Tribeca 2015: James Franco on How His NYU Grad-School Pal Ended Up Directing 'The Adderall Diaries'

James Franco Tribeca - H 2015
AP Images

James Franco Tribeca - H 2015

The busy actor-producer talked with THR about how his involvement with the project shifted, while co-star Ed Harris revealed how he also helped first-time director Pamela Romanowsky with some of the more challenging parts.

The Adderall Diaries was the first book James Franco optioned, but when it came time to bring Stephen Elliott's best-selling memoir to the big screen, he offered it to his NYU grad-school pal Pamela Romanowsky, who wrote and directed the big-screen version for her feature directorial debut.

At the film's world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on Thursday, Franco talked to The Hollywood Reporter about how his role in the project evolved and why he felt Romanowsky was the right person to take the reins.

Franco said he optioned the book, about an author with writer's block and drug dependency who becomes obsessively involved with a high-profile murder case, "really because I just loved it."

The actor, whose many projects across various media keep his schedule packed, soon realized that he wouldn't be able to direct screen versions of everything he optioned.

"I was a little busy, so it took a year or two to get around to [Adderall Diaries], and then I started optioning a lot of books, and I had more projects that I wanted to do than I would ever be able to direct on my own," he said. "So I started looking at my fellow classmates at NYU, people around me who I believed in. And I wanted to give them chances to direct, and one of the keys to that is pairing people up with projects they would be able to shine with."

Of Romanowsky, whom Franco met when they were both in the MFA program at NYU — they made a short film together — the actor said, "I just thought Pamela was a great director, great sensibility, was great on set and that she would really make the most of this material, so I asked her if she would do it."

It took Romanowsky a year or two to write the script, recalled Franco, with Romanowsky adding that she found crafting the screenplay to be the most difficult part of making her first feature, but Franco kept supporting her, reading drafts and kicking around ideas.

"He's really important to me, one of my favorite humans, favorite collaborators, and he's been with me every step of the way on this project," she said.

"I thought it was so good that I wanted to be in it, and she wanted me to be in it," Franco said of how he ended up starring in the film.

But he wasn't the only castmember to help Romanowsky along in the early stages of making the film. Ed Harris, who ended up playing Franco's character's father, advised her when she was working on the script at the Sundance Directors Lab.

"She was trying to work through some of the tricky scenes, and she was trying to get a handle on what she wanted to do," Harris told THR, adding that he doesn't remember exactly what advice he gave her. "It was really about working with the actors and communicating with the actors to try and help her get some stuff out of these people that they weren't quite nailing."

Franco's help continued on set; Romanowsky said that his work as a director helped him understand what she wanted.

"He wants to make sure that the intention of the scene is clear and that I have what I need and am happy with the scene," she said of Franco's approach as an actor.

Co-star Amber Heard added that Romanowsky's "fresh perspective" allowed her to feel comfortable working with the first-time director.

"I'm completely lucky to have met Pamela. I met her, talked to her for a bit, and I got the impression after just a few minutes that I was working with someone who was removed out of the system. I didn't feel like I was talking to someone who was a cog in the machine. I felt like I was talking to somebody who was truly offering a fresh perspective and a fresh new energy, who was youthful and cool," said Heard. "It felt like somebody that I would want to hang out with, somebody that I would trust with my work, somebody that I felt like I could laugh with. I thought that was a great combination for me to try in a director."