James Franco Undergoes One Hell of a Transformation in ‘Spring Breakers’

James Franco in Spring Breakers

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was originally written in 2013.

It almost shouldn’t work. James Franco as a Florida-based rapper in Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers?” Just the thought of it sounds utterly laughable as we are so used to him playing such clean-cut characters in the “Spider-Man” trilogy, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and “Oz the Great and Powerful.” But then again, he did play the ultimate stoner in “Pineapple Express,” so there is that. In the end, while Franco does have some laughable moments as the crazy rapper Alien, the role allows him to give his best performance in a movie ever since his Oscar nominated turn in “127 Hours.” There’s no doubt as to how much research Franco did, and this is one of the first great actor transformations of 2013.

After watching “Spring Breakers,” you desperately want to find out what made Franco take on this role as it is so very different from any he has played previously. Clearly, he was drawn to working with Korine who is best known for writing the screenplay to the highly controversial “Kids,” and maybe he has a thing for rap music which we did or did not know about. But in a conversation with Roger Moore of RedeyeChicago.com, Franco discussed one of the main reasons why he chose this particular project.

“None of us had ever experienced spring break, really,” Franco said of himself, Korine and the rest of the cast. “Actors who start their careers early miss some key experiences in life. I didn’t go to prom. Well, I was dating a theater nerd so we went to a theater festival back in Aspen, Oregon instead. I experienced prom, for the first time, on film. Same with spring break. This is my spring break. And I was over 30 when I got around to it.”

Many have said Franco based Alien on the rapper Riff Raff (and this includes Riff Raff himself), but the actor said his main inspiration for the character was another rapper named Dangeruss. Dangeruss is a local Florida rapper who is still relatively unknown, but he lived in the same area of Florida which Alien lives in and has the same kind of lifestyle. Franco ended up writing a long essay which was featured on the MTV website, and in it he explains how big of an influence Dangeruss was on him.

“I met Dangeruss through Harmony,” Franco wrote. “Before I went down to St. Pete to play Alien in ‘Spring Breakers,’ Harmony sent me innumerable videos and photos as references for my character. He drowned me in them. Harmony is a master of online research. Once he chooses a location to shoot, it turns out he is also a master at finding the most interesting and odd local places and characters. One of the last videos Harmony sent me was of a white guy in dreads, sitting in his car, rapping about Dope Boyz. This turned out to be Dangeruss, a local rapper who Harm had met at an audition and knew immediately that he was the real deal.”

“The same day I arrived, Harmony had me visit Danger at his apartment,” Franco continued. “I was surprised when we pulled into a rather nice sprawling housing development, country-club style, with fountains and manicured grass. I think there was even a driving range. When I met Danger, he was tall, thin as a stick, covered in tats and humble as hell. He was willing to help in any way. He told me about growing up in the bad part of town and having poetry as his only recourse when things got ugly. His involvement with the street and his involvement with hip-hop developed simultaneously. ‘While Peter Piper was picking peppers, I was selling yola at the corner store.’ His lyrics are the highly autobiographical chronicle of surviving on the streets of St. Pete.”

Then there’s the question of where Franco got those cornrows done. Looking at someone with cornrows, it makes me think of how painful the process of getting them must be as it involves a lot of hair being twisted around in unusual directions. However, in an interview with GQ, Franco described to Matthew Serba what it was like having them done.

“We had a local artist down in St. Petersburg, Florida do it,” Franco told Serba. “I think it took about five hours total, only because we had to try different cornrow configurations. It doesn’t hurt that much, but it does get very itchy because you can’t get them wet.”

Korine himself has stated in an interview with Joel D. Amos of Movie Fanatic of how impressed he was with Franco’s transformation into Alien. It turns out that the two of them spent a lot of time working on the character even before the cameras began rolling, but once Franco arrived on set, Korine was stunned at what he was witnessing.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Korine told Amos. “I spent a year just sending him images and talking to him, designing the character. I never saw him do it. He didn’t want to rehearse. When he put in the cornrows and the gold teeth and I heard the accent… I was like ‘whoa.’ He was a maniac.”

James Franco’s performance as Alien in “Spring Breakers” is really just another reminder of what an amazing actor he can be when you give him the right material to work with. While he may be getting more attention for the box office blockbuster “Oz the Great and Powerful,” it’s this movie which is bringing him the critical raves he deserves. Watching here makes you excited for what he has in store for us next.

SOURCES:

Roger Moore, “James Franco finally gets his spring break,” RedeyeChicago.com, March 21, 2013.

James Franco, “James Franco: The Inside Story of My ‘Spring Breakers’ Gangster,” MTV.com, February 20, 2013.

Matthew Serba, “Last Night…Talking Cornrows with James Franco,” GQ, May 1, 2012.

Joel D. Amos, “Harmony Korine on James Franco in Spring Breakers: What a Maniac!,” Movie Fanatic, March 21, 2013.

Selena Gomez Reflects on ‘Spring Breakers’ and Ditching Her Good Girl Image

Spring Breakers Selena Gomez

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was originally written in 2013.

