James Franco has a big hat to fill as he tackles The Wizard of Oz. The actor plays Oscar Diggs in this week’s Oz: The Great and Powerful. He’s the man behind the myth of one of the most revered characters in film and literature. Franco joined forces with director Sam Raimi to unveil the wizard’s untold story. ScreenCrave recently spoke to the actor about his Raimi reunion, working with Mila Kunis and his ambitious career.
How was it reuniting with Sam Raimi for another film?
James Franco: I love Sam. I’ve known Sam for over 10 years. Because we did the Spider-Man Trilogy together. And he is one of the most fun directors to work with and that is no small thing. A director on a film really sets the tone of just how people go about things. So when you have someone like Sam, everybody is happy to be at work, everybody does their best. He’s a very collaborative director. You know, not just with the actors, with all departments. And it really makes people want to do their best because they all feel like they’re a big part of the movie and they are. I love working with Sam. I’d do anything with him.
You had to learn magic for the movie. Have you used it in real life since production wrapped?
James Franco: Yeah. I got to learn with Lance Burton, who is a great magician from Las Vegas. I got private lessons. It was pretty fun. I could accomplish the tricks. There were even more tricks than made it into the film. We just had to cut some of them for time but I got to learn quite a few pretty cool tricks that if I took them to parties, I probably would get a lot of attention. But I need a lot of help from Lance to pull them off and he doesn’t travel around with me. So it’s just sort of one of the skills that I’ve learned like along the way like sword-fighting or flying a plane that I just don’t use very much after I’m done with the movie.
You’ve worked with Mila Kunis several times. How was it collaborating with her again?
James Franco: Mila and I have worked on many projects at this point. Some very big, like Oz or Date Night. Some smaller projects that I’ve yanked her, pulled her into. While we were in Detroit, she did a movie with some of my students from NYU and we’ve done Internet things so I love working with Mila. She and Joey [King] are my favorite actresses to work with. I had a great time with both of them. So when I was asked if I was interested in doing Oz I had to have a meeting with Sam but I’d heard that Mila was either getting involved or was already signed on. That was one of the few reasons I wanted to do the movie… We have a great dynamic. Not only is she a great actor — I think one of the great things about Mila is she’s just a great collaborator. She’s very easy-going. She’s done a lot of comedy so I think she’s very good at acting on her feet, doing improvisation, figuring things out in a very organic way. And that’s how I like to work so, I’ll do anything with Mila.
Your character is a real heartbreaker, yet you want the audience to feel sympathy for him. How do you walk that line?
James Franco: The character, I think, as written, was very much Sam’s idea. I think it’s one of his big contributions… You want the characters to have their own inner journeys. I think it was Sam’s idea or maybe a collaboration with the writers that the character would also have an inner journey. He would start off one place and then have room to grow once he got to Oz. I thought, as selfish as he is, as much of a cad as he is in the beginning, it would never go to the point where he’s unlikeable because all of his manipulations and conning of people are played for laughs. You can’t and I can’t quite blame him for being the way he is because of his history, you know? He grew up in circumstances where you just wanted to get out. He wanted something different. And so performing was — he saw a way out. He’s gone a little too far in his ambitions and it’s blinded him to the love of the people around him.
Were you jealous that Mila, Rachel and Michelle got to fly and do wirework but you didn’t?
James Franco: Uh, I have done a lot of wirework and I know what you have to do to, in order to look like you’re flying so I-I was not that jealous of what they had to go through.
You have one of the most eclectic careers around. How do you find balance between a mainstream project like this and more experimental things?
James Franco: I do many different kinds of projects. But I try and be very responsible about how and where they’re released and I know that they’re for different kinds of audiences. When I do a film that’s released at Sundance I feel like I’m entitled to do material that pushes boundaries because that’s an audience that can take it. There’s a place for those kinds of movies and that’s one of the places. Then when I do a movie like this, I know what the intention is and I’m not going to try and bring in material or anything that doesn’t fit in this world. It’s my job to align myself with the intention and tone of this world. So, it’s just a matter of knowing the kind of project I’m working on and fitting myself into that.
Oz: The Great and Powerful hits theaters March 8.