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One of the women who spoke about the Disaster Artist star and director is Sarah Tither-Kaplan, a former acting student at the film school Franco founded, Studio4, in North Hollywood, and one of several women who took to Twitter to accuse the movie and TV star of sexual misconduct amid his Golden Globes win on Sunday night.
Franco, who went on to take home the award for best actor for his portrayal of Tommy Wiseau, was one of many nominated stars to wear a Time’s Up pin in support of sexual harassment and assault awareness at the awards ceremony. But in Franco’s case, the show of support sparked criticism online from a number of women who claimed Franco had sexually harassed them.
“I feel there was an abuse of power, and there was a culture of exploiting non-celebrity women, and a culture of women being replaceable,” Tither-Kaplan told the Times.
One instance she recalled was from a “bonus” nude orgy scene with Franco and several women that she was asked to film for the yet-to-be released Franco-starring movie The Long Home in 2015. She said Franco removed the protective guards that are used to cover female genitals during the scene and that Franco simulated oral sex on them without protection.
She also said she and her female co-stars were asked to appear topless in an unscripted scene and dance around Franco while wearing animal skulls on their heads. When one of the actresses declined, she was kicked off the shoot. Another actress corroborated Tither-Kaplan’s account to the Times; casting director Cynthia Huffman said she did not receive any complaints and that she “personally checked on all the actresses constantly to make sure they were OK and comfortable.”
Hey James Franco, nice #timesup pin at the #GoldenGlobes , remember a few weeks ago when you told me the full nudity you had me do in two of your movies for $100/day wasn’t exploitative because I signed a contract to do it? Times up on that!
— Sarah Tither-Kaplan(@sarahtk) January 8, 2018
Another woman who came forward on Twitter who spoke to the Times is Violet Paley. The actress met Franco as an aspiring filmmaker, and the pair began a romantic relationship when, she claims, Franco pressured her into performing oral sex while in her car. “I was talking to him, all of a sudden his penis was out,” she said. “I got really nervous, and I said, ‘Can we do this later?’ He was kind of nudging my head down, and I just didn’t want him to hate me, so I did it.” Though they continued to have a consensual sexual relationship, she says she would have handled the car encounter differently: “The power dynamic was really off.”
After the Harvey Weinstein allegations broke in October, Paley says she reached out to Franco and he tried to make amends.
Cute #TIMESUP pin James Franco. Remember the time you pushed my head down in a car towards your exposed penis & that other time you told my friend to come to your hotel when she was 17? After you had already been caught doing that to a different 17 year old?
— Violet Paley (@VioletPaley) January 8, 2018
The Times also spoke to two of his former students at Playhouse West, in North Hollywood, where he taught acting classes, who recalled a “hostile” shoot at a strip club. “I don’t think he started teaching with bad intentions, but he went down a bad path and damaged a lot of people in the process,” said one of the students, Hilary Dusome. The other student, Natalie Chmiel, said Franco grew “visibly angry” when the women declined to remove their tops.
In addition to his TV and film schedule, Franco has taught at USC, UCLA and CalArts. He closed Studio4 last fall.
The Times spoke to a dozen former Studio4 students. While many had positive experiences to share, others spoke about the promise from his production company, Rabbit Bandini Productions, to use the school to cast roles in Franco projects. Former student Katie Ryan said the actor “would always make everybody think there were possible roles on the table if we were to perform sexual acts or take off our shirts.”
Rabbit Bandini co-owner Vince Jolivette told the Times “the school was always run professionally.” Adding in a statement, “Our instructors were excellent, student feedback was positive and this recent tweet from a former student is very inconsistent with the mission of the school and we are investigating this matter.”
Franco’s attorney, Michael Plonsker, disputed all of the allegations made in the Times story and referred the outlet to Franco’s comments from his appearance on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert Tuesday night.
Since the Globes, Franco has been on a late-night apology tour. Franco told Colbert that none of the claims made on Twitter were accurate but that he supports both the Time’s Up movement and women speaking out. “If I’ve done something wrong, I will fix it. I have to. I don’t know what else to do,” he said.
During a Wednesday appearance on Late Night, he reiterated those feelings to host Seth Meyers. “There are stories that need to get out,” Franco had told Meyers. “There are people that need to be heard. I have my own side of this story, but I believe in, you know, these people that have been underrepresented getting their stories out enough that I will hold back things that I could say just because I believe in it that much, and if I have to take a knock because I’m not going to try and actively refute things then I will. Because I believe in it that much.”
When reached by The Hollywood Reporter for further comment about the story, Franco’s rep also pointed THR to Franco’s late-night statements.
Franco is busy promoting his new film, which he directed and stars in. He also currently stars on HBO’s The Deuce. In addition to the Globes, The Disaster Artist has been nominated for SAG Awards and Critics’ Choice Awards. Franco, alongside brother Dave (who also stars in the film), was scheduled for a New York Times TimesTalk appearance on Wednesday, but the Times canceled the event due to the “controversy surrounding recent allegations.”
Read the full statement from Huffman, casting director for The Long Home, below:
I feel so bad that Sarah feels the way she does. She is part of our camp! All actresses were aware of the nudity scenes ahead of time. I personally checked on all the actresses constantly to make sure they were ok and comfortable. I talked to them several times and told them if they were uncomfortable or did not like what was going on to come to me immediately and I would take care of it. I did not receive any complaints. James is all about giving up and comers, actors and actresses and young film makers a break in this business. I feel horrible that anyone was made to feel uncomfortable but we went to great lengths to make sure all the actresses in the nude scenes felt comfortable and safe. We are all about making movies and having fun on set!
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