Q and A With… James Franco

The actor opens up about his role opposite Sean Penn in Milk...

In Milk, you play the boyfriend of slain gay activist Harvey Milk (played by Sean Penn). Was there any hesitation for you to take this role, since you have to kiss a man?

No, when I heard about this film, I immediately wanted to do it. It’s one of my favorite directors, Gus Van Sant, whom I’ve always wanted to work with and the best movie that was being made. It’s such an important story. How could I not want to be a part of this?! I just wanted to be involved in the film, even if I played the pizza guy!

It’s such a relatable theme; your relationship suffers and eventually ends because one partner is so involved with work.

What I loved is that it’s presented like any other relationship you’d see in any mainstream movie, where the drama is not, “Oh, we are two men! How can we be together?” It’s just presented—they are in love and support each other, and there it is. And I think in commercial movies, that’s pretty rare. And so I think that it was really important to have it out there like that.

I think there were a lot of reasons why the relationship didn’t work, it wasn’t just, “Oh, you want to be in politics, I’m leaving.” Harvey ran for four political campaigns and my character ran those campaigns—and got involved just because of his love for him. I’m sure it consumed their lives. I think after a while, right or wrong, he didn’t want to do it anymore. This wasn’t the life he wanted—and I think couples watching this will relate to that.

What were you thinking about when you were doing those kissing scenes with Sean?

The first kiss that we filmed was when we were in front of his camera shop. We really wanted it to not look like a movie, but have it be real. With 200 passers-by watching our scene, I was a little nervous, but I think I probably would have been nervous kissing Natalie Portman or someone with that many people watching! I just wanted it to look good. You don’t want to be the idiot that ruins the movie because you look uncomfortable kissing… But we did it!

Did you and Sean have to have a sense of humor about it to approach these intimate scenes?

There wasn’t a ton of joking around it but I guess what made it a little weirder is that I’ve known Sean for five years. I have always been able to go to him for advice. So I have a relationship with him on a different level. And so, it was almost a little stranger because you are turning around and kissing your friend or your brother, which is a little different than kissing a man who is a stranger.

Well, you had great chemistry with him!

I think any actor of my generation looks up to him; he’s probably the greatest actor I’ve met. And so, however the weird mojo of acting works, I just kind of transferred that admiration into the affection of a romantic relationship.

Contributing entertainment editor Susan L. Hornik is based in Los Angeles.
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