Becoming Oz, An Interview with James Franco
In an effort to promote Walt Disney’s new movie: Oz the Great and Powerful, actor James Franco sat down and took part in a phone interview with several student presses across the country. Suffolk University was one of them.
PRESS: Recently, you’ve been doing a lot of serious movies. Why did you decide to attach yourself to this more family fun, adventure film?
JAMES FRANCO: Well, I’ve been a fan of the Oz books, the Baum, L. Frank Baum Oz books since I was a boy. I read all of them, when I was age eleven. They were some of the first books that I read on my own for pleasure and I’ve worked with the director, Sam Raimi in,you know, three previous films and so this was another chance to work with him. And then in addition to that, I saw the role as something I could have a lot of fun with and could be fairly creative with.
He was a written as a comedic character within this fantastical world, and I found that combination to be fairly unusual and I just thought it would,be a, juxtaposition of two different things, comedy and fantasy that would result in something entertaining.
PRESS: James, you mentioned in another interview that you read the Oz books when you were younger. You’ve already addressed this. When taking up this project, did you have any initial hesitations about portraying this character that you had read about?
JAMES: Yeah, well, because I was an Oz fan, um, I wanted to be sure that they had a sound approach and I was already very hopeful because Sam was involved- Sam Raimi, and, you know, he’s just one of best directors, and, um, I knew that they would capture the visuals of the movie very well, or at least I had hopes that they would. Uh, but I wanted to be sure that they were being loyal to certain things about Oz that, that people expect, and then also had a, a fresh take on it.
So, and, and they did, you know. They, they had all the elements you need in order for people to recognize the world of Oz. You had the Yellow Brick Road and the Emerald City, and witches, and flying monkeys, and a bunch of strange creatures, and Munchkins. Um, all the things that make up what we, we imagine Oz to be. But, um, and then I saw that their approach to the world, their- the emissary into the world was, um, not a male version of Dorothy, fortunately.
That they weren’t just gonna redo it, uh, with a, you know, innocent young person kind of walking through Oz- that my character was, instead, a kind of con man that was stumbling through Oz and, and because he’s trying- he’s pretending to be something he’s not, he gets into a lot of awkward situations that could be played for comedy. And I thought that comedic edge would help distinguish this version of Oz from other versions.
PRESS: James, how did you prepare for the role of Oz both physically and mentally?
JAMES: I had to be able to carry myself as a magician because my character, Oscar Diggs, starts of as a traveling magician in a, in a circus, and, um, and we even see a bit of one of his shows. So I needed to be able to do that, those tricks convincingly and to hold myself on, on stage like a magician in a, in a convincing way.
So they hired, uh, one of the best magicians in Las Vegas, Lance Burton, to come to, to Detroit, and he gave me- I was fortunate enough to have private lessons with him, and he taught me, um, how to, uh, uh, look, make it look like I’m, you know, having people levitate and, um, make it look like they’re, you know, evaporating in front of everyone’s eyes and, um, and then also just kind of how to hold myself on stage, you know. You know, he taught me all of that, so it was, it was great.
PRESS: What was your first impression or interpretation of Oscar/Oz when reading the script for the first time?
JAMES: Um, again, you know, it was, uh, his character starts off as a, a flawed man. He’s, uh, selfish, he’s a bit of a womanizer, uh, he thinks that, um, happiness will come from, you know, financial success and, and fame. And, um, it blinds him to the love of the people around him. And, um, I saw that, you know, one of the reasons to start the character off that way was that you could have, um, it would allow for growth in the character, and that the movie would not just be a physical journey through a mystical land, but it would also involve an inner journey of the character. …That he would go from this flawed person to possibly a better, becoming a better person.
PRESS: What did you personally bring to the character, Oz?
JAMES: Um, I guess I’d been doing a fair amount of comedies recently, and I saw this movie and this role as a chance to, um, use some of the, the comedy chops that I had, um, been developing in some other full-out comedies in a – but do it within a movie that, um, had more of an adventure tale, [more of] a structure. And, uh, so I like this idea of a, of a comedic character within an epic movie.
PRESS: Great, thank you. What can fans of yours expect to see from you in this film that they might not have seen before?
JAMES: I guess I don’t know. It’s more, I don’t know what they haven’t seen. I guess it is slight- a slightly different character than I’ve played in other films. I, I like the character because he’s very dimensional- you know, there’s a little bit of everything, you know.
He’s a bit of a charmer, he’s a conman, uh, he’s a magician, he’s an adventurer, he can be brave and cowardly, he has a tender side and, um, so it’s all kind of wrapped up in one character. Uh, so maybe there’ll- there’s something there that will be fresh.
PRESS: What’s different about working with Sam Raimi now than it was when you were working on Spiderman?
JAMES: Um, uh, I’ve known Sam for over ten years. He is, um, one of my favorite directors to both work with and, and one of, you know, he makes some of my favorite films. Um, when I worked on Spiderman with him, I was a, you know, a supporting character and, um, Sam Raimi identifies with his lead characters very closely.
And so he, uh, very much identified with Peter Parker. And because my character was trying to kill Peter Parker, I think Sam, um, blamed me for that, uh, and I, not in a harsh way, but I felt like, um, I got a little less love than, than Tobey McGuire on those films, uh, just because of the, what the character was doing. And now that I’m the protagonist in Oz, um, Sam is identifying with my character. And so, uh, I felt a lot more of Sam’s love on this film.
PRESS: James, how has it been balancing between your acting career and your collegiate education and endeavors?
JAMES: I have this balance of an academic career and a and a film career. It’s, um, in a lot of ways saved my life or made me a much happier person. I love the academic world. During the past seven years. I’ve gone to quite a few schools.
I, I got a little addicted to school but now I’m doing a lot more teaching than I am going- uh, studying and it’s a great new chapter in my life. I love teaching. I love being able to- I usually teach in creative programs so film programs or writing programs, or art programs and I love being able to focus on other people’s work and, and, you know, it takes me out of myself. I don’t have to think about my work all the time. I get to, you know, think about others.
PRESS: Your filmography as an actor and director is one of the most diverse in Hollywood. How do you balance your work in Oz with and indie film like Spring Breakers?
JAMES: Well, um, they’re very different movies but, um, they are both movies, and they’re made on different scales and they have very different subject matter, but there are essential things about making movies that are in place in both films. And, um, I guess I just go into the different projects, um, trying to figure out what the tone of the film in, what my place in the film is and, um, how I can best fit into that, that world.
So, um, so, you know, Spring Breakers has a particular character, and I just had to play him as believably as possible. He’s a, like, a gangster, mystic/rapper and, um, the Oz character is, you know, a magician/con man, so I just, you know, had to figure out how to play each of those roles as, as realistically as possible.