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.

Music Review: ‘If You Want Blood, You’ve Got It’ by AC/DC

ACDC If You Want Blood Youve Got It cover

While it may be more fun to watch them in concert, AC/DC’s first live album, “If You Want Blood, You’ve Got It,” will still have music fans grooving to the relentless beats of this infamous Australian hard rock band. The album cover shows Angus Young impaled by his own guitar while original lead singer Bon Scott stands behind him with an incredibly demonic look on his face. It’s their ever so subtle way of telling the listener they are about to hear some nasty rock and roll their parents don’t approve of, and they ain’t about to apologize for that in the slightest.

This album was recorded while the band was on their “Powerage” Tour back in 1978, and it captures them as they begin to find an audience outside of their native Australia. Included on it are songs from “High Voltage,” “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap,” “Let There Be Rock” and, of course, “Powerage.” Things get off to a fantastic start with “Riff Raff” as Angus commands the audience’s attention with his lightning quick guitar licks. The listener will be unable to keep his or her feet still while listening to it.

Angus, one of the greatest rock guitarists ever, makes himself known with his amazing solos on songs like “The Jack” which captures the band’s love of blues music. By the time he gets to “Let There Be Rock,” one can’t help but wonder how he finds the energy to keep going full throttle without breaking any strings on his guitar. Listening to him play away is thrilling, and it’s easy to believe he could pluck away at any six-string guitar ever given to him even while he sleeps. There’s no getting sick of his amazing talent.

But the other band member who deserves as much attention here is the late Bon Scott. Scott sounds magnetic as he holds his own with Angus and the rest of the band. This was his next to last album with AC/DC (the last being “Highway to Hell”) before his tragic death in 1980. With all due respect to Brian Johnson who took over lead vocals when the band recorded “Back In Black,” Scott had a better vocal range and always sounded like he was having the time of his life onstage while singing “Rock ‘N’ Roll Damnation” or getting the audience to chant “HIGH” during the band’s performance of “High Voltage.”

The rest of AC/DC makes their presence known as well throughout this live album. Angus’ brother Malcolm Young plays a mean rhythm guitar which Angus can improvise off of endlessly. Cliff Williams’ bass guitar is supremely powerful and keeps the audience revved up during “High Voltage” and “Let There Be Rock.” And finally, there is drummer Phil Rudd who pounds away on his set and keeps everyone else in line as Bon sings and Angus lets loose on a solo which he sounds like he cannot fully control (not that it’s a problem or anything).

Actually, this is one of those live albums which could have been a double album if the band allowed it to be. While it’s great to hear the AC/DC rocking away on these songs, fans will miss other favorites like “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” or “T.N.T.” Unlike most other live recordings, this one feels surprisingly short and could have gone on for much longer. The band must have realized this years later on when they released double live albums for “AC/DC Live,” “Let There Be Rock: The Movie – Live in Paris” and “Live at River Plate.”

Listening to this live album again in its remastered edition, the sound design is incredible. Fans will feel like they are at the concert while they are listening to it, and they will be able to picture Angus doing his Chuck Berry two step move across the stage throughout. AC/DC remains a powerhouse of a rock group after an amazingly long run. “If You Want Blood, You’ve Got It” showed how full of potential they are when in front of a live audience, and hearing it again proves none of that potential has ever been wasted in the service of rock and role music.