James Franco was the golden boy of Hollywood, with his charming smile and hilarious roles. However, everything came crashing down right when he was at his peak. So, what happened? We're pulling back the curtains.
The Boy From Palo Alto
Before being a Hollywood icon and now, a recluse, James Franco was just a kid from Palo Alto, California. He was one of three boys to his parents, Betsy and Douglas. They lived a simple life. For now...
Franco was good at math and enjoyed his drama classes. But in high school, he found himself getting into trouble hanging out with the wrong group of kids. He got in trouble with the law and was almost sent to a juvenile center when a judge gave him a second chance. Sadly, his past would catch up with him later down the line.
James was accepted into the University of California, Los Angeles as an English major. So, he packed his bags, and this NorCal kid moved to the city of Angels. After a year of studies, though, something else was calling to him: He wanted to become an actor.
His parents didn't want him to follow that path. They were very much against it - to the point that they would not support him. So, when he dropped out of UCLA to take acting classes, he got a job at McDonald's to help him get by. Eventually, he landed his first role in a Pizza Hut commercial. Things were just getting started.
His Breakout Role
Comedy legends Judd Apatow and Paul Feig created a TV show set during the highs and lows of a group of students' high school years. James Franco auditioned for the NBC series titled Freaks and Geeks and landed the role of Daniel Desario - leader of the 'Freaks.'
It was his breakout role, and it put his name on the map. He wasn't the only one who got his start on the short-lived hit television show. Some familiar names included Jason Segel, Linda Cardellini, Busy Philipps, and Seth Rogen. The show was the start of many careers and friendships. And eventual feuds.
While Freaks and Geeks put Franco on the map, it was Sam Raimi's Spider-Man that made him a global star. In the classic superhero tale, Peter Parker is bitten by a radioactive spider and becomes a crime-fighting vigilante. Franco originally auditioned for the coveted lead role, but it went to Tobey Maguire.
Director Sam Raimi offered Franco the role of Harry Osbourne, Parker's best friend and the son of Spider-Man's nemesis, the Green Goblin. The movie was an instant hit, earning $822 million at the box office - and Franco became a star. Things were only beginning to take off for the kid from Palo Alto.
Behind the Scenes
Franco went on to star in the two sequels of Spider-Man and even became the villain in the second film. During his time off from the superhero franchise, James kept busy starring in films alongside heavy hitters like Nicolas Cage and Robert De Niro.
From horror to drama, there was nothing Franco didn't do. He went beyond reading his lines and truly dedicated himself to every role. "When we were doing Freaks and Geeks, I didn't quite understand how movies and TV worked, and I would improvise even if the camera wasn't on me," he recalled. Whatever he was doing, it was working.
A Trip on the Pineapple Express
By 2008, Franco had teamed up with his former costar, Seth Rogen, for the stoner comedy Pineapple Express. He starred as Saul Silver, an airhead dealer, while Rogen starred as Dale Denton, a lazy stoner. They accidentally entangled themselves in a corrupt police plot.
The New York Times wrote about Franco's performance, "He's delightful as Saul, loosey-goosey and goofy yet irrepressibly sexy, despite that greasy curtain of hair and a crash pad with a zero WAF (Woman Acceptance Factor)." Franco wound up receiving a Golden Globe nomination for Pineapple Express. The ride was only beginning.
The Ultimate Honor
While he would continue to act in many movies in the years following his ride on the Pineapple Express, his role as mountain climber Aron Ralston would earn him a nomination to one of the most prestigious awards in cinema - the Oscar. He starred in the movie 127 Hours, based on a true story.
Director Danny Boyle and James Franco retold the harrowing moments when Ralston got his arm stuck. His arm lodged between a rock wall and a boulder, leaving him forced to amputate his arm. There was nothing that could bring James Franco down. Or so it seemed.
A Star Is Born
After that, Franco was off to the races. He starred in Your Highness alongside Natalie Portman and Danny McBride. He also played a role in the reboot of the Planet of the Apes. Anyone making a movie wanted to have James Franco and his famous smile in it.
He later landed a role in Milk, portraying the boyfriend of Harvey Milk, Scott Smith. He and Spider-Man director Sam Raimi also teamed up for Oz the Great and Powerful, a prequel to the story of Dorothy and her friends on the yellow brick road. It truly seemed there was nothing he couldn't do.
Well, maybe there was one thing he couldn't do - host the biggest night in entertainment. In 2011, the producers of the Academy Awards decided to do things differently. They had two of Hollywood's rising stars host the ceremony instead of the usual comedian. James Franco and Anne Hathaway were chosen for the honor.
The Hollywood Reporter's Tim Goodman wrote about the ceremony, "In what could go down as one of the worst Oscar telecasts in history, a bad and risky idea — letting two actors host — proved out in spectacularly unwatchable fashion on the biggest of all nights for the film world." Ouch!
While his twosome with Anne Hathaway may not have been a hit, Franco had another pair that was the friendship of the century. After he teamed up with Seth Rogen for Pineapple Express, the two were unstoppable and inseparable. Whenever they were teamed up, the whole world was ready to tune in.
They've made audiences laugh in countless films, including This is the End and The Interview. In a 2014 interview with ABC News, Franco said about Rogen, "I consider him one of my closest friends." From spoofing a Kanye West music video to producing movies together, they were the best friends everyone wanted to have.
In 2011, Franco decided it was time to try another hat. This time he was playing the role of professor - but not in a movie. He was actually teaching students! He led a graduate-level film course at New York University and taught film classes at USC and UCLA. The 127 Hours actor also opened an acting studio, Studio 4.
Not only was he a teacher, but he was also a student. During the height of his acting career, he returned to university to earn his degree. He was attending NYU, Brooklyn College, and Columbia University all at the same time. He also enrolled at Yale University and the Rhode Island School of Design. Talk about an overachiever.
James Franco received the coveted mark of making it in show business. He got a Hollywood Walk of Fame star. During the 2013 ceremony, Franco said, "When I got to L.A., I'd come here and see the stars, and it just seemed like it was something that was part of the city, and you would never crack that, it was part of Hollywood history."
Of course, his BFF Seth Rogen was in attendance and joked, "I've actually thrown up right there. It's a good spot." Forever now, tourists and locals will be able to walk down the street and come across Franco's name, showing his dedication to cinematic history. And not only did he reach for the stars, he landed on them...
Trouble on Instagram
Yet, there was trouble in paradise. Franco was acting in a Broadway production when he took a photo with a young Scottish fan. She was in town visiting the United States and tagged him on Instagram. He started messaging her, trying to convince her to meet up.
The 17-year-old girl uploaded their conversation to the internet, and people were shocked. While nothing happened, the huge age gap between a 35-year-old Franco and a teenage fan was unsettling. He later told Kelly Ripa on Live With Kelly and Michael, "I used bad judgment and I learned my lesson." But this wasn't all.
Staying in Character
It was the role of a lifetime. Rogen's production company had bought the rights to the book The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made. It documented how Greg Sestero became part of one of the worst movies ever made in cinematic history, The Room.
Franco was set to direct and star as the eclectic Tommy Wiseau, who starred and directed The Room and became a cultural icon among film fans. Franco's younger brother, Dave, starred as Sestero, and Rogen appeared in the film. The film was a smash hit, garnering lots of praise from critics. But the praise wouldn't last long.
In 2018, female celebrities joined up to form the non-profit group Time's Up in response to the sexual abuse scandal involving big-time producer Harvey Weinstein. In support of the women who suffered from sexual abuse, many who attended the awards circuit used it to spread the message and stand up for the #MeToo movement.
The Disaster Artist was nominated for an Academy Award, Golden Globes, and many more. Actor and director James Franco showed his support for the movement by wearing a Time's Up pin at the Golden Globe Awards ceremony. However, someone watching at home had something to say about it that would change things forever.
Actress Violet Paley tweeted during the ceremony, "Cute #TimesUp pin, James Franco." She went on to give examples of allegations against him. Could these allegations be true? Franco denied the allegations during an appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
He told Seth Meyers on his show, "I have my own side of this story, but I believe in 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." However, things were only beginning to unravel for The Disaster Artist actor.
"Really Bad Place"
As more allegations began to emerge, Franco decided to take a backseat. He skipped out on the Critics Choice Awards, where he ended up winning the award for Best Actor. A source close to him spoke with PEOPLE and told them, "He's in a really bad place..."
They continued, "…so bad that he changed his phone number. His close friends are trying to be there for him, but it's been hard – he's only talking to a select group of people. For now, he's just hiding out." Unfortunately for James Franco, things weren't about to get easier.
Soon after the initial allegation was brought up against the Pineapple Express actor, a bombshell article went off. The Los Angeles Times published an expose about Franco, with five women coming forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against him. Four of the five women were his students at his acting school, Stage 4.
The details revealed were unsettling as the women described their experiences. Violet Paley recalled, "The power dynamic was really off." A former student of Franco's, Sarah Tither-Kaplan, added, "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."
He Said, She Said
Franco's attorney Michael Plonsker denied all the allegations and said they were false. But two of the women who spoke out in the LA Times article and Franco's former assistant Tatjana Liepelt appeared on Inside Edition to tell their sides of the story.
Sarah Tither-Kaplan told Inside Edition, "I don't even know what to say — I'm terrified for my career. It was a lot of nudity and... scenes that I felt were not artistically justified and were added in after the fact." His former assistant recalled he had two personalities, one was very sweet, and the other was the opposite.
Struck With a Lawsuit
After the women spoke out, there was still more to come for James Franco. In October 2019, two of Franco's former students at his Studio 4 acting school, Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal, sued the actor, his production, his manager, and his business partner.
The women accused Franco and partners of being "engaged in widespread inappropriate and sexually charged behavior towards female students by sexualizing their power as a teacher and an employer by dangling the opportunity for roles in their projects."
