At an Austin Film Festival panel discussion on Friday afternoon, James Franco revealed how Paul Thomas Anderson courted him for the role of Freddie Quell, since brought to vivid life by Joaquin Phoenix, in The Master. The actor-director-hyphenate extraordinaire was in town to present Francophrenia, his experimental documentary about his time playing the smirking villain Franco on the ABC soap opera General Hospital.
Towards the end of the 75-minute conversation, an audience member asked Franco to discuss a specific movie role on his resume that had initially intimidated him. Franco couldn’t really think of one, which reminded him of a funny story.
“Well, I don’t know if this is a funny story but it’s a true story,” he said. “Paul Thomas Anderson was getting ready to make the Master and he called me and we met. And we talked and we ended up meeting for coffee. We didn’t talk about the Master but I met him to chat. And then he kept calling me and he wanted to talk and talk but I didn’t know what he wanted to talk about because we’d always just kind of bulls— on the phone. So then when he started talking about the role he said ‘Do you feel like you can do this?’ And I said ‘Yeah, totally. Look, I think you’re like the best American director. I feel confident. I know I can do this.’ And he said to me ‘But I want this to scare you. I want this role, going on this journey to scare you.’ And I was like ‘Scare?! I know I can do it.” Franco now had the laughing audience in the Stephen F. Austin Intercontinental ballroom in the palm of his hand. “And so, incredible movie, needless to say I didn’t get the part. I guess I wasn’t scared enough or something, or whatever reason I didn’t get it. And then when I saw Joaquin in that movie I realized ‘Oh, he wanted me to like lose my mind.’ And so I guess that’s just to say I usually don’t get scared of roles.
The conversation moved on, to an earnest young woman asking him how much of himself he pours into his roles. But Franco interrupted her halfway through. “You know, I’ll say one, I’ll say a role. The Oscars was challenging because the material they gave me was CRAP!”
Franco’s Francophrenia premieres tonight at Austin’s Paramount Theater at 7 p.m. Supposedly his beefy hunk of a co-star, General Hospital‘s Steve Burton, will glower next to him on the red carpet.