Interview By: Andrea Tuccillo
James Franco seems to have an affinity for war-themed movies. When he’s not hanging out with Spidey, you can usually find Franco outfitted in military attire in films like The Great Raid and Annapolis. The uniform suits him quite well, but more than likely it’s the movies’ underlying themes of strength and courage that draw Franco to the genre. He has great admiration and respect for the men on the front lines, and relishes the opportunity to pay homage to these brave souls.
In his new World War I period piece Flyboys, Franco is once again playing a man in uniform. But this time, he’s soaring to new heights. Franco portrays a young American pilot named Blaine Rawlings who volunteers to fight on behalf of the French military before the United States enters the war. Rawlings and his team were among the country’s first fighter pilots.
Influenced by the film role, Franco acquired his own pilot’s license shortly before production began. Flyboys director Tony Bill is also a pilot and he took Franco up for his first time in a small plane. After flying for a bit and doing some tricks, Franco was inspired to make it his new hobby.
“I loved it and I had the time so I figured I might as well,” says Franco. “It took me about three months and I got my license.”
Although insurance restrictions prevented Franco from doing his own flying in the film, all of the actors were able to experience the thrill in two-seater planes.
“Every maneuver you see in the film was done with the actors so you can get their real reactions and then at the end I did about two weeks of green screen to kind of augment what we did in the plane and primarily that was for stunts when the planes are flying really close,” says Franco.
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“Tony Bill is a real pilot and also a World War I buff and he was a stickler about accuracy,” says Franco. “He didn’t want anything in there that was ‘Hollywood-ized’ or anything like that. The fights were spectacular, but how the planes actually move even when they did CGI is based on what can really happen in flight.”
Filming the flight sequences wasn’t all fun and green screens. Franco had to endure some pretty risky stunt work in order to bring an authenticity to the film. One such stunt involved Franco being strapped onto a rig on the outside of a helicopter. He was filmed as the helicopter whipped over trees and through clouds, to make it appear as if he was flying a plane.
“I was used to flying, I had my license,” says Franco. “It’s just that aerobatic flying takes endurance. I never got sick but after two weeks of going up and doing loops everyday–we had to get the right weather, so whenever there was a break in the weather we’d rush up there, do as many tricks as possible and it just got a little tiring after a while.”
Although the film is set in a different era, Franco is glad that its subject matter will now be presented to a younger audience and perhaps educate them on a thing or two. He also believes that the movie’s special effects allow for a more appealing and realistic portrayal of aviation than filmmakers were able to produce in the past.
“There really hasn’t been a World War I aviation film for a long time,” Franco laments. “The great ones are Wings and Hell’s Angelsâ€¦I think
So what’s next for the high-flying Franco? Believe it or not, there may be some comedy in this serious actor’s future.
“I’m at a point now where I just want to do things I love, so I’m being particular now about what I do,” says Franco. “There is a movie that I would probably do called Pineapple Express which will reunite me with my Freaks and Geeks friends. It’s Judd Apatow and Seth Rogan who wrote the script and will star in the movie with me.”
In addition to being in front of the camera, Franco has also just directed his third film called Good Time Max, which is in post-production and will be making the festival rounds soon. For this movie multi-tasker, sky’s the limit!