After the accusations, the expose, and the lawsuit, James Franco seemingly disappeared from the spotlight. He was once one of the most in-demand actors - and everyone wanted him in their project. Once he was sued, he went silent. No one heard a thing from the Hollywood star.
2018 went from being one of the highlight years of Franco's career to being the stage for his untimely downfall. The Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay went to another movie, and his awards buzz was overshadowed by the allegations brought up against him. Hollywood wasn't the only thing that Franco was backing away from.
A Liberating Loss
His Instagram and Twitter accounts were already deleted by this time, meaning he was really cut off from the modern-day world. He deleted his Instagram back in 2017. He explained to Variety, "It's very liberating. I just got rid of it. When I first got on, it just felt silly."
He continued, "I treated it like it was a joke. You get in that weird seductive space where it feels private, but it's also public. And you get hooked on the reaction." Franco then deleted his Twitter account on April 1, 2011. While many fans hoped it was an April Fool's day prank at the time, it hadn't been. Franco had logged off.
Seth Rogen Speaks Out
Two years after the allegations were made, Seth Rogen spoke out about his best friend's controversy. Rogen apologized for his joke about underage women and Franco during an SNL appearance, and he admitted his regret for saying he would continue working with his friend during a 2018 interview.
Now, things have changed. Rogen told Sunday Times, "What I can say is that I despise abuse and harassment, and I would never cover or conceal the actions of someone doing it, or knowingly put someone in a situation where they were around someone like that." He said he has no plans to work with his former BFF.
Two years after Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal sued the This is the End actor - they finally got the ending to their story with him. They settled their lawsuit. According to reports obtained by PEOPLE, Franco is set to pay $2.2 million, and the plaintiffs have agreed to drop their individual charges against their former teacher.
The following statement was released by both sides, "While Defendants continue to deny the allegations in the Complaint, they acknowledge that Plaintiffs have raised important issues; and all parties strongly believe that now is a critical time to focus on addressing the mistreatment of women in Hollywood."
"Doing a Lot of Work"
Nearly four years of silence later, James Franco finally spoke out. In 2021, for the first time since his disastrous fall from the height of Hollywood stardom, he sat down for an interview on SiriuxXM's The Jess Cagle Podcast. In the hour-long episode, he discussed the allegations, dangerous addictions, and much more.
Franco admitted, "Over the course of my teaching, I did [have relations] with students, and that was wrong. But, like I said, it's not why I started the school, and I wasn't the person that selected the people to be in the class. So it wasn't a 'master plan' on my part." He also said, "So I've just been doing a lot of work…"
While Franco admitted to becoming intimate with students, he also revealed that he had been struggling with substances. He had troubles with alcohol abuse when he was younger but managed to get sober. Although he thought his problems ended there, upon reflection, he realized they did not because he had an addiction to intimacy.
He said on the podcast, "It's such a powerful [thing]. I got hooked on it for 20 more years. The insidious part of that is that I stayed sober from alcohol all that time… So in my head, it was like, 'Oh, I'm sober. I'm living a spiritual life.' Where on the side, I'm acting out now in all these other ways, and I couldn't see it."
The interview didn't shy away from anything, including Franco's former BFF, Seth Rogen. Franco acknowledged, "He was asked about me, and I just wanna say I absolutely love Seth Rogen… I worked with him for 20 years. We didn't have one fight for 20 years. Not one fight. He was my absolute closest work friend, collaborator."
The Sausage Party actor admitted that they are not currently working on anything together, nor do they have plans to. He continued, "So that's why, that's one of the main reasons I wanted to talk to you today: I don't want Seth or my brother or anyone to have to answer for me anymore."
On a Better Track
While Franco admitted to undesirable behavior and bad habits in the interview, he was optimistic about the future. He claimed that he was doing work to change himself for the better. He also talked about his girlfriend, Isabel Pakzad. While Franco admitted that before her, he "cheated on everyone."
The couple began dating in 2017, and a source told ET in 2022, "Their relationship is solid, and they are very happy together. They aren't in a rush to get engaged, but they definitely see a future together. They are just enjoying this moment." Now that Franco has finally resurfaced, what about his acting career?
Planning His Comeback
His return to acting has also been set. The Hollywood Reporter dropped the news that Franco will star in an upcoming drama set in a world post-WWII. He will star alongside Uncharted actor Tom Holland and Vanity Fair actress Daisy Jacob. The news of his Hollywood comeback broke in July 2022.
Franco will portray Nicola, a hardened fisherman with harrowing tales from his days as a soldier. The 44-year-old actor said, "I am excited to board this phenomenal project and to be working with the legendary Bille August. I'm a huge fan of his work, and Me, You is a truly brilliant script."
Forgive & Forget?
With his in-depth interview and a new movie coming out, James Franco is gradually returning to the public eye. After everything that has happened, though, will he be accepted? Has he paid his debt to society, or are there some acts that are unforgivable?
Only time will tell what will happen. Following Franco's interview with Jess Cagle, his accusers said, "It is unbelievable that even after agreeing to a settlement, he continues to downplay the survivors' experiences and ignore their pain, despite acknowledging he had no business starting such a school in the first place."