EW exclusive: James Franco talks directing William Faulkner, and how Jacob from 'Lost' helped him land 'Blood Meridian'

James-Franco-FaulknerImage 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.”

Comments (54 total) Add your comment
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  • Victoria

    OMG this guy can do it all!

    • Kendall Knight

      The guys of Big Time Rush do it better. You got to take it Big Time!

  • Will

    It’s strange that no movie of Blood Meridian has been made yet. I will have extremely high hopes for Franco’s take on the novel, as it is an incredible book ripe for a movie version.

    • thin

      It doesn’t seem that strange to me. It is staggeringly, horrifically violent, and profoundly nihilistic. It’s just not the kind of story that transitions easily to the big screen, and if you try cleaning it up to try to hit a broad audience, there’s nothing left of it to tell. It’s going to be very interesting to see what it looks like if and when it does finally make it into theaters.

  • Allex

    Just because ha can do it all doesn’t mean he does it well, or that he should.

    • Kyle

      What is it you think he does poorly?

      • Milla

        Hello. Have you seen his ouvre, 127 Hours notwithstanding? The guy is…let’s say, not the most gifted actor around. And 127 hours is no proof of his skills. Even Sharon Stone and Anne Kirkland have been Oscar-nominated…

      • @Milla

        He may not be the most gifted actor around, but he is good. I disagree with your assessment that his performance in 127 Hours isn’t proof of his skill. I think it is. As are his performances in Milk, Pineapple Express, and the James Dean TV movie he did several years ago.

      • Kyle

        Hi. I recall him receiving positive reviews for Milk, Howl, and 127 Hours – 3 of his most recent movies. It is possible for a person to improve his professional skills over time.
        Plus, even if I disliked Franco as an actor, it’s possible I will like him as a director. I’ve never liked Ben Affleck as an actor, but he seems to be turning into a decent director.
        I inferred from Allex’s comment that he believes Franco should restrict himself to acting (and not direct, host Oscar ceremonies, etc.). If, like you, Allex is not impressed by Franco’s acting abilities, he should be happy Franco is pursuing non-acting professional opportunities..

      • Anthony G

        Franco is one of those actors that must be a terrifically nice, charming guy, because I can’t imagine why ho got good reviews for Milk, the James Dean film and Pineapple Express (God, especialy that one…were reviewers stoned?)
        The guy has no range. All he can play is smoldering, suave, cool dude with a chip on his shoulder or smoldering, suave, cool dude with an attitude, or any superficially slight variation of smoldering, suave, cool dude.
        So there’s that for his “acting”. As for his “art”…well, pretentiously predictable and West-Village-cum-hippie-chic comes to mind. What I’m saying is that I’m all for him doing stuff that takes him away from acting and art, and hopefully he is better at directing than at the other stuff. Of course, he probably sees himself as more skilled than he is, because the novels he chose to take on for his directorial debut would even give pause to actually gifted directors like Scorcese or Allen.

    • Obih

      aitsarculecgn on August 30, 2011 I like that I can bounce back (maybe not quickly, but definitely in a short time) from bad situations. My bf and I broke up after 7.5 years, and while i was so devastated, my mindset now has been more about taking this opportunity for new beginnings and that excites me and usually gets me out of my funk.

  • Raheem Hosseini

    Faulkner and McCarthy are two of the most unfilmable novelists I can think of. Adapting the phone book might be easier.

    • Mindy

      Yes. Faulkner seems unfilmable to me. I previously thought McCarthy was unfilmable, as well. Though the Coens did a passable job with “No Country For Old Men”. At least, much better than I thought it would be. Still, I am pessimistic about any attempt with “Blood Meridian”.

      • Jem

        I thought the Coen Brothers made No Country For Old Men better than the novel. But NCFOM is a very cinematic book. How the hell can someone film Blood Meridian though? You have to have big balls to attempt to do that.

    • Ellie

      Agreed. I’ve read As I Lay Dying, and I have no idea how that would work as a movie.

