James Franco tries to move beyond 'The Interview'

PARK CITY, Utah — Almost two months after the hack heard ‘round the world, James Franco is trying and ready to move past “The Interview.”

The restless, multi-hyphenate artist has made a noble attempt to refocus his attentions. Franco had three movies playing in Park City this week — two at the Sundance Film Festival and one at Slamdance, the even indie-er festival just up the street — but the dramatic circumstances surrounding “The Interview” remained the only thing that people wanted to talk about even if he insists that “it's kind of over.”

Sundance might seem worlds away from the Sony hack and Hollywood intrigue, but “The Interview” loomed large throughout the week and Franco's team was keenly aware. On the red carpet for the “True Story” premiere on Saturday, reporters were even told that the actor would be pulled away if questions went “off topic.”

“There was a lot of attention put on it,” Franco said of the hack-addled film following the first showing of “Yosemite” at Slamdance, Thursday.

“It was really out of my hands. There was nothing for me to do. I wasn't making any decisions. Sony was making the decisions so I was just kind of sitting around and hoping the movie got out in some way or another,” he said, when asked what the experience was like.

The FBI in early January revealed further clues tying the devastating cyberattack on Sony to North Korea. Thousands of sensitive emails and employee social security numbers were released in the hack.

“The Interview,” which depicts an assassination attempt against North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, was caught in the crossfires when hackers threatened violence against moviegoers on the eve of its Christmas release.

Although Franco admits that he was disappointed when the major theater chains decided to drop the film following the threats, ultimately he was at peace with how it was handled. Sony, after canceling the release, managed to still debut the film on various video-on-demand platforms and in over 300 independent theaters on its originally scheduled date.

“So many things happened that were new and unexpected and that had never happened before that, you know? For people from Sony to the press to theater chains to the government, it was all new. I think everybody responded as well as they could,” he said.

There's even a silver lining.

“The Interview” debacle only strengthened his friendship with his director, co-star and longtime collaborator Seth Rogen. The two are currently working on an adaptation of the making-of “The Room” book “The Disaster Artist,” which will put Franco in the director's seat with Rogen producing.

“At one point he texted me and said ‘I'm glad it's you I'm going through this with,”' Franco said, with a big smile.

But at Sundance, the actor focused on the surroundings and his three projects. It isn't even a record for the prolific Franco, a regular at the fest. At a Q&A Thursday he said that it could have been more — he was in 7 or 8 projects angling for a Sundance slot.

The ones that made the cut are as diverse as Franco's career, with two fact-based, but wildly different dramas about slippery identities, “True Story” and “I am Michael,” and one, “Yosemite,” that's based on his short stories and at least partially informed by his own Palo Alto childhood. All three projects are from first time feature directors, too.

In “I Am Michael,” which premiered Thursday night at Sundance, Franco portrays former gay activist Michael Glatze who renounced his homosexuality and turned to God.

Franco said he likes that the story explores questions of identity and sexuality. “Is it nurture or nature and do we allow someone to make these decisions?” he said. “I think this movie touches on those issues in a really interesting way where it allows people to talk about it and it fosters discussion in a very healthy way.”

“True Story,” meanwhile, finds Franco playing Christian Longo, a convicted murderer and one of the FBI's most-wanted, who develops a strange friendship with disgraced journalist Michael Finkel, played by Franco's “This is the End” co-star Jonah Hill.

“In this dark, dark tale where the world has cast off both of these guys and they find themselves in this weird confessional bubble ... you need a little bit of energy coming in to overcome some of the barriers of engaging with these characters because of the circumstances ... I think Jonah and my relationship helps people engage just because they knew us from funnier movies and there was a little residue of that,” he said.

Finally, “Yosemitie,” the Slamdance film, has Franco's hands all over it — he wrote the stories that inspired the film and produced the final feature (for which he hand selected Gabrielle Demeestere to direct) — while also having the distinction of being his smallest role of all the films playing in Park City.

In one of three vignettes, Franco plays a father to two young boys, wandering around the National Park, which his father did for him and his brother years ago.

“We went to every spot that my father had taken me,” Franco said. “Now I was seeing it through my dad's eyes. It was strange.”

With premieres almost a week apart, Franco said everyone thought he should just fly home and come back. Instead, he chose to stay.

“It became a thing,” he said. “I was like, ‘no I want to see movies.' Then I realized after a while there was nothing here I wanted to do other than see movies. So we just took on the idea of movie marathon and saw 6 movies a day.”

In fact, it's almost been impossible not to run into Franco about town or at screening. From “The Witch,” to “Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck,” where he was bobbing his head to the Nirvana songs throughout, as of Thursday night, he'd seen a grand total of 32 films, including two of his own.

“There's a youthful energy here,” said Franco. “I love being here.”

He even agrees to photos with fans occasionally.

“Fast ...,” he said to one eager young girl, as he continued to walk, leaving her no choice but to chase after him to get that coveted selfie.

James Franco, left, and Seth Rogen star in Columbia Pictures' "The Interview." Associated Press
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