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Art & Culture / Jefferson Hack's Question Air

James Franco

Using his modern interpretation of the original Proust Questionnaire, Jefferson Hack uncovers the true mindsets of his peers

James Franco
James Franco Photography by Terry Richardson

Riding roughshod across the concept of the importance of focus, James Franco's cultural universe encompasses every practice imaginable - from acting, directing and filmmaking, across teaching and poetry, to music, fiction and art.

Riding roughshod across the concept of the importance of focus, James Franco's cultural universe encompasses every practice imaginable – from acting, directing and filmmaking, across teaching and poetry, to music, fiction and art. His is a mind seemingly unbounded by limits of medium or imagination, driven by a passion for learning and experimentation that leaves others gasping in its wake. Oscar nominated in 2011 for Danny Boyle's 127 Hours, and with a debut novel set to be released in 2013, this last year has seen him continue with his PhD studies at Yale, film key roles in Oz: The Great and the Powerful and Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers, and prepare artwork to show at NEW NO DARK WAVE, a group show curated by Natacha Polaert marking the opening of the new flagship CosTUME NATIONAL store in New York. When the group exhibition opens on September 10, Franco's short films will be found running in the changing rooms, with other works by Aaron Young, Daniel Firman, Frédéric Beigbeder and Tobias Wong dotted throughout the store, creating a fascinating show that explores the ideas of permutation, perception and memory.

With the show opening just days away, we put Franco to task to answer Jefferson Hack's version of the Proust questionnaire, gaining a fascinating insight into the mind of a very modern polymath.

What are you thinking of right now?
I’m in the car, in Mississippi, outside of Jackson, going to set, so I’m thinking about what we’re going to shoot. We’re making a film adaptation of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, so I’m thinking about a run down house, a wacky family, a coffin, mules, a funeral, a river, a fire, a burial and some new teeth.

What makes you laugh?
Little kids doing funny things.

What makes you cry?
Cheesy movies with mood music at the emotional climaxes.

What do you consider to be the greatest invention?
I guess it’s all relative. Penicillin, HIV cocktails, books, cameras, paint, computers, cars, they’re all pretty good.

Do you have a mentor or inspirational figure that has guided or influenced you?
The poet Frank Bidart.

What makes you laugh?
Little kids doing funny things.

Where do you feel most at home?
In New York. Or lying down on a couch, anywhere. Reading.

Where are you right now?
I told you, in the car, going to set. We were just talking about Tarantino and how his movies have become more and more stylized since Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction; Wes Anderson is the same way, ever since Rushmore.

What is your proudest achievement in work?
I’m very proud of a short film I directed called Herbert White, based on a poem by Frank Bidart, starring Michael Shannon. I am also proud of a book I wrote called Palo Alto. There are also two projects that haven’t come out yet: a feature film based on Cormac McCarthy’s third book, Child of God, and a book of poems.

What is your proudest achievement in life?
I’m happy that I’m in a place where I can make what I want to make.

What do you most dislike about contemporary culture?
That uninformed and bitter opinions can live in the same spheres as smart and thoughtful ones.

What do you most like about the age we live in?
I love the way different pockets of culture can build on each other, the way communities can be more easily formed today because communication is so easy.

At what points do life and work intersect?
Usually at all points. I have a hard time separating them now. Even my mom acts in my films.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
Never be a part of something you don’t believe in.

What is the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?
Hmmm, I suppose doing projects that don’t have great commercial potential and making them in ways that I know will welcome criticism. For example, I made a movie about Hart Crane, I knew it wouldn’t be a blockbuster and I made it in a way that would reflect the esoteric modes of his poetry, so I knew critics would use it as a way to show off their own knowledge about the subject. 

Recommend a book or poem that has changed your perspective on life?
Moby Dick.

At what points do life and work intersect?
Usually at all points. I have a hard time separating them now. Even my mom acts in my films.

What is your earliest childhood memory?
It’s too hard to extricate actual memories from old photographs. But I remember swimming pools; I remember dressing up in a 49er jersey; I remember being in the living room for Christmas morning; I remember deviled eggs with paprika; I remember The Runaway Bunny and The Velveteen Rabbit; I remember my bunk bed with space creatures on the sheets; I remember dinosaurs; I remember my dad in a cheap, black and blue Kimono.

What’s the most important relationship in your life?
Hard to say. I have a bunch. Friends, work partners, they all blend.

What’s the most romantic action you’ve taken?
Ha. I don’t know. I’ve gone to Big Sur with someone. To Hawaii? 

What’s the most spiritual action you’ve taken?
I try to meditate. I also try to help others in need.

If you could wish for one change in the world what would it be?
No nukes.

NEW NO DARK WAVE runs from September 10 - October 10 at the CoSTUME NATIONAL flagship store, New York.

Jefferson Hack is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnOther Magazine, AnOther Man and Dazed & Confused

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