    • Celimene

      Absolutely. Especially Faulkner. I don’t know how one would go about filming that novel, and I really don’t know that I’d want to see it when it was finished – though admittedly, I’m not the biggest Faulkner fan out there. If it were a Flannery O’Connor short story, I’d be there in a heartbeat.

    • flo

      Faulkner spent the latter part of his career in Hollywood, writing films and adapting them. There are plenty of Faulkner films from mid-century.

    • PennyBeGood

      I just took a lit class that focused on the major works on Faulkner. I remember thinking during that class how ridiculous it would be to try to adapt some of his works. Their so introspective, and complex. I’m impressed that Franco is trying it.

  • Chris

    What happened to doing the Jeff Buckley biopic James? You’re practically his identical twin.

  • anonymous

    Was James Franco’s name on the wheel in the Lighthouse ?

    • miss

      love it!

  • Mindy

    At this point, I will support almost any effort to stop Ridley Scott from directing “Blood Meridian”

  • jasmine

    does james ever sleep!? he is awesome and all but i think he needs to slow down. needless to say, i’ll still watch or read anything that man does. oh and i loved “as i lay dying” in high school (yes i was probably the only one in my grade that actually read it)

  • Joe

    Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should, Franco. Faulkner was a writer who understood and tested the limits of his medium; any attempt to reproduce his work, especially AILD, will invariably deviate from its source and ultimately fail in re-presenting it. Oh, and you’re incontrovertibly the dumbest person in Yale’s english dept., grad or undergrad.

    • Stephen

      I bet he’s smart enough to know that “English” should be capitalized.

      • K

        Nice one.

    • Jem

      Franco is just another celebrity who got into all those colleges off his celebrity. He’s trying to prove to everyone he’s so smart by those degrees, but he’s not that smart.

      • the truth

        I was a student in a class with him at Yale last semester, and I know for a fact that your comment is correct. I was consistently impressed by what the other students would routinely say in class, but James always said the most obvious things that really didn’t need to be said in the first place.

    • Vanessa

      Just where may we view and critique your latest work?

    • Egit

      Taking the ovreview, this post is first class

  • Lisa

    I don’t see you guys doing anything better. Why try to tear someone’s dream when they’re achieving more than possible..just let the man do what he wants..if you aint doing anything better than him then you shouldn’t be talking

    • Pavel

      Nice post. I used to be checking cluuintonsoy this weblog and I’m inspired! Extremely helpful information specially the last part I care for such information much. I used to be seeking this certain info for a very long time. Thank you and best of luck.

  • Benjamin Berry

    NO! I do not want the guy who cried the whole way through Tristan and Isolde tampering with Blood Meridian. And as much as I love his work on LOST, Mark Pellegrino is a terrible choice for the judge.

    • Tommy

      This guy is my hero. He lives the kind of life we should all be living. Instead of whining and bitching about “the way of the world”, he’s out there living it to the fullest. Maybe he can’t do it all, but that isn’t stopping him from trying and learning. Hollywood could use a few more like him.

    • thin

      Yeah, that is definitely not a match at all, at least not physically. I’d have to see him play it before I’d pass judgement on his ability to portray the character, though.

  • blondietails

    i agree mark is a terrible choice!!!

  • Briana

    Where do I sign up to become his personal assistant?

    • the truth

      he already has one.

  • Jem

    James Franco must think highly of himself if he thinks he can pull off those great works! He seems to be trying too hard to prove himself with all the degrees, and now having the nerve to think he can pull off Blood Meridian of all novels. Sorry James, you’re adorable, but you’re not invincible. You’re not superman.

    • Hasret

      Thank you Filipinas for sharing these Videos of Mitch Franco. I’m his No. 1 fan! I was not able to see him pofrerm during the Pistahan because of my leg injury, Just watching his videos makes me feel better.He is a very talented young man and I wouldn’t compare him with anyone! He has his own style and identity. I’m so proud of him!

  • Anne

    I love James Franco’s work in general. I’d think with his literature and film advanced studies that he’ll have a thoughtful take on these films.

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