James Franco, Acting God Turned Soap Opera Stud
Courtney Eckerle | Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Soap operas are uncool. Grandparents and housewives watch soaps, not college students (although, let’s be honest, is watching “The Hills” religiously any less embarrassing?). Those of us who watch them do so in secret, making strange excuses as to why we disappear from the world in the middle of the day, or why our class schedule is arranged around a mysterious one-hour gap.
To these people, James Franco is a savior. James Franco, in one strange career choice, something that cost him one week of time, has made soap operas cool again, possibly for all of eternity.
This leads to the question of why. Why would a well-known, highly paid, Golden Globe-winning actor sink so low as to turn to a soap opera? Is he doing research for a film role? Is he just totally freaking weird? Or are we in an alternate universe where Sally Field opted out after the whole winning an Oscar thing, and decided to do Boniva commercials for the rest of her career? It just doesn’t make sense.
Except it does — James Franco is cool. That’s the answer. Despite seeming like a career killer, soap operas are one of the ultimate acting challenges. Those actors have to memorize hundreds of lines a day, despite the fact that it seems like it takes characters days to have a single conversation.
James Franco is the current Independent Spirit Award Best Supporting Actor, and yet he still wants to know how it feels to slum on daytime television. That doesn’t sound like desperation, but like humility. It’s a move that has gotten him more press than any other work he’s done, with updates hitting the gossip blogs as soon as they become available. Fans of “General Hospital” and James alike were poking around for details on his story line (an “artist whose medium is death,” and that’s a direct promo-quote) and salivating over the first pictures of his character that were released.
He is also guest starring on an episode of “30 Rock,” attending graduate school at New York University, and he will be starring in the comedies “Your Highness” with Natalie Portman, “Eat, Pray, Love” with Julia Roberts and “Howl,” where he portrays Allen Ginsburg. This guy doesn’t dispatch his time carelessly, and that should really say something in defense of soaps.
He is also certainly not the first celebrity to do a cameo on a soap opera. Every fan knows that a celeb in town can shake things up more than an evil twin carrying her sister’s husband’s illegitimate child. The B-52’s were on “Guiding Light” in 1982, Snoop Dogg was on “One Life to Live” in 2008, Betty White made an appearance on “The Bold and the Beautiful,” Lily Allen appeared on the Australian soap opera “Neighbours” earlier this year and of course there was Elizabeth Taylor’s mesmerizing performance on “General Hospital” in the 80’s.
Even if you’ve never watched a soap before, even if you think they’re stupid and ridiculous (careful with those stones — many ridiculous things are also good, the perfect example being “Twilight”), everyone knows someone who watches a soap. Now there is finally something to get even the most cynical cynic of daytime television watching — James Franco’s face. Soaps love—nay, are practically obsessed with the awkwardly long, yet meaningful close-up. Which means that James Franco’s face will be taking over the television screen for probably what amounts to 10 minutes per episode.
Is the writing great? No, especially considering that James’ character’s name is ‘Franco’, so there are no points scored for creativity there, and “Law and Order” has already done the whole serial killer photographer thing, but soap operas are supposed to be cheesy. There is a reason housewives are the majority of watchers, and it’s the same reason why college students should be — to escape. Escape from the everyday, the grind of classes, the laundry that’s piling up, whatever. What could be more out of real life than two rival killers clashing in epic proportions in a town of people who have been married upwards of six times and hang out in the local hospital just for fun? Not a single thing comes to mind.