James Franco speaks out after sexual misconduct allegations, accusers blast his comments
James Franco is speaking out in an interview for the first time following sexual misconduct allegations against him – and his comments are being criticized by those who accused him.
Franco, 43, agreed to pay a $2.2 million settlement earlier this year after his former acting students filed a 2019 lawsuit alleging the actor pushed students at his Studio 4 school into increasingly sexual and exploitative scenes on camera.
"I'll admit I did sleep with students," Franco told host Jess Cagle on SiriusXM’s The Jess Cagle Podcast, in an interview Thursday. "I didn't sleep with anybody in that particular class. But over the course of my teaching, I did sleep with students, and that was wrong."
Cagle challenged Franco about how he couldn't see a power imbalance with Franco – a teacher, actor and producer – having a relationship with a student. Franco opened Studio 4 in Los Angeles in 2014 with his business partner, Vince Jolivette. The school closed in 2017.
"I suppose at the time, my thinking was if it's consensual, OK," he said, admitting he was blind to the power dynamics at play. "Of course, I knew talking to other people – other teachers or whatever – it's probably not a cool thing. At the time I was not clearheaded, as I've said."
He also said: "The stupidest thing I did, or one of the stupidest things I did at the school was I called one of my classes, a masterclass 'Sex Scenes.' It was not about sex scenes. I was not teaching people how to do sex scenes or intimate scenes or anything of that nature. It was a provocative title."
Lawyers for those who have spoken out against Franco blasted his comments.
"In addition to being blind about power dynamics, Franco is completely insensitive to, and still apparently does not care about, the immense pain and suffering he put his victims through with this sham of an acting school," according to a statement from Valli Kane & Vagnini LLP and Hadsell, Stormer Renick & Dai LLP, the alleged survivors' law firms. "It is unbelievable that even after agreeing to a settlement he continues to downplay the survivors’ experiences and ignore their pain, despite acknowledging he had no business starting such a school in the first place. This wasn’t a misunderstanding over a course name, it wasn’t the result of him being overworked – it was, and is, despicable conduct."
The plaintiffs in the 2019 lawsuit, Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal, accused Franco and his partners of "sexualizing their power as a teacher and an employer by dangling the opportunity for roles in their projects." According to the filing, $894,000 will be paid "to settle the Named Plaintiffs’ individual sexual exploitation claims" while the remaining $1.34 million is for a common fund to settle fraud claims.
Franco – known for his roles in TV series "Freaks and Geeks," his Oscar-nominated turn in "127 Hours" and film "The Disaster Artist" – said he thought he should keep quiet when complaints and an article surfaced in 2018 accusing him of misconduct. He had just won a Golden Globe award for best actor in a musical or comedy for "The Disaster Artist" and was starring in HBO's Times Square porn business drama "The Deuce."
"You just want to get out in front of it and whatever you have to do apologize, get it done," Franco said. "But what that doesn't do is allow you to do the work and to look at what was underneath, whatever you did. Even if it was a gaffe or you said something wrong, there's probably an iceberg underneath that of behavior, of patterning, of just being blind to yourself that isn't gonna just be solved overnight."
He claimed he's been doing a lot of work on himself, referenced his substance abuse and recovery at age 17 and said he is now coming to terms with his sex addiction.
"Success with women also became a huge source of validation for me," Franco said. "The problem with that is, I'm sure you can guess, like any sort of drug or anything, there's never enough."
Sex addiction is "such a powerful drug," Franco said, and he was hooked on it for decades.
"The insidious part of that is that I stayed sober from alcohol all that time," he added.
"I went to meetings all that time. I even tried to sponsor other people. And so in my head, it was like, ‘Oh, I'm sober. I'm living a spiritual life.’ Where on the side, I'm acting out now in all these other ways." He said he could never be faithful to any of his girlfriends.
"I wasn't like really a one-night-stand guy," he added. "People that I got together with or dated, like I'd see them for a long time, years. It's just that I couldn't be present for any of them. And the behavior spun out to a point where it was like I was hurting everybody," he said.
"Nobody should confuse this interview with Franco taking accountability for his actions or expressing remorse over what happened," the alleged survivors' lawyers added. "It is a transparent ducking of the real issues released just before a major holiday in hopes that he wouldn’t face any scrutiny over his response."
Franco's onetime collaborator Seth Rogen said earlier this year he didn't have plans to work with the actor again – which partly inspired Franco to talk now.
Speaking to Britain's Sunday Times, Rogen said he regretted saying in a 2018 interview he would still work with Franco following the allegations.
Rogen added the timing for the end of their professional relationship "is not a coincidence."
In 2014, Franco, then 35, made headlines after he propositioned a 17-year-old girl on Instagram. (He later apologized.) Rogen joked about the incident on "SNL," with Franco joining him onstage. Rogen expressed remorse over a 2014 joke on "SNL" about Franco dating underage woman. The allegations spiraled from there.
Franco told Cagle: "I love Seth Rogen. I worked with him for 20 years. We didn't have one fight for 20 years. Not one fight. He was my absolute closest work friend, collaborator. And, we just gelled and what he said is true: We aren't working together right now, and we don't have any plans to work together. Of course it was hurtful in context, but I get it. He had to answer for me, 'cause I was silent. He had to answer for me and I don't want that. And so that's why it's one of the main reasons I wanted to talk to you today. I don't want Seth or my brother (actor Dave Franco) or anyone to have to answer for me anymore."
Contributing: Brian Truitt, Bryan Alexander and Charles Trepany, USA TODAY; The Associated Press