Maladies Katherine Keener

In upcoming film Maladies, screening at SXSW next week after premiering at the Berlin Film Festival late last year, James Franco stars as James, a troubled former soap opera star who moves to a small town under the guise of writing a memoir. He lives with his sister, who is mentally ill (Fallon Goodson) and best friend, Catherine (Catherine Keener) — an artist who is a cross dresser. In the exclusive photo below, we see Catherine at work on a sculpture.

Maladies Katherine Keener

Just before the scene above, James and Catherine are having a heated discussion — James thinks that when one of them dies, the other should finish their unfinished work, a repeated theme in the film. Catherine’s response: “Don’t talk that way, it’s ludicrous.” After James leaves, Catherine retreats into her cross dressing, putting on men’s clothes.

“It wasn’t strange putting on a suit and tie,” Keener said. “Costume helps you get into whatever you’re doing. Kids put on a cape and all of a sudden you’re Superman — it helps you figure it out. But at the same time there’s a silly quality to it.”

The film is the artist Carter’s first feature film; he is more known for his multimedia work and photography, including the art film, “Erasing James Franco.” Keener said Franco’s previous collaboration with Carter drew her into the project. “Carter is a very unique, very talented artist. There’s tremendous empathy in his work and his outlook,” she said.

Maladies is not the first film Keener and Franco have worked on together. While it was never released theatrically (but is available on Netflix), the 2007 Sundance film An American Crime starred Keener as Gertrude Baniszewski and Franco as the father of her infant child. On working with the ever-busy Franco, Keener said she doesn’t see the downside to him famously taking on so many varied projects. “He’s just a great student. It’s kind of great to be reminded of that,” she said. “It’s a great quality, to be open minded and receive. I admire that in him.”

The film also stars David Straitharn as the central trio’s supportive neighbor, and Alan Cumming as an “intrusive irritant,” according to the film’s production notes.

Maladies screens at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas on Wednesday, March 13.

Read more: