James Franco is known for his more serious roles, but in Disney’s new film, “Oz: The Great and Powerful,” he plays a more comedic role than many fans are used to. The actor talked with the CU Independent‘s Avalon Jacka and college news outlets across the country about his approach to his latest role, his love of L. Frank Baum’s books and his friendship with “Oz” and “Spiderman” director Sam Raimi.
Recently, you’ve been doing a lot of serious movies. Why did you decide to attach yourself to this more family fun, adventure film?
I’ve been a fan of the L. Frank Baum Oz books since I was a boy. They were some of the first books that I read on my own for pleasure. I’ve worked with the director, Sam Raimi in three previous films, so this was another chance to work with him. In addition to that, I saw the role as something I could have a lot of fun with and could be fairly creative with. [Oz] was written as a comedic character within this fantastical world. I thought it would be a juxtaposition of two different things, comedy and fantasy, that would result in something entertaining.
When taking up this project, did you have any initial hesitations about portraying this character?
I wanted to be sure that they had a sound approach. I knew that they would capture the visuals of the movie very well, or at least I had hopes that they would. They had the Yellow Brick Road and the Emerald City and witches and flying monkeys, and a bunch of strange creatures and Munchkins: all the things that make up what we imagine Oz to be. Their emissary into the world was not a male version of Dorothy, fortunately. My character was, instead, a con man that was stumbling through Oz. I thought that comedic edge would help distinguish this version of Oz from other versions.
How did you prepare for the role of Oz?
I had to be able to carry myself as a magician because my character starts off as a traveling magician in a circus. I needed to be able to do those tricks convincingly and to hold myself on stage like a magician. So they hired one of the best magicians in Las Vegas, Lance Burton, to come to Detroit. I was fortunate enough to have private lessons with him. He taught me how to make it look like I’m having people levitate and make it look like they’re evaporating in front of everyone’s eyes and also how to hold myself on stage.
What was your first impression or interpretation of the character Oz when reading the script?
His character starts off as a flawed man. He’s selfish; he’s a bit of a womanizer. He thinks that happiness will come from financial success and fame. It blinds him to the love of the people around him. I saw that one of the reasons to start the character off that way was that it would allow for growth in the character. The movie would not just be a physical journey through a mystical land, but it would also involve an inner journey of the character.
What’s different about working with Sam Raimi now than it was when you worked on “Spiderman”?
When I worked on Spiderman with him, I was a supporting character, and Sam Raimi identifies with his lead characters very closely. So he very much identified with Peter Parker. Because my character was trying to kill Peter Parker, I think Sam blamed me for that, not in a harsh way. I felt like I got a little less love than Tobey McGuire on those films, because of what the character was doing. Now that I’m the protagonist in “Oz,” Sam is identifying with my character. I felt a lot more of Sam’s love on this film.
How has it been balancing between your acting career and your collegiate education and endeavors?
I insist that I have this balance of an academic career and a film career. I love the academic world. During the past seven years, I’ve gone to quite a few schools. I got a little addicted to school, but now I’m doing a lot more teaching than I am studying. It’s a great new chapter in my life. I usually teach in creative programs: film programs, writing programs, art programs. I love being able to focus on other people’s work. It takes me out of myself. I don’t have to think about my work all the time.
How do you balance your work in “Oz” with an indie film like “Spring Breakers”?
They’re very different movies made on different scales and have very different subject matter. But there are essential things about making movies that are in place in both films. I go into the different projects trying to figure out what the tone of the film is, what my place in the film is and how I can best fit into that world. “Spring Breakers” has a particular character. He’s a gangster, mystic/rapper and the Oz character is a magician/con man. I had to figure out how to play each of those roles as realistically as possible.
Contact CU Independent News Budget Editor Avalon Jacka at Avalon.firstname.lastname@example.org.