The Renaissance Man this era deserves, noted New York Times and Vice columnist, author, poet, director, academic, visual artist, and actor James Franco, is currently in Internet trouble after an Instagram conversation between Franco and a 17-year-old Scottish girl (who won’t turn 18 until May) was leaked online. Lucy Clode, the girl in question, met Franco at the stage door after Of Mice and Men emptied out on Tuesday. After she got a video, Franco told her, “You gotta tag me,” and an alleged Instagram flirtation took place, with Franco asking questions like, “When is your birthday? You’re single? What’s the hotel? Should I rent a room?”
It’s skeevy, clearly, and it’s been par for the course for Franco this month, as his response to being “named” on Lindsay Lohan’s leaked sex list was to deny, deny, deny. “And Lindsay herself has told lies about me with her people-she’s-slept-with list! So I feel like what I said is much less than what she’s said,” Franco told Los Angeles Magazine in a March interview.
The thing that’s been interesting about Franco, ever since he embraced being an “artist” above a mere actor, is that he’s maintained control over his image, embracing celebrity in ways both productive — entering 18 different graduate programs, often at the same time, basically making a mockery of an educational system that will kowtow to the power of a name like Franco, even if he doesn’t have the intellect or writing ability — and obnoxious, as seen in his work as a director (20 films in the past four years) alternately exploring the work of great poets and writers, as well as Franco’s own narcissism in some kind of Andy Warhol hall of mirrors. He has also remained relatively mysterious sexually, from a long-term relationship with actress Ahna O’Reilly (who resembles Lucy Clode the Scottish teenager, it must be noted) and his longterm fascination with gay culture and homoeroticism.
But these recent leaks, from Lindsay Lohan to Lucy Clode, show Franco in a light that’s dimmer and grosser. Instead of being a dude who makes the decisions he wants to make, a guy in control of his public image (which is why his Internet presence is alternately charming and mundane), he’s just a creepy dude, liable to throw a girl under the bus. And his sexting game is transparently focused on just getting some. He’s not even attempting at any getting-to-know-you niceties.
It’s a thin line between post-ironic, post-empire genius and the creepy falling-under-the-waves cautionary tales like Amanda Bynes and Shia LaBeouf — and this month, Franco has been far too LaBeouf. If it’s performance art, it’s got to be better.
Of course, if it’s just meta-promo for Gia Coppola’s Palo Alto, adapted from his first book, in which Franco plays a predatory high school teacher, then he really is a genius.