I’m not really sure how to take James Franco‘s new piece for The Daily Beast, in which he details “the set from hell” when he shot Tristan + Isolde back in 2006. At first he comes off as whiny, especially because this was one of the first big movies that cemented him as a romantic hero who also looked good in armor. Because even though he’d gotten his start on Freaks and Geeks and in the James Dean biopic, I know that my friends and I first got to know him through this soppy romantic drama.
I hate it when actors retroactively badmouth the projects that first got them fame. (Like Rooney Mara dissing her Law & Order episode… that still pisses me off.) And it’s not as if Tristan + Isolde were the one blemish on James’ perfect record. He provides a tongue-in-cheek (we hope) career highlights list at the end of the article and completely skips over the other questionable movies he’s made.
He played an asshole teenager in the guilty-pleasure chick flick Never Been Kissed; he appeared in The Wicker Man long before he could have pretended he was doing so ironically; and he starred in one of my favorite “Shakespeare in high school” teen movies, Whatever It Takes. “Geeky” Shane West got the most embarrassing parts in the movie — including a scene where he plays the accordion in his underwear — but James wasn’t innocent, either. He played the quintessential, unapologetically jerkish jock, as you’ll see in this highlights reel:
Bear in mind, this was one of my favorite movies when I was a teenager because it was so quotable and featured two hot guys shirtless. There’s no shame in doing a cheesy project that still becomes something of a cult classic, but you have to own it because it helped you achieve your later success. And while Freaks and Geeks may have endeared him to the critics, Whatever It Takes and that ilk got him paychecks when he was a struggling actor.
All that aside, I’m inclined to believe that Tristan + Isolde was indeed as difficult as he tells it. His people forced him into the role despite his misgivings, saying it’s what a young Marlon Brando would have done. When he got to Ireland to shoot, he discovered that they had changed the script and made him do swordfighting for nothing. Later in the shoot, he busted his knee; it’s unclear if the extensive physical training he had done back in LA had anything to do with it, but regardless he had to undergo physical therapy for two months which left him barely enough time to actually shoot the action scenes.
Just as we shouldn’t let actors get away with bitching and moaning about paying their dues, we also shouldn’t discount what happens when a young actor gets taken advantage of. And hey, I really liked Tristan + Isolde.
Photo: The Name Station