EXCLUSIVE: Prolific jack-of-all-artistic-trades James Franco arrives on the Lido this week to accept the Venice Film Festival’s Jaeger-LeCoultre Glory to the Filmmaker Award, which goes to a personality who has made an original contribution to innovation in contemporary cinema. Fitting then that his latest directorial effort, The Sound And The Fury, will have its world premiere out of competition at the fest (see the exclusive clip above).
The film is based on the novel of by William Faulkner; it’s Franco’s second time adapting the author — a notoriously tough challenge given the author’s penchant for stream of consciousness. Franco tells me he nevertheless stayed faithful to the book, which is broken into four sections and focuses on the decline and fall of the Compsons, a once-proud, aristocratic Southern family. A major obstacle to translating their story for the screen is that the book is told through the first-person perspective of characters, who don’t think in a chronological or linear fashion. But Franco says he and his team ultimately found that the movie equivalent is “easier to follow because you can see the visual clues, and it’s easier to track time shifts. … We found ways to capture fragmented stream of consciousness.” Given that characters jump around in their memories over a three-decade span, that’s a help. Franco also stars with Tim Blake Nelson, Joey King, Ahna O’Reilly, Seth Rogen and Jon Hamm.
Franco’s previous turn with Faulkner was As I Lay Dying, which premiered in Cannes in 2013. When I ask him what the fascination is with such an experimental author, he says, “For whatever reason, I’m drawn to Southern literature.” As an actor, it’s “the incredible characters.” As a filmmaker, it’s “the challenge of trying to find filmic equivalents for the way the books are written. It pulls me in new directions.” And, with his budgets on these endeavors ranging from less than $1M to about $3M, he doesn’t have “the same kind of pressure as a Guardians Of The Galaxy,” he laughs. Franco says he’s feeling more confident as a director and is looking at tackling slightly bigger projects including the adaptation of Zeroville, Steve Erickson’s darkly comic 2007 novel about Hollywood, and The Disaster Artist, about the making of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room.
In the meantime, Franco is on his way to Venice for a fourth year in a row after appearances as director, writer, producer and/or actor in Sal, Spring Breakers, Child Of God, and Palo Alto. Why so much love for the Lido? “I feel like it’s a place that’s familiar to me,” he says. “I love it there. For me, it’s a place where I can take a more serious artistic endeavor and have it received in a more serious way. I don’t have to deal with people looking through filters of my other work.”