James Franco and Scott Haze are on a mission– to adapt American literary masterpieces of the 20th century into film. OK, maybe they’re not on a mission per say, but in the last couple of years their collaborative efforts have included adaptions of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and The Sound and the Fury, as well as Cormac McCarthy’s Child of God. Franco and Haze met with media at the Tribeca Grand Hotel last week to discuss Child of God, which Franco directed and in which Haze stars as Lester Ballard, a man whose solitary life has him taking extremely desperate actions to survive and connect.
A fiercely faithful adaptation, Child of God contains content that is dark and disturbing, including scenes of graphic necrophilia. Franco connects his approach to directing the film to the title and the idea that everyone is a child of God. “I think for me the point was that even though his [Lester] actions are so disgusting and atrocious and wrong, they are coming from a place that’s very human,” says Franco. “He wants what we all want–he wants to connect to another person, but he can’t, and so he resorts to extreme means to do that It’s more of a character study using extreme actions as a way to talk about more universal things.”
A demanding role, both mentally and physically, Franco knew he wanted his old friend and frequent collaborator Scott Haze to play Lester. Haze was ready and willing, not only losing 40 pounds, but spending months of preparation in East Tennessee.
“The reason why I went to Tennessee is because I knew I couldn’t prepare for this role in Los Angeles,” explains Haze. “When I was isolated in Tennessee, I really got to understand what it was like to be in your head.”
“You start talking, making up imaginary friends, which is why I became friends with the animals in the movie and started talking to them, because when you’re alone a long time you have to connect with something. I didn’t know what the preparation would do. I just trusted that I knew I couldn’t prepare for this in LA.”
Haze’s preparation methods were all his own, with little direction from Franco leading up to production, which Haze attributes to mutual trust and their connection as actors. “James has been through the rounds,” says Haze. “From James Dean on… Before that– Freaks and Geeks. He understands exactly what the actor is going through and he’s one of the greatest actors of my generation.”
Franco also admits that he enjoys working with the same people. “I don’t want to go in with everything set– That’s just boring,” says Franco. “I don’t want to just figure it all out myself and just go execute the plans.”
“When you have people that you’ve worked with before […] the actors maybe understand what kind of director you are, what kind of movie you’re making so they’re already kind of in line. You don’t have to go through those initial stages of finding the same path–you’re already on that path. You know each other, so all the energy can be spent on exploring that character.”
Franco also discussed his propensity for adapting novels into films. “Before film school I had written original screenplays or co-written original screenplays, and I just found that I somehow just wasn’t quite pushing myself as far as I could,” explains the director. “I found that it makes me a better director when I’m working with a source text that I really respect.”
For Franco, Child of God seems also to fall into his tendency to explore the theme of isolation. “If I look at the three features I made after NYU they’re like a trilogy of isolation,” says Franco referring to The Broken Tower and Sal, about American poet Hart Crane and actor Sal Mineo respectively. “I didn’t design it that way, but I think for maybe ten years of my life I was so overzealous about the way that I approached acting and movies that I did isolate myself a lot.”
Child of God is certainly not the last we will see from this particular team. James Franco and Scott Haze will likely have many more joint press events when it comes time for them to promote their upcoming films Bukowski, based on the life of writer Charles Bukowski, and The Sound and the Fury, adapted from the novel by William Faulkner.
In the meantime Franco is thinking about doing something pretty interesting with Child of God: “Actually,” entices Franco. “I might do a class at AFI where I work with editing students and they make a new version of this movie. I just give them everything.”