James Franco has become one of those celebrities we can’t get rid of, for better or worse. Like Ryan Gosling (there, we said it!), he’s been one hell of a movie hog, racking up an impressive list of bone fides and even finagling an Oscar nom out of the Academy.
Now comes a role that will either be his greatest challenge or his easiest character to slip into, depending where your assumptions about the actor fall. In the biopic Mapplethorpe, directed by Ondi Timoner, Franco will play the lover-turned-gay-best-friend of Patti Smith and the photographer whose work was so unapologetically homoerotic, sometimes sadomasochistic, that he became the whipping boy of Jesse Helms and other extreme right-wing politicians hellbent on defunding the NEA in the 1980s.
The fact that the film comes after Franco’s portrayals of Harvey Milk’s boyfriend in Milk and Allen Ginsberg during the thought-to-be-gay Beat poet’s obscenity trial in Howl will surely raise well-contoured eyebrows. But the real question may be: Which of Robert Mapplethorpe’s graphic photos will he reenact? May we suggest this very tasteful (considering the repertoire) early self-portrait? After all, Franco has already shown his ass on a magazine cover and walked the streets of Paris donning a prosthetic penis on his nose.