James Franco Writes About Role as Gay Poet in ‘Howl’

“Spiderman’s” James Franco is outdoing himself again, proving to be an actor who can fulfill versatile roles across different genres. Due out September 24, James stars as Beat poet Allen Ginsberg in “Howl.” James tells Vanity Fair what it means to capture the essence of a controversial and generational artist and poet who advocated gay rights during the 1950s.


James Franco / Photo Credit: PRPhotos.com

The film “Howl” is a “dramatized essay” about Ginsberg’s contentious and influential poem “Howl,” which was published in 1956 by Lawrence Ferlinghetti of City Lights Books. The publication of “Howl,” considered obscene, instigated Ginsberg’s obscenity trial in San Francisco, and it led to Ferglinghetti’s arrest.

James writes, “But to play the young Ginsberg, you, the actor, must be slim and clean-shaven and must dye your hair black… You must wear thick-framed glasses. You must apply prostheses to your ears to make them stick out…

You will need to know that when Ginsberg entered Columbia in 1943, he was inexperienced, intellectually naive, and a virgin. His friends Lucien Carr and Jack Kerouac taught him about drinking, about French Symbolist poetry, about culture more generally. An older Willam Burroughs helped Ginsberg find his way as a gay man in the 1950s , when public models were few. You will also need to know that, while these friendships were at their most intense, Lucien Carr, in a sociopathic haze murdered his hometown friend and gym teacher… Later, Burroughs shot his wife in the head… Events like these will have an effect on a young man- perhaps prompting fears for his own sanity. They will find their way into ‘Howl…’”

James is no stranger to films featuring homosexuality or a troubled protagonist. In “Milk,” James played Scott Smith, Harvey Milk’s gay lover. James has also directed two short films, “The Feast of Stephen” and “The Clerk’s Tale,” based off of poems. “The Feast of Stephen,” which won the Teddy Award, tells the story of a gay teen who fantasizes about boys playing basketball, and “The Clerk’s Tale” portrays “a gay man trapped in the monotonous routine of life at a high-end menswear store.”

“I want to be an artist and I want to be crazy,” James said, according to The Independent. “I would be happy to play 100 gay roles as long as they were always good parts.”

The 32-year-old actor, director, screenwriter, film producer and painter recently played Franco on ABC’s “General Hospital.” He also shines in blockbuster comedic roles such as in “Pineapple Express” and “Date Night.” He dates actress Anha O’Reilly.

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