EW exclusive: James Franco talks directing William Faulkner, and how Jacob from 'Lost' helped him land 'Blood Meridian'
Image Credit: Jon Furniss/WireImage.comJames Franco has never been one shy away from a challenge, whether it’s guest-starring on General Hospital or co-hosting the Oscars, but adapting both William Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy for the screen appears to be two especially giant-sized steps towards potential disaster. Or, alternatively, towards becoming the next Orson Welles. It’ll be awhile until we know, but in the meantime Franco is moving full steam ahead and he confirms to EW that he hopes to direct film versions of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. If everything goes according to plan, the Faulkner would be first, filming this summer, and then the Blood Meridian in 2012. “I think they go together, though,” Franco told EW. “I think McCarthy is really influenced by Faulkner.”
It’s not like Franco doesn’t have directing experience. The actor has debuted his short films at major film festivals, and he recently wrapped shooting a feature with similarly literary themes, The Broken Tower, about the life of poet Hart Crane. But taking on As I Lay Dying, Faulkner’s 1930 masterpiece about a family transporting their mother’s body to her burial plot, would be a tall order for anyone, especially considering the fact that the novel continually cycles between narrators, including the dead matriarch. “You want to capture the tone, but you can’t work in exactly the same way,” says Franco. “I don’t believe it’ll feel the same if you divide it as rigidly as the book, like titles that say ‘Cash’ and then you’re with Cash. You can slip into the characters’ heads and give them their inner voice for a while, but it has to be more fluid because movies just work differently than books. Movies, in some ways because they deal in images, are more concrete. I want to be loyal to the book — my approach is to always be loyal in a lot a ways — but in order to be loyal I will have to change some things for the movie.”
Blood Meridian, McCarthy’s 1985 semi-apocalyptic Western, is well on its way to belonging to the same pantheon as Faulkner’s work, if it’s not there already, and there have long been plans to adapt it into a film, especially after the success of No Country for Old Men. The rights belong to Scott Rudin, and both Tommy Lee Jones and Ridley Scott have been connected to the project at one point or another. So how did Franco end up attached? Well, he was very determined to be the one to bring the novel to the screen, so he shot a test sequence of a scene from the book with relatively high production values, including horses, costumes and period-accurate props. Mark Pellegrino (a.k.a. Jacob from Lost) played the Judge — one of the most horrific villains ever to grace a work of American fiction — and the sequence also starred the likes of Scott Glenn, Luke Perry, and Franco’s brother Dave, also an actor. “We made that as a way to convince Scott Rudin to give us the rights,” Franco says. “It was like, why should he give it to me when Ridley Scott didn’t make it? So I called him up and said, ‘I’m planning on doing this. You don’t have to give me any money, I can finance this shoot. Would you just wait? Don’t do anything with it until I show this to you.’ And I showed it to him and he loved it.”