Between his art projects, his stint on General Hospital, and his newfound literary career (oh yeah, and his highly successful film work…), James Franco is constantly all over the news. Just today, we read about him starring in a book trailer and bringing Jeffrey Deitch along for the second round of his magical GH adventure. Considering that he’s got hands in cinema, literature, TV, and visual arts, we’re going to go ahead and crown Franco the new King of All Media. So, how did he come to dominate the news cycle? Perhaps it has something to do with folks he’s chosen to collaborate with, befriend, or simply name check. After the jump, we look back at the 10 people we think have been most influential in boosting Franco-mania to unprecedented levels.
1. Judd Apatow (1999) When we first spotted James Franco around the turn of the millennium in Judd Apatow’s brilliant but canceled Freaks and Geeks, we thought he was just another bad-boy teen heartthrob. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) Over the years, though, he’s become one of the classiest members of the extended Apatow family. The pair’s bromance came to full fruition in 2008, when Franco starred alongside his fellow Freaks and Geeks alum Seth Rogen in the wonderful Pineapple Express as one of the funniest pot dealers in movie history.
2. James Dean (2001) Of course, Franco never actually met the tragic ’50s film idol. But earning the right to portray him in a well-publicized TV biopic helped to cement our hero’s status as a serious actor (not to mention a really cool guy). And it probably didn’t hurt that the role reminded fans of the resemblance between the two.
3. Sam Raimi (2002) The key to Franco’s media domination has been his utter ubiquity. We see him in student shorts and Hollywood blockbusters alike. And none of his movies has been bigger than the Spider-Man franchise, in which he plays Harry Osborn. We imagine that he and Raimi, a major director who also keeps one foot in the underground, must have gotten along famously.
4. Robert Altman (2003) Working with the late, great director Robert Altman is practically a rite of passage for serious actors (and Lindsay Lohan). Franco’s stint in The Company earned him some all-important arthouse cred.
5. Harvey Milk (2008) Another legend who helped make Franco what he is without ever having met him, Harvey Milk endeared the actor to a very important demographic: the gays. Now, a man as good-looking as James Franco probably always had a sizable same-sex following. But playing the equal right advocate’s paramour Scott Smith in Milk and engaging in some serious boy-on-boy nookie with Sean Penn transformed him from mere eye candy to a true ally. His new role as Allen Ginsberg in the biopic Howl will only increase the LGBT community’s love of Franco.
6. Carl Wilson (2009) If we had to put a finger on the moment when Franco began to seem like more than just an actor dabbling in filmmaking, it would be this one: On 2009’s Academy Awards red carpet, after a year when he turned in two popular and critically acclaimed performances in Milk and Pineapple Express, our boy gave a shout out to Carl Wilson. Who is Carl Wilson? He is a music critic you should start reading right now. Franco cemented a place as the thinking woman’s stud muffin by chatting with MTV News about Wilson’s fantastic Celine Dion study Let’s Talk About Love.
7. Tina Fey (2009) Sure, 30 Rock isn’t the highest rated show on TV. But it’s also one of the most influential, and its creator and star is a full-on media darling. It is good to have Tina Fey in your corner. Plus, Franco’s guest appearance last year showed us he has a sense of humor about his quirky reputation, and nothing is more endearing than some healthy self-deprecation.
8. David Granger (2010) Who do we have to thank for James Franco getting a story published in Esquire? We imagine that ultimate credit goes to David Granger, the magazine’s Editor-in-Chief. For better or for worse, this is the guy who signed off on the piece that introduced the world to Franco’s literary ambitions.
9. Jeffrey Deitch (2010) Franco has long been an art buff, and he’s currently got a weird solo show in New York. But perhaps his biggest art-world ally is one Jeffrey Deitch, formerly of Deitch Projects and now the director of MOCA. In a major TV/high art crossover, Franco is doing some kind of performance thing at MOCA as his General Hospital character and Deitch is appearing on the soap as himself. Now that’s culture jamming.
Image credit: Kelsey Keith
10. Gary Shteyngart (2010) Another member of the literati to jump on the Franco bandwagon (or perhaps just a shrewd marketer), the actor’s former Columbia professor, novelist Gary Shteyngart, has featured his pupil in a trailer for his new book, Super Sad True Love Story. “I actually haven’t read his new book, Sad True whatever, but I don’t think he really wants me to read it. I don’t think reading is actually his thing,” says a rumpled Franco, just before giving Shteyngart a reading lesson, in a clip that also includes Mary Gaitskill and Jeffrey Eugenides.