James Franco's goal in adapting Cormac McCarthy's 'Child of God': 'Try to live up to the material'

Cormac McCarthy adaptations are tricky.

The Coen brothers’ take on No Country for Old Men may have picked up four Oscars, including Best Picture, but that hasn’t exactly been the norm when it comes to translating the venerable author’s stark worldview onto the big screen.

Billy Bob Thornton’s $57 million All the Pretty Horses was panned in 2000; it currently boasts a dismal 32 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and only made $15 million domestically. John Hillcoat’s take on The Road fared better critically (75 percent), but it flopped at the box office too — netting a mere $8.1 million on a reported $25 million production budget. And then there was Ridley Scott’s star-studded The Counselor from just last year. Based on an original screenplay from McCarthy, the film also failed to woo critics and audiences (though some still ardently defend its bleak genius).

But, the scattered history didn’t dismay renaissance man James Franco, who decided to take on McCarthy’s 1973 novel Child of God. It premiered at the 2013 Venice Film Festival to limited mixed reviews and is finally getting it’s theatrical due on Aug. 1. The story follows Lester Ballard (played by Scott Haze), a violent man intent on living on the outskirts of society in Appalachian Tennessee as he descends further into isolation and crime. “When one is working with material like a Cormac McCarthy book, the goal is easy: try to live up to the material,” Franco told EW via email.

Check out what else he had to say about the film:

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you settle on the part of Jerry — a rather minor character — for yourself? Did you ever consider playing any of the other characters?
JAMES FRANCO: The only other part I thought about playing was Lester. But I knew in my heart that Scott would do a better job. I took the only other role that made sense casting-wise.

Scott Haze seems to be a revelation here. Did he really sleep in caves during the shoot? What is it like to work with a method actor?
I’ve known Scott for years, he is the childhood friend of my good buddy, Jim Parrick. Scott was like a secret weapon. Nobody knew his work, but I had seen him in plays at his theater in North Hollywood. I knew that he would LIVE this part (short of killing people). Scott spent months on his own in Tennessee, and he DID sleep in caves. When I showed up in West Virginia and saw him for the first time after this preparation I saw that he had become Lester.

There are obvious trends to the casual fan, but is there a thematic through-line in the projects you choose to write and direct?
I almost always direct adaptations, often from great works of literature by authors like Faulkner, Hart Crane, and Cormac McCarthy. I am also interested in characters who have intense inner lives, often characters who live in isolation, either geographic or emotional isolation. Often these characters are artists or visionaries. In the case of Lester, he’s just a lonely, lonely guy.

What are the challenges of being so much in the public eye while still trying to create your own art?
It’s not bad. Like any artist I’ve learned who to listen to when I want criticism. I have plenty of people in my life whose opinions I value, so I have a good feedback system.


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