James Franco addresses allegations of sexually exploitative behavior, admits he used his 'fame like a lure'

James Franco addresses some of the specific sexual misconduct accusations against him — and admits he used "fame like a lure"— in his first interview in nearly four years.

Following Wednesday's preview of Franco on the Jess Cagle Podcast, the full episode is out and in it the actor talks about being accused by five women, four of whom were his acting students and another whom he mentored, of inappropriate or sexually exploitative behavior in 2018. In June, his shuttered acting school, Studio 4 in Los Angeles and New York, settled a fraud and sexual exploitation lawsuit over some of the allegations, paying out $2.2 million.

"I can't say too much," Franco replied when asked why he settled the lawsuit when he proclaimed his innocence from the allegations in 2018. "Look, some people felt that they had been mistreated and the insurance company and we all felt that easiest thing would to be to settle this."

Franco — who said in the interview that he's quietly been in sex addiction recovery since 2016 — said one of the "misconceptions" he could talk about was why he started the acting school. He explained that he had been teaching at four different schools, which hard to get into and cost a lot of money, so his intention was to help aspiring actors who couldn't afford one of the prestigious programs.

Director and star James Franco arrives for the gala presentation of
James Franco addresses allegations of sexually exploitative behavior, admits that he should have "known better." (Photo: REUTERS/Mike Blake)

"I thought: It's good for me when I help other people," Franco said. "And there was a high demand. That's what it was about. The stupidest thing I did — well, one of the stupidest things I did at the school — I called one of my classes, a master class, 'Sex Scenes.' It was not about sex scenes. It was not teaching people how to do sex scenes … It was a provocative title … It should have been called 'contemporary romance.' … It was not sex scenes."

Former students Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal alleged in their lawsuit that Franco, through the school, tried to "create a pipeline of young women who were subjected to his personal and professional sexual exploitation in the name of education."

Asked why they had that perception, Franco admitted he slept with students, which he admitted "was wrong." He said, "I suppose at the time, my thinking was: If it's consensual, it's OK." But having a pipeline of women at his whim, said, "was not why I started that school."

Franco insisted he didn't select the students for the class. It was noted that the students claimed they were required to audition — in the nude — to be in the "Sex Scenes" class. Further, they were allegedly recorded.

"Look, if they were, I'm sorry," he said, "and it's partly on me because it was my school. That's another thing I'll take ownership for. I had no business starting my own school. Yes, I had good intentions. But when I was teaching at universities, there's this whole infrastructure and support and guidance how to run a class. I didn't have any of that when I started my own school. So if something like that happened, it is on me. I started the school. I shouldn't have had a place where anything like that might happen. But I wasn't in the auditions. They might have been videoed, I didn't see them and I didn't make the selections for that particular class."

The complaint said students were told the nude auditions were filmed because Franco was going to view them to select students for the master class.

Franco sighed as he searched for words. "I am so sorry that that was ever believed by anyone," he said. "I truly am. That is the last thing that I ever did or would have ever wanted. Truly, I never saw any of those auditions."

He also addressed the claim that while filming a nude orgy scene for an indie film Franco was directing outside of the school, he removed protective plastic guards covering other actresses' vaginas while simulating oral sex on them.

"It just didn't happen," he said. "I never took a guard off of anyone ever in my life. It just didn't happen. That's all I can say about that. We have footage that shows that never happened on that particular project — and it didn't happen."

It was also alleged that the actresses faced demands for nudity on some of his indie film sets which they previously hadn't been told they would have to perform. One was in a brothel scene.

"There were a couple times when on set it wasn't in the scene and we had inspiration and we said: Let's add [nudity] to this scene." However, he suggested it was optional, despite the power imbalance. "What we did was said: Who wants to be in this scene? And then there would be volunteers and we'd go shoot it. In hindsight, if we had an intimacy coordinator" — something used more in the post-#MeToo era — "there would be a [more formal] process."

Asked if Franco "got angry" if an actor refused to comply with his request for unscripted nudity, he said he could think of one person who may have felt like that, but said they have since spoken about it and have no hard feelings.

