Studios Gamble on James Franco, Casey Affleck Projects Post-#MeToo Claims
While many of Hollywood’s accused men aren't finding new work easily, some are keeping the jobs they have — which brings unique risks for their business partners.
On July 25, news broke that James Franco was in talks to direct Focus Features' ESPN: Those Guys Have All the Fun, a film about the origin of the network. The hire seemed especially significant considering Franco would mark the first case of a Hollywood figure accused of sexual harassment, sexual assault or domestic violence in the post-#MeToo climate to land a high-profile job. The project was coupled with news the same day that Chris Hardwick would be reinstated as host of Talking Dead after AMC investigated claims made by ex-girlfriend Chloe Dykstra of sexual assault and emotional abuse. Between Franco and Hardwick, it appeared the dam holding back Hollywood's dozens of accused was about to burst.
Not so fast. According to a knowledgeable source, Franco signed a development deal with Focus before the Oscar-nominated actor was accused by five women of sexually exploitative behavior in a Jan. 11 Los Angeles Times story. The news of Franco's attachment to the project merely leaked months later. There is still no closed deal to direct, says the source. Focus declined comment.
Since Harvey Weinstein was outed as an alleged sexual predator in October, few if any of the accused have been hired for new work, according to Hollywood Reporter research. That leaves in its wake a swelling clique of unemployed that includes the famous (Kevin Spacey, Charlie Rose, Louis C.K., Dustin Hoffman), the filmmakers (Brett Ratner, James Toback) and other behind-the-scenes players (John Lasseter, Roy Price). In the best-case scenario for the accused, he gets to keep the job he already has, like Hardwick, who returned Aug. 12 to AMC; Ryan Seacrest, who was cleared by NBCUniversal and continues his various gigs; and WME's Adam Venit, whom actor Terry Crews claimed sexually assaulted him. Likewise, HBO, after an internal investigation, is standing by Franco with its series The Deuce.
"The fact of the matter is that James is in the show, and we went forward with a second season," HBO Entertainment president Casey Bloys tells THR. Still, when HBO on July 9 released the first promo clip for season two of the George Pelecanos-David Simon drama about the birth of the porn industry, it starred Maggie Gyllenhaal while Franco was relegated to the background. Early teaser art also featured Gyllenhaal alone on a dark, trash-strewn Manhattan sidewalk. The same day, teaser art that also featured Franco was released.
It's something of a contrast to last year's campaign. Franco, who like Gyllenhaal also is an executive producer on the show, received top billing when The Deuce bowed Sept. 10 (about a month before Hollywood was rocked by the first Weinstein claims). But now, less than a month until the Sept. 9 second-season premiere, Franco has yet to do any media, though Simon and Gyllenhaal have. And HBO decided to forgo the typical season-premiere events in New York and Los Angeles. Nevertheless, says Bloys, "It's business as usual." He adds: "There is no effort to hide the fact that [Franco] is in the show. Remember, you have Maggie and an incredibly strong ensemble cast. I understand the focus on James, and he plays two characters — I'm not saying he's not important to the show — but the show is bigger than James as well."
Regardless, Franco remains the target of a Care2 petition to have him removed by HBO. Those calls are becoming harder to ignore. Care2 successfully got director Matthew Newton ousted from the upcoming Jessica Chastain film Eve. Newton, who was accused of separate domestic violence incidents in 2007 and 2010, referenced the outcry to his hiring when he stepped down on Aug. 10. “The responses, which are powerful and important, have not fallen on deaf ears,” he said in a statement.
As for Franco, Care2 is not letting up. “We were disappointed with HBO’s response to Franco,” says Care2 senior director Rebecca Gerber. “If you looked at the exact accusations against him, it was the way that he treated women with respect to nudity and sexual situations.” (Franco was accused of removing the protective vaginal guards of actresses during an orgy scene.)
HBO isn't alone in enduring headaches that come with promoting a project featuring one of the accused. As Hollywood moves away from the most extreme reactions like canceling a film’s release altogether (like CK’s I Love You Daddy) or replacing an actor during the post-production stage, requiring expensive reshoots (like Kevin Spacey in All the Money in the World), strategists are looking for ways to blunt the negative PR.
Ahead of his upcoming film The Old Man & the Gun, Casey Affleck gave an in-depth Aug. 9 interview with the Associated Press in which he broke his silence about the I'm Still Here set that resulted in two below-the-line women suing him for sexual harassment (and later settling). The Oscar winner is expected to attend the Toronto Film Festival for Old Man, an awards-season hopeful from Fox Searchlight. "Casey has been nothing but extremely professional and kind, and we'd happily work with him again," a Searchlight rep says. Typically, an actor would walk the red carpet and participate in a news conference at the festival. It is unclear if that will happen.
Coming off Manchester by the Sea, Affleck was an in-demand actor. But in the new climate, studios appear to be in wait-and-see mode. Amazon quietly dropped the Joe Wright-helmed Stoner, which was to have starred Affleck. Producer Jason Blum is now trying to put the film back together without Affleck and Wright. A project insider says the move wasn't entirely attributable to Affleck's #MeToo status, "but that didn't help."
Affleck and Franco won't be the only ones likely dodging the red carpet this fall. Morgan Freeman, accused of sexual harassment by multiple women, was poised to promote Disney's The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, which opens Nov. 2. His predicament is particularly awkward given that some of his alleged misdeeds took place during film junkets. As such, Freeman is not expected to do any junkets for the movie, according to a source, but Disney says no decisions have been made.
All of this begs the question of what happens to season five of ABC's Black-ish with star and executive producer Anthony Anderson's current legal predicament. (The L.A. County District Attorney's office is reviewing a sexual assault allegation made against the actor, who was charged in 2004 with an alleged rape on the set of Hustle & Flow.) Will Emmy nominee Anderson show up to the Sept. 17 ceremony or promote the return of his show? And does ABC risk backlash by doing nothing and waiting for the DA to make a decision?
"In Hollywood, they make business calls about whether people can make a comeback," says Gerber. "We definitely are seeing more crisis PR, disappearing for a while and then hoping that it all dies down. We're really trying to make sure that there's a zero-tolerance policy and that these accusations aren't allowed to slip by."
Lesley Goldberg contributed to this report.
This story first appeared in the August 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.