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Hamptons Life

Oct 12, 2010 11:44 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

James Franco and Stanley Tucci open up at Hamptons International Film Festival

Editor's Note:
Oct 12, 2010 11:44 AM

The “Conversation With ...” series at this year’s Hamptons International Film Festival put on display both the strengths and weaknesses of the event. One clear strength is how the series reflects the growth of the festival over 18 years: the live program began with a single interview, and in recent years there have been as many as four.

Another strength is the diversity of filmmakers offered to audiences. In this year’s edition of HIFF, interviews were conducted with the director Julian Schnabel on Friday, the 32-year-old actor James Franco on Saturday, and on Sunday with Isabella Rossellini and Stanley Tucci, who have more extensive acting resumes.

To those in the audience who have followed Mr. Franco’s career recently, it was no surprise that he was late for his interview on Saturday afternoon. His role as Harry Osborn (son of the Green Goblin) in all three “Spiderman” movies is just the tip of the iceberg. Since first attracting attention as the lead in the television biopic “James Dean” in 2001, Mr. Franco has participated in dozens of film and TV productions as a director, screenwriter, producer, and actor.

His most recent projects—beyond playing a serial killer on the soap opera “General Hospital”—were part of this year’s HIFF: Danny Boyle’s “127 Hours” and “The Clerk’s Tale,” a short film he directed. He plays the poet Allen Ginsberg in “Howl,” a movie shown recently at the New York Film Festival, and in his “spare time” he is a graduate student at Yale University.

The interview at Bay Street Theatre, conducted by Rajendra Roy, the former director of programming for HIFF who is now the chief curator of the Museum of Modern Art film department, was fascinating, though not necessarily for the best of reasons. As with some of the other “A Conversation With ...” programs during the last few years, it did not appear that Mr. Roy and Mr. Franco had any previous contact with each other so that questions could be more focused to elicit insightful answers in the one-hour time limit.

It was sometimes painful watching the shy and apparently introverted Mr. Franco struggle to develop and articulate answers to the somewhat vague questions. This was disappointing because the pre-interview highlight reel that included clips from movies and television programs ranging from “Freaks and Geeks” to “City By the Sea” to “Milk” to “Pineapple Express” showed Mr. Franco to be a riveting screen presence who has frequently strayed from the mainstream path.

Still, he gamely persevered. Sprinkled among his answers were references to Ezra Pound and Tennessee Williams, anecdotes about the directors Gus Van Zant and Danny Boyle, memories of experiences with professors he studied under at the New York University film school, and his philosophy that “movies that I have a feeling I should do rather than want to do are a dead end for me.”

Mr. Franco was enthusiastic about the directing process and his immersion in short independent films. A particularly interesting observation was that he enjoys improvisation as an actor but is not very fond of it as a director.

Not that he seems to need one, but he may have gotten his next job on Saturday afternoon. A woman in the audience introduced by Mr. Roy as a documentary prize winner at the Sundance Film Festival last January told the audience that she was preparing an independent feature film on the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. “You want me to play him?” Mr. Franco asked. After she nodded, he immediately said, “I’ll do it.”

It was back to the strengths of the series with the Stanley Tucci interview, also at Bay Street. The interviewer was David Edelstein, film critic of New York Magazine who was evidently more comfortable conducting interviews and had prepared for this one extensively. And, after a little bit of warming up, Mr. Tucci, who will be 50 next month, turned out to be articulate, reflective, and very witty.

His resume is remarkable, and Mr. Edelstein, in an hour of questioning, reached only portions of Mr. Tucci’s stage, TV, and film career.

He grew up in Westchester County and a close friend was Campbell Scott, the son of George C. Scott and Colleen Dewhurst. The teenagers put on stage productions in high school, then embarked on acting and directing careers, and they co-directed “Big Night,” about two brothers in the 1950s expecting the singer Louis Prima to visit their Brooklyn restaurant. It was obviously a crowd favorite on Saturday.

Mr. Tucci made his Broadway debut 28 years ago and his film debut in 1985 in “Prizzi’s Honor,” and he has had supporting roles in such features as “The Pelican Brief” and “Billy Bathgate” and the children’s film “Beethoven.” But it has been in the last few years that his star has risen highest. He has co-starred in two popular films with Meryl Streep, “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Julie and Julia,” and he is directing Ms. Streep and Tina Fey in the comedy “Mommy & Me.”

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