Interview By: Rocco Passafuime
Almost every actor in Hollywood is constantly faced with the one challenge that forever looms over their entire career, the ability to take their audience into new territory with them and successfully redefine themselves in the viewer’s eyes.
One current actor treading this path is none other than James Franco. He’s played a freak in the short-lived TV cult favorite Freaks and Geeks, a tortured, wealthy best friend and rival of a secret superhero in the Spider-Man movies, and a pot dealer in the hit comedy Pineapple Express.
Now Franco hopes to take his audience into his most unfamiliar territory yet as Scott Smith in Milk, a biographical drama that centers on the life story of San Francisco city supervisor and gay rights activist Harvey Milk. The 30 year-old actor first shared with us what compelled him to be a part of Milk’s story on the big screen.
“I was in London and my agents called me and told me that Gus was going to make this movie about a guy called Harvey Milk,” James recalls.
However, despite being a California native since birth, James claims he had no knowledge whatsoever of the San Francisco gay civil rights icon.
“I grew up in the Bay area in Palo Alto, 45 minutes from San Francisco,” he says, “So I didn’t really know who Harvey Milk was. I did a little research and I was amazed by his message and surprised and sad that nobody really taught me about him. I was born the year that he died, 1978. Emile [Hirsch] though was born in the 1980′s.”
However, once he learned more about Harvey, Franco says he was enthusiastic to jump on board for Milk right away, regardless of what role it was.
“It was an incredible story,” he recounts, “Without even reading the script, I wrote Gus an e-mail from London, saying I’ll do anything in this movie, just to be
James’ role in the film is Scott Smith, Harvey Milk’s partner and campaign manager. The actor shared with us how he researched the role.
“The real Scott passed away in the mid-nineties, so I never had a chance to speak to him,” Franco says, “But I read a bunch of stuff and watched a lot of the documentaries, which were very helpful to kind of get a sense of the time. But Scott, as important as I think he was to Harvey Milk, there wasn’t a lot of documented material on him, so I really did have to depend on the stories from people who knew him, Cleve Jones and Danny Nicoletta, the people that knew him at the camera shop with Scott and other people, Frank Robinson.”
We also asked Franco how he managed to pull of playing a character with such a more deeply personal tie to a historical figure.
“I guess the sense I got and the side of Scott that we were depicting in the script was that for the most part, I’m a supportive guy,” he says, “And just based on the facts of their life where Scott is there through big moments of Harvey’s life, when they met, Scott was a struggling actor, Harvey was in the closet, working in investment banking. And Scott was there when he wanted to come out, wanted to change his life.”
“He was there,” James adds, “He moved to San Francisco with him and he was there when Harvey wanted to start a political career and was Harvey’s campaign manager, not knowing anything about politics. So just being there, the fact that he was there for all of