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After sexual misconduct allegations, James Franco admits he ‘did sleep with students’

A portrait of James Franco in a brown suede jacket and white shirt
In a new interview, James Franco addresses sexual misconduct allegations leveled against him.
(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)
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James Franco has addressed the sexual misconduct allegations leveled against him and explained why he went relatively quiet after the Los Angeles Times published interviews with his accusers in early 2018.

His latest remarks come several months after he reached a proposed settlement in a class-action lawsuit filed against him and two associates by two of his former students, actors Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal, who accused him of abusing his position as an educator to subject people to “his personal and professional sexual exploitation.”

In a new SiriusXM interview with Jess Cagle, the actor and producer admitted he “did sleep with students” in his film classes, identified himself as a sex addict, opened up about his professional falling-out with Seth Rogen and claimed he has been “doing a lot of work” to better himself over the last four years.

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“In 2018, there were some complaints about me and an article about me and at that moment, I just thought, ‘I’m going to be quiet,’” Franco told Cagle.

“Did not seem like the right time to say anything. There were people that were upset with me, and I needed to listen. ... When something like this happens, the natural human instinct is to just make it stop. You just want to get out in front of it and ... get it done. But what that doesn’t do is allow you to do the work and to look at what was underneath. ... That isn’t going to just be solved overnight.”

On Thursday, an attorney representing accusers of Franco and his production company put out a statement denouncing his comments as “a transparent ducking of the real issues released just before a major holiday in hopes that he wouldn’t face any scrutiny over his response.

“In addition to being blind about power dynamics, Franco is completely insensitive to, and still apparently does not care about, the immense pain and suffering he put his victims through with this sham of an acting school,” the statement read.

“It is unbelievable that even after agreeing to a settlement he continues to downplay the survivors’ experiences and ignore their pain, despite acknowledging he had no business starting such a school in the first place. This wasn’t a misunderstanding over a course name, it wasn’t the result of him being overworked — it was, and is, despicable conduct. Nobody should confuse this interview with Franco taking accountability for his actions or expressing remorse over what happened.”

“I despise abuse and harassment,” said Seth Rogen after he was accused of enabling longtime collaborator James Franco’s alleged sexual misconduct.

In January 2018, five women — four of Franco’s former students and one who said he was her mentor — accused the movie star of inappropriate or sexually exploitative behavior. One claimed, for example, that Franco removed protective gear covering actress’ vaginas and simulated oral sex on them while filming a scene for a movie; another said he asked actresses to remove their shirts on set.

One of those former students, Tither-Kaplan, spoke out before Franco’s Wednesday morning appearance on “The Jess Cagle Show,” tweeting: “Apologies are meaningless until active steps towards harm reduction are taken and directed towards survivors specifically. General statements of ‘sorry’ or ‘I was wrong’ or ‘I love women’ etc. do nothing to actually help those who have been harmed.

“Platforming abusers while excluding survivors causes even further harm,” she added. “Survivor blacklisting is still a very real problem.”

Hours after the interview aired, Tither-Kaplan tweeted, “thank god for Sarah for Effie for Violet for Nell for Aurora for Jessica for Victoria for the survivor network for the women who keep me off the ledge and on the mission.”

Just above the Sunset Strip, a 1920s villa once owned by actor James Franco and filmmaker Francis Lawrence just sold for $4.65 million.

In the interview, while reflecting on the fallout from the allegations, Franco told Cagle his past experiences with substance abuse helped him recognize his “sexual addiction” after reading up on the subject.

“It hit me like a bullet and was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s me,’” Franco said, and he realized he wasn’t going to solve the issue on his own.

Sex, he said, “is such a powerful drug, and I got hooked on it. ... And the insidious part of that is I stayed sober from alcohol all that time. ... In my head, it was like, ‘Oh, I’m sober. I’m living a spiritual life.’ Where, on the side, I’m acting out now in all these other ways, and I couldn’t see it.”

When asked by Cagle why he was legally accused by Tither-Kaplan and Gaal of “looking to create a pipeline of young women who would be subjected to his personal and professional sexual exploitation in the name of education,” Franco said he “did sleep with students.”

Before the sexual misconduct claims came to light, Franco taught acting and filmmaking classes at the Studio 4 drama school he founded — which has since closed — as well as USC, UCLA, CalArts and other institutions.

James Franco’s attorney says the actor will fight a class-action lawsuit filed Thursday by two women who studied at his Studio 4 acting school.

“Over the course of my teaching, I did sleep with students, and that was wrong,” Franco told Cagle. He also said he did not sleep with any students in the class that Tither-Kaplan and Gaal attended.

“It’s not why I started the school, and I wasn’t the person that selected the people to be in the class, so it wasn’t a master plan on my part. But, yes, there were certain instances where I was in a consensual thing with a student, and I shouldn’t have been.”

Cagle then pressed further, prompting Franco to consider the “power imbalance” that existed between his students and a “teacher who’s not just a teacher, but ... a very, very famous, powerful actor and producer.”

“I suppose, at the time, my thinking was, ‘If it’s consensual, OK,’” Franco said.

“Of course, I knew ... that’s probably not a cool thing. ... I guess it just comes down to my criteria, [which] was like, ‘If this is consensual, I think it’s cool. We’re all adults, so ...’”

The “Disaster Artist” and “Interview” producer also broke his silence on Rogen, his former creative partner who said in May that he hasn’t collaborated with Franco since around the time his accusers came forward and does “not plan to right now.”

“I absolutely love Seth Rogen,” Franco told Cagle. “I worked with him for 20 years. We didn’t have one fight for 20 years. Not one fight. He was my absolute closest work friend, collaborator, and ... what he said is true.

“We aren’t working together right now and we don’t have any plans to work together. Of course it was hurtful in context, but I get it. He had to answer for me because I was silent. ... I don’t want Seth or my brother [Dave Franco] or anyone to have to answer for me anymore.”


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