James Franco has responded to multiple allegations of sexual misconduct made throughout his career, including at his now-defunct acting school Studio 4, on the sets of his independent movies and while starring in a Broadway show.
During his recent appearance on SiriusXM‘s The Jess Cagle Show, the actor spoke at length about the allegations made by former students of Studio 4, who settled with Franco for $2.2 million following a class-action lawsuit alleging sexual exploitation and fraud. Franco asserts that the master class tied to several of the suit’s allegations — filed in 2019 by actresses Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal — had a “provocative” name but did not involve doing actual sex scenes, despite it being named “Sex Scenes.”
While Franco denied the allegations about what took place in his “Sex Scenes” course, which includes that he pushed students into performing in increasingly explicit sex scenes on camera in an “orgy-type setting,” lawyers representing his accusers in the class-action lawsuit have responded to his statements. They assert that the class “wasn’t a misunderstanding over a course name” nor about him being overworked, but “was, and is, despicable conduct.”
The statement goes on to say that Franco is not only “blind about power dynamics” but “completely insensitive” to the pain and suffering experienced by his accusers at his hands “with this sham of an acting school.”
“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,” Valli Kane & Vagnini LLP and Hadsell, Stormer Renick & Dai LLP, the law firms representing Franco’s accusers in litigation against him and his production company Rabbit Bandini Productions, said.
“Nobody should confuse this interview with Franco taking accountability for his actions or expressing remorse over what happened,” the statement continues. “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.”
During the podcast, admits to sleeping with a student and concedes that other teachers had made clear “that’s probably not a cool thing.” He, however, denies the two were in the class tied to the class-action. He also addresses the allegation that with starting Studio 4 he “sought to create a pipeline of young women who were subjected to his personal and professional sexual exploitation in the name of education.”
Franco calls this a “misconception” and argues that after years of teaching at elite and costly graduate drama schools, he opened his own for those who couldn’t “afford these programs,” teaching the same way he did at the other institutions.
“I still had a little bit of sobriety or stuff that I learned in sobriety and I thought, it’s good for me when I help other people,” he said, while acknowledging at another point in the podcast that, “I had no business starting my own school.”
As to why Franco agreed to settle the suit, he told Cagle: “I can’t say too much because the school’s insurance company has settled that lawsuit, but some people felt that they had been mistreated, and the insurance company and we all felt like the easiest thing would be to settle this.”
Beyond the issues with his now-closed school, during the hourlong conversation, Franco talks about a wide range of issues related to his professional and personal conduct over the last decade, including what Cagle calls “a pattern of inappropriate interactions with young women.” Franco chalks up some on-set actions on independent films that resulted in misconduct allegations to not having experience in handling sex scenes and nudity on a closed set where people could “feel safe.”
One allegation accused the actor of springing requests — or demands — for nudity in scenes on the cast. Franco clarified that this had nothing to do with the school, and was instead related to a “production that was about a brothel in the 1940s.”
He said that there were “a couple times when on set” that inspiration occurred and he decided to add an unscripted scene. “So what we did is said, ‘Who wants to be in the scene?’ And then there would be volunteers and we’d go and shoot it,” he explained, before noting that in hindsight, an intimacy coordinator could have addressed the issues on the set.
“Of course, people need to feel safe on set and they shouldn’t be put in this place where they feel like they are paying money to maybe get into my films or be in a situation where they don’t feel safe, and they don’t have anybody,” Franco said referencing both the power dynamics on his films and at his school.
Cagle questioned Franco about those power dynamics multiple times, with Franco admitting repeatedly that he should have seen them but didn’t. That includes a text exchange between a then-17-year-old fan while he was working on Broadway’s Mice & Men in 2014. He says he and the girl first met outside the stage door, where he would after every performance to “sign autographs and take selfies” before they talked on social media about meeting up before he “learned she was a couple of weeks short of 18” and called it off.
It was something he says he shouldn’t have done before describing it as “very embarrassing” and stating that after their stage door interaction, he “never saw that person again.”
But there were other allegations, according to Franco, where he’s much clearer on his understanding of what happened and what line had, or hadn’t, been crossed. That includes an allegation that while filming an orgy scene on one of his independent projects, he removed the plastic guard that actresses were wearing and simulated oral sex on them.
“It just didn’t happen. I never took a guard off of anyone — ever — in my life. Just didn’t happen,” he said, reiterating a previous denial of the allegation. “It’s all I can say about that. We have footage that shows that never happened on that particular project.”
Throughout the podcast, Franco links his behavior around the misconduct allegations to his history of addiction and his choices to constantly work, juggling multiple projects and jobs, to his decision-making. He did those things, he says, because “I didn’t want to be alone with myself,” but that behavior ultimately clouded his judgment. He also asserts that no one directly called him out on his behavior.
“Maybe I wasn’t creating a safe environment where they could go and talk to me, but nobody said anything to me,” he said.” In fact, I have to say, it was sort of hard to understand that I was crossing a line at that time, not only because I didn’t even have the concept of intimacy coordinates, but [there were] a lot of posts on social media at that time from people in the film, literally saying, this is the best experience ever.”
The Disaster Artist star also discusses his decision to speak up, citing its impact on both those close to him and who have worked with him, noting that he’s speaking out because family and friends have had to answer for me. That includes longtime collaborator Seth Rogen, who publicly distanced himself from Franco following the allegations.
“What he said is true. We aren’t working together right now and we don’t have any plans to work together,” Franco said. “Of course, it was hurtful in context, but I get it. He had to answer for me because I was silent.”