James Franco’s Back-Up Plan

One might think that an actor who’s achieved the success that James Franco has would just content himself with being a young movie star. Usually the million-dollar paychecks and lush lifestyle of one of Hollywood’s elite is enough to satiate even the strongest appetite for success.  That’s why it stood out to me to learn that James Franco was also pursuing an advanced degree in English. By advance degree, I mean PhD.

According to Wikipedia, in addition to graduating from UCLA, Franco:

…moved to New York to simultaneously attend graduate school at Columbia University’s MFA writing program, New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts for filmmaking (NYU), and Brooklyn College for fiction writing,while occasionally commuting to North Carolina’s Warren Wilson College for poetry. He received his MFA from Columbia in 2010. Franco is a Ph.D. student in English at Yale University and will also attend the Rhode Island School of Design.

What a busy guy.  But why? Well, also according to Wikipedia, Franco enrolled in UCLA after being “dissatisfied with his movie career.” Although I’ve been saying for years that Hollywood isn’t all it appears, I wasn’t thinking that applied to people who achieved stardom on the level of James Franco.  Currently, he also teaches a class at NYU on turning poetry into film.

What does all of this tell us about Hollywood? It tells us a little about the quality of effort and focus often possessed by those who succeed here. People think of Hollywood as a place where people live the easy life. For most, Hollywood is anything but easy. Before you make it you struggle to get known, build relationships and do your craft. After you make it, you may struggle with keeping your integrity, staying on top, landing the right roles and not alienating your audience.

In one of the first interviews I did after my book came out, I appeared with a director who almost hired Franco for his first major lead. The director went with another actor instead. During the interview he lamented that, had he hired Franco, he’d be driving a much nicer car now.  (You can see the interview HERE: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).  Franco noted in interviews that one of the things that initially hindered him in pursuing an acting career was his fear of such rejection. Perhaps that’s another reason he decided to make a backup plan?

My personal opinion is that he was tired of playing certain types of roles and wanted to play someone more intelligent but couldn’t get cast–thus all the press about going back to college.  Is a coincidence his latest role was playing a scientist in Rise of the Planet of the Apes instead of a pot dealer in Pineapple Express 2? By doing something intellectual in his own life, he changed the way casting directors and audiences saw him.

Still, whether you’re the type of person who needs to burn bridges to keep you from turning back, or the type of person who thinks though all the angles, it’s interesting to note that even someone who succeeded in Hollywood at the highest levels still keeps his options open… just in case.

Update 3/7/2013: (The 2nd edition of  What I Wish I Knew Before I Moved to Hollywood available now exclusively on Kindle for only $4.99. Get yours now. Click here. Kindle e-books can be read on I-phone, I-pod, I-pad, Android, Mac and PC with the free Kindle App.)

Posted in For Actors, Hollywood Dreams, The Business of Entertainment.


  1. Great article. I liked the interviews as well. Franco is a great actor. I really admire that he stays with his education. I hadn’t thought about his image changing though. I think you really have very cool insights into how Hollywood works.

  2. Thank you. And thanks for checking out the blog.

  3. He left UCLA to be an actor then went back.

  4. Hello, I was researching the net and I ran into your blog. Keep up the great work.

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