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James Franco speaks out about sexual misconduct allegations: ‘I did sleep with students’

James Franco, seen in 2017, has spoken out for the first time in four years about the sexual misconduct allegations against him. (Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for IFP)
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James Franco addressed the sexual misconduct allegations against him in a podcast interview released Thursday, marking the first time the 43-year-old actor has publicly spoken about them in nearly four years.

“In that silence, in the vacuum of me speaking out, now my family and friends have had to answer for me,” he told podcast host Jess Cagle. “And I don’t think that’s right. I don’t want anybody to have to answer for me.”

In 2018 — shortly after Franco accepted a Golden Globe Award while wearing a pin for Time’s Up, the nonprofit organization supporting victims of sexual harassment — the Los Angeles Times reported that five women had accused Franco of “inappropriate or sexually exploitative” behavior. The next year, actresses Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal sued Franco, his two business partners and his production company over the alleged sexual exploitation of women who attended his acting school, Studio 4.

The complaint stated that the men had “engaged in widespread inappropriate and sexually charged behavior toward female students,” and had misused their power by “dangling the opportunity for roles in their projects.” Franco’s attorney denied the claims, stating that they had “already been debunked.” The lawsuit reached a settlement earlier this year, with Franco and his co-defendants paying the actresses $2.2 million.

In a statement shared with The Washington Post, attorneys representing the actresses wrote that “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.”

“Nobody should confuse this interview with Franco taking accountability for his actions or expressing remorse over what happened,” they added. “It is 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.”

Sexual misconduct lawsuit against James Franco reaches settlement

In the nearly hour-long episode of “The Jess Cagle Podcast,” recorded earlier this month, Franco stated that he had slept with some of his students at Studio 4. He denied that he was creating a “pipeline” for sexual exploitation, as he was accused of doing in his capacity as a teacher, but said he did not factor in the power imbalance.

“Look, I’ll admit, I did sleep with students. I didn’t sleep with anybody in that particular class,” he said of the Sex Scenes master class described by the Times, “but over the course of my teaching, I did sleep with students. And that was wrong. But like I said, it’s not why I started the school. … It wasn’t a master plan on my part.”

Studio 4, which had locations in New York and Los Angeles, shut down a few months before the Times report ran. Franco said he opened the school in 2014 after taking note of how expensive tuition was for the graduate film programs in which he taught. He ran Studio 4 in between other teaching and acting gigs.

Former Studio 4 students have said nudity was often required of them. Franco said on the podcast that he was not aware of any nudity requirements. He also stated that the name of his Sex Scenes class was not indicative of what he actually taught, and that it was instead a “provocative title” for a class that explored modern dating and relationships.

Some of his students did end up working on his projects. Tither-Kaplan told the Times that, in 2015, Franco removed the plastic protective gear she and other actresses wore over their private areas while filming an orgy scene for one of his independent films. Franco denied this claim on the podcast — “I never took a guard off anyone, ever, in my life,” he said. “It just didn’t happen” — but he added that his set could have benefited from the presence of an intimacy coordinator, as he had on HBO’s “The Deuce.”

“I’ve been acting professionally since I was 19 — I want to give people some of the opportunities I was given,” he said. “What I couldn’t see is that when I’m out in the middle of Ohio and I’ve got all these up-and-coming actors, I’m James Franco, and they want to keep working with me. So if they feel uncomfortable about something, they don’t necessarily have an outlet to go and say, ‘I feel uncomfortable.’”

Franco repeated in the episode that he has “just been doing a lot of work” over the past four years. He attributed some of the behavior in question to a history with addiction, stemming from his alcohol abuse as a teen, and said he “really used my recovery background to start examining this and changing who I was.”

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