"If the people were all uncomfortable, they weren't saying it to me," he said. "Again, I take ownership. I wasn't creating a safe environment where they could go and talk to me, but nobody said anything to me." In fact, he said people he worked with praised him in social media posts, including one that called him a "great director."

He said, "I should have known better. I wish I had known better. I can't go back and change it. I can only change my behavior on set going forward. But it was also a little confusing to me at the time because I'm being told, 'This man is a god' by the people I'm working with."

Franco said it was a full year before he was called out for sexual misconduct at the 2018 Golden Globes that he suffered a personal burnout. He was overworked, describing himself a workaholic unable to sit with himself, so tried to keep busy. His agent had an intervention, saying he should slow down professionally because they couldn't fund his many projects, as he had so many. His producing partner also had a meeting with him to discuss scaling back. Even prior to that, he entered recovery for sex addiction in 2016. His sister-in-law had given him a book about sex and love addiction and, as someone in recovery for alcohol since age 17, it resonated that he had problem. During that period, he took a seven month break from acting and dating to examine his personal behavior and his addictive behaviors.

Franco said an even earlier red flag that his addictive behavior needed to be examined was in 2014 when he texted a 17 year old girl he met at the stage door after performing in Broadway's Of Mice and Men. He ultimately didn't meet up with the teen, once she revealed her age, but she shared his texts with friends — in which he tried to meet her in her hotel room — and they ended up online. That incident has been pointed to as part of a pattern of Franco's inappropriate interactions with young women.

"I shouldn't have texted with that person," he said. "I would go outside after every show and sign autographs and take selfies and I'd meet people. I started talking to her through social media. We talked about meeting up and I learned she was a couple weeks short of 18 so we sort of called that off."

Of that being made public: "It was very embarrassing. Again, I shouldn't have been texting with her … I never saw that person again. If I was healthy, that would have been a warning: James, something is off here. Instead, I just saw … be careful about people you meet [because they could share private exchanges publicly]. Not: You have this underlying issue. You're burning yourself down cause you can't be alone because you're trying to fill this hole in your soul through these outside means — work and other people. There's something deeper than needs to be dealt with. I just couldn't see it at the time."

When he finally did "hit a wall" — the year before the allegations surfaced — and took seven months off from work and dating to look at himself, he said it was sparked by a conversation with his producing partner about him being a workaholic. His brother, Dave Franco, was there.

"I started crying," he recalled. "He showed my whole history of the last five years. This portrait of this guy who could not be alone with himself. I couldn't even go to sleep because I didn't want to alone with myself. For years I slept on my couch because I fought sleep."

During those seven months, "It was: Oh my god, I have to get to know James? It felt like I was 13 again … I've got the social skills of a 13 year old because frankly once I had success [at age 20] — I didn't even know I was doing this really — but I would use my fame like a lure. Because I was scared to get to know anyone... I hid behind the facade of my fame."

When he had to stop doing that and face his actions, "It was like: Oh my god this scared little kid [is] underneath." He said he's, "Glad I went through it. If anything positive has come out this, it's like: I've changed. It's given me the incentive to do the work to change. I'll keep working at it for the rest of my life. At least it got me off that path that was never going to end and would probably kill me. I truly believe if I kept going with my work addiction I would have relapsed with alcohol."

In the interview Franco spoke at length about his childhood alcohol addiction and being a ward of the state. He said he was on probation when he was in a drunken driving car accident. He became sober at 17 and three years later, he became a star on Freaks and Geeks. But he started to fill the void inside by becoming addicted to the attention and success he got from stardom. That morphed into sex addiction.

He admitted he was never faithful to a partner — "I cheated on everyone" — and slept with the students at his acting school. He's been dating current girlfriend Isabel Pakzad since 2016.

There's mixed reactions to Franco breaking his silence. Charlyne Yi, who worked with Franco in The Disaster Artist, and previously called him a "sexual predator," made her opinion clear.