James Franco Explains His Obsession With Gay Films

By: Daniel Villarreal

As you may know, American actor James Franco has two very gay, very sexual films showing at the Sundance Film Festival this year — one based on the 1980s gay leather scene and another about a gay kink website.

We'll discuss those films in a second. But first, Franco has repeatedly been asked about his affinity for playing gay roles and making overtly sexual gay films; the assumption being that he must be secretly gay.

Another assumption has been that his affinity is just a superficial way to differentiate him from other actors and ingratiate himself to a gay fan base, the same way that some straight guys in college will claim they're gay just to cocktease gay guys — all flirting and no fucking, the bastards.

But when Kyle Buchanan of Vulture.com recently asked Franco about his continued fascination with gay films and character, Franco gave a startling and delightful answer that shows a good deal of maturity and thought:

"I don't like the fact that I feel like I've been brought up to think a certain way ... and what that is is straight-normative behavior... It's fucking instilled into my brain."

"Every fucking toilet paper commercial has a man and a woman living in a house together!” he continues. “Every fucking love story is a dude who wants to be with a girl, and the only way they're gonna end up happy is if they walk off in the sunset together. I'm fucking sick of that shit, so if there's a way for me to break that up in my own mind, I'm all for it."

"I guess you could say that I am appropriating parts of queer culture,” he ventured, “but I feel like one of my roles as an artist is to ask questions and to help create fissures in accepted, normalized ways of thinking. And not in all cases, but in a lot of the cases you mentioned, the sexuality of the characters helps me to do that."

When asked about it in January of 2011, Franco replied more succinctly:

"There are lots of other reasons to be interested in gay characters than wanting myself to go out and have sex with guys... And there are also lots of other aspects about these characters that I'm interested in, in addition to their sexuality... Part of what I'm interested in is how these people who were living anti-normative lifestyles contended with opposition."

Regarding his two Sundance films, David Poland of Movie City News called Franco "the finger in the ass of Sundance this year, with two strong pieces," and added:

"One is, in theory, about recreating the missing footage from Billy Friedkin‘s Cruising. But it’s not. [Interior. Leather Bar.]‘s much more about the idea of how much sex of a presumably different persuasion a straight guy can take. And then, Kink.com, which Franco produced, is about a fetish site that produces a lot of content of all flavors. Of course, they are also a business, so almost exactly like Gawker, they rank the response to the material each in-house director creates and everyone is paid accordingly. But both movies are about limits, ultimately. What are they? Should we all be considering broader ones… even if we ultimately reject them? And how much of this is choice — not on a participatory level, but on one’s personal turn-ons or offs — and how much of it is just part of who each of us is.”

Considering the lack of films willing to take an honest or unconventional look at gay sex, we should welcome Franco's contribution, whether we feel a bit cockteased by his films or just grateful for such a surprising and prodigious ally.