco locking lips with Will Forte, Bill Hader and Armisen, among others.
Could this be Franco’s best gay role yet? He portrays beat poet Ginsberg during the obscenity trial that occurred when Lawrence Ferlinghetti published the title poem in 1957. But this is no boring courtroom drama; Howl also flashes back to Ginsberg’s early life in New York City, where he meets his life partner, Peter Orlovsky. We’re howling already.