Interview: James Franco

James Franco chats about his role as Jake Epping on Prime TV’s 11.22.63.

Q. Did you read the book, or had you already read it?

“Yeah, I read it pretty fast. I just loved it so much. And I actually had a friend that knew Stephen King and I emailed him immediately and said, “Could I do something with this?” Because I heard he was very generous with his options, and he said, “Yeah, sorry, J.J. Abrams is doing it.” And I thought, oh, I guess I won’t be doing that. I wrote a little piece about it in VICE, and then, not long after that, I got an email from J.J. asking if I wanted to be in it. So, yeah, I read it before.”

Q. The Kennedy assassination affected certain generations more than others, did you immediately get the romance of the idea of going back?

“I wasn’t alive when it happened, but it’s a big event. Although, it’s sort of become, in a weird way, like, legend, maybe for my generation where it feels sort of like Marilyn Monroe or James Dean or something like that, but in fact, it was this horrific event. But it kind of has this cast of legend over it now. And so I thought this story and this approach was so great because it’s a fresh way in. We’re not exactly telling a history lesson. Or you have with Jake Epping, the time traveller, you have a new into the story and you get to learn everything all over again but from a completely fresh perspective that we haven’t really seen before. And so I think it’s a guide. It’s a way to kind of guide a new generation into what happened.”

Q. Even by standards of TV dramas, your character is in basically almost every second of this. How aware were you going in of what the workload was going to be, and did that sort of prevent you from indulging in the various other seven or eight movies you’re directing or writing at any given time?

“No. I was aware. I read the scripts. I knew I would be in most of the scenes. And I don’t know. How’d we get through it? We just showed up every day and kind of did it. For me, acting is fun, so it doesn’t feel like work to me to have to be in every scene. It’s just kind of what I do. And so I just had a lot of it in this, I guess. And I was doing other things on the side, but that was my time, my business, I get to do what I want.”

Q. Your character has to wrap his brain around the idea of time travel really quickly. And if this were to happen to any of us in real life, it would probably cause you to go insane. How do you strike that tone, how did you get that, especially in those early scenes?

“Yeah, I was sort of talking about it earlier too. It was one of the things I really loved about the book, and then thinking about it as an adaptation, was that I’ve done period pieces before. We’ve all seen period pieces, things take place in the ’60s or the movie “JFK.” And in that kind of thing, you as filmmakers present the period and you don’t want any seams. You don’t want to see the seams. You want it to feel like, okay, that’s the period and everybody behaves a certain way and they’re just in that world.

In this case, it was a chance for Stephen King, the way he set it up, to sort of underline everything he loves about the past and everything he hates about the past because he has this character that doesn’t fit there. So he’s the fish out of water that can go back and say, “Oh, yeah. Milk tasted so much better back then,” and, “Oh, that’s what race relations were like then?” You know? And so it’s a wonderful setup to both have a period piece but then also have this character that can basically just go around and point like oh, I love that’s cool. Jake, in a way, is sort of like an everyman. He’ s an English teacher. I’ve taught English, so I kind of understood that and the character in a way is not super complex, but then what he goes through is the interesting part. And going on that adventure, this extraordinary adventure within an everyman is what made it interesting for me.”

Q. What was it like to film in Dallas and be there in the footsteps of all that.

“Yeah, it was incredible. I mean, it was eerie being there. And they’ve done it there before, but ours has its own little twists and turns, so it felt like revisiting but also that we were doing something new that hadn’t been done before. But like any movie or project that you go to the actual place, it resonates with something. We did “Milk” and we shot in the actual place where Harvey Milk ran his campaign, and the same thing with Dealey Plaza. It still retains something of what happened.”


11.22.63 premieres Friday 11th November, 9.35pm on Prime.

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