Berlin: James Franco on Dane DeHaan's "Obsession" With Him, 'I Am Michael'

Courtesy of Sundance International Film Festival

The star and 'Michael' director Justin Kelly also discuss how they approached the film about a real-life man who renounced his homosexuality and turned to God plus his reaction to the movie.

James Franco on Monday discussed his Berlinale Panorama entry I Am Michael, on which he worked as a producer and star, and up-and-comer Dane DeHaan and how his career choices mirror some of his own.

Appearing during a press conference with I Am Michael director Justin Kelly, Franco was asked if he would see DeHaan in Berlinale Special entry Life, which debuts in Berlin Monday night. In the film from Anton Corbijn, DeHaan plays James Dean, who Franco had portrayed in Mark Rydell's James Dean. "I will see Dane DeHaan," Franco replied.

He then pointed out that the two had more in common, as DeHaan also played "Allen Ginsburg's buddy" in Kill Your Darlings, while Franco played Ginsburg in Rob Epstein's Howl. Quipped Franco: "I don't know why he is so obsessed with me."

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Franco was asked how he ended up producing and acting in I Am Michael, about the real-life story of Michael Glatze, who renounced his homosexuality and turned to God in the late 1970s.

"One Sunday, Gus [Van Sant] sent me a text message and said there was an interesting article in New York Times Magazine," which he found interesting, Franco said. While he wasn't sure how it could become a film, he said he trusted Van Sant's instincts.

Then Van Sant introduced him to director Kelly, who "started to shape it, and I started to see this would be a great way to examine all the issues I am very interested in," such as identity, Franco said.

Was it difficult to find sympathy for the character? "We did a lot of work to make the character grounded in the things he was doing," Franco said. "It was not really our intention that it would be judgmental as much as present both sides of an argument … a portrait of a person's journey that can allow the audience then to make their own analysis and interpretation."

Kelly echoed that his goal was to "really understand him instead of vilify him." About his research phase, he said: "The first thing I did is I met the real Michael Glatze at his bible school in Wyoming and interviewed him."

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Discussing Glatze's reaction to the film, Kelly said he saw it at the Sundance Film Festival, "and he loved it." Franco added that Glatze told the filmmakers that the film has helped him to move away "from some of his more extreme views," and he seems "much more open now, much more at ease."

Asked about what it was like to have three films at the Berlinale and how he likes the festival, Franco said: "I do love Berlin" and its great film and art community. "For me, it's a place where I can bring different kinds of material and get it treated a different way. It is nice to do more artistic [work], do art and not have it seen through the filter of 'actor becomes artist.' "

Twitter: @georgszalai