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‘True Story’ Director on Casting James Franco: “He’s Playing With What It Means to Be a Movie Star”

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James Franco stars in ‘True Story,’ a film that premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.

Jeremy Kinser

Journalistic ethics and the relationship between storytelling and the truth are at the forefront of True Story, a compelling cat-and-mouse drama that marks the debut feature from acclaimed theater director Rupert Goold.

The film, which premiered out of competition at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, stars Jonah Hill as Mike Finkel, a disgraced New York Times reporter, and James Franco as Christian Longo, who’s been arrested for the murder of his wife and children. The director, who also adapted the screenplay from Finkel’s memoir, True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa, acknowledged the importance of casting the right actors, for what is essentially a two-hander.

Although the ubiquitous Franco brings a lot of baggage to the enigmatic character, Goold shared that it was partially this reason that inspired him to cast the actor. “Because of all the things he does—his art, his novels, his experimental movies — I think there’s a sort of mystery to him, in the public consciousness anyway. You want to pursue James as a person. I think a lot of all that stuff is a construct. He’s playing with what it means to be a movie star. As a man he’s really down to earth and very normal. I find him fascinating in a way that I find Longo fascinating.”

Hill was cast as Finkel because of his “innate vulnerability,” Goold revealed. “Both of these men are in some ways unlikable narcissists. At some level I thought we had to have an actor you had sympathy for, and Jonah carries that the way most young actors don’t.” Goold decided this made the two perfect to portray the spider and the fly element of the script.

Goold sees his story’s structure as paralleling a film noir, only substituting Franco for the femme fatale. “You have a couple and the man is hypnotized away by fatal attraction or something,” he offered. “It’s as much a fascination as it is a fear.”


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