There comes a time in a young Disney star’s life when they are faced with the great challenge of transitioning from being a child actor to an adult one. Many are not able to make this switch because either their talent only goes so far, or their fans just don’t want to accept them as anything else. Anne Hathaway managed to go from playing a nerdy princess in “The Princess Diaries” to portraying a single mother forced into prostitution in “Les Miserables,” and she won an Oscar in the process. Now Selena Gomez gets to shed her good girl image in Harmony Korine’s controversial film “Spring Breakers.” After playing the outgoing Alex Russo on “Wizards of Waverly Place” for several years, she gets to join three other young actresses on a holiday of drunken debauchery.

Gomez plays Faith, an evangelical Christian who is encouraged by her three friends Brit (Ashley Benson), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens) and Cotty (Rachel Korine) to go with them to Florida for the spring break holiday. The fact her friends end up robbing a restaurant located near their college to get the money for this vacation doesn’t seem to faze Faith much as she looks forward to going wild and releasing all her inhibitions. Once there, the girls have the time of their lives as they party like there’s no tomorrow, and they never want the party to end.

It turns out it was Gomez’s mother, Amanda Dawn “Mandy” Cornett, who brought the script of “Spring Breakers” to her attention as she was already a big fan of Korine’s movies. From there, Gomez watched his movies “Gummo” and “Trash Humpers” as she traveled to Nashville to audition for him. In an interview with Justin Harp of Digital Spy, Gomez made it clear she had no reservations about working with the filmmaker who is known for shocking his audiences and pushing the envelope so to speak.

“I was excited and enticed to work with Harmony,” Gomez told Harp. “When I auditioned for Harmony, we talked about how he wanted to leave my lifestyle behind and have me go on this adventure with him. I knew it was going to be crazy, but I was comfortable with it. Harmony wanted an innocence because he thought it would be creepier. I agree with him.”

For any human being, be it an actor or otherwise, it is always scary to step outside of your comfort zone. One has to wonder what it was like for Gomez to step outside of entertainment geared towards children and to take on something far more risqué with “Spring Breakers.” But for an actress who started off her career with an episode of “Barney and Friends,” Gomez told Zorianna Kit of Yahoo! News she very much enjoyed the change of pace this role had to offer.

“It was completely liberating,” Gomez told Kit. “Up until this film, everything I’ve been a part of definitely has been a bit more processed, like how many pieces of jewelry I have on, what my hair looks like. With Harmony, I never wore makeup and he never cared about my hair.”

“I feel like I did grow up shooting this,” Gomez continued. “This was the first movie I shot by myself without my mom coming. It was the first time I got to improvise as much as I have.”

Korine ended up throwing Gomez and the other actresses into a real spring break holiday where everyone was getting obscenely drunk, going crazy and tearing up their hotel rooms without any remorse. This must have seemed incredibly terrifying for the cast and crew as they were dealing circumstances they could not easily control. But despite the majority of the participants being drunk beyond all repair, Gomez told Harp that things were actually pretty cool on set even as she wore little more than a bikini.

“When we did the spring break scenes, we were surrounded by hundreds of spring breakers in bikinis who wore even less, so that was okay,” Gomez said. “I was more uncomfortable in the scenes where I was getting arrested, in jail and in the pool hall with strangers. It added vulnerability and helped me feel grossed out, which was what my character is supposed to feel.”

But despite how crazy things got while filming “Spring Breakers,” Gomez still formed a very close-knit bond with her fellow co-stars. Now sometimes on a film like this, you would expect there to be a lot of catfights between actresses, but that was not the case on this one. Perhaps many just wish it was the case as it makes for press which generates a lot of page views, but Gomez made clear to Marlow Stern of The Daily Beast just how devoted she is to her fellow cast members.

“These girls have my back till death,” Gomez told Stern. “They’re so amazing, sweet, and protective. We did a lot of partying in the movie, so after we partied for 18 hours straight on set, we would like to go home, have great food, and watch movies. We’re not nearly as crazy as they are in the movie.”

Whether or not her role as Faith in “Spring Breakers” comes even close to gaining her any Oscar consideration, Selena Gomez has certainly picked the right project to make it known to the world she is in show business to stay. While she intends to spend more time in 2013 focusing on her music career, she is co-starring with Ethan Hawke in the upcoming action film “The Getaway.” The transition from child actor to adult actor may remain a very difficult one to make, but Gomez sounds intent on making it happen for her.

“The transition is a little weird, but I’m honored to be a part of things that allow me to grow,” she says. “I want to continue doing that, and if it works out and people like it, that’s awesome, and if not, I’m trying to do all I can. I’m just hoping for the best!”

SOURCES:

Justin Harp, “Selena Gomez on ‘Spring Breakers’: ‘I left my lifestyle behind,'” Digital Spy, March 25, 2013.

Zorianna Kit, “A Minute With: Selena Gomez about growing up with ‘Spring Breakers,'” Yahoo! News, March 20, 2013.

Marlow Stern, “Selena Gomez on Playing a Bikini-Clad Vigilante in ‘Spring Breakers,'” The Daily Beast, March 20, 2013.