James Franco was only at the Toronto International Film Festival for a fleeting visit on Sunday, but he quickly saw something he liked: homemade fan art crafted by a local teenager.
The Oscar-nominated Milk star was addressing an exclusive gathering about his new art installation, Memories of Idaho, when he noticed 13-year-old Macy Armstrong clutching three pieces of self-made art: a portrait of Franco made out of yarn; a collage made from newspaper clippings and a canvas inspired by the poster for 127 Hours.
At first, it seemed like Franco was joking when he pointed at Macy’s art and announced that he wanted to buy her work. But after a few in the crowd giggled, Franco insisted, telling Macy: “I saw that one on the Internet, someone sent it to me. I wanna buy those.”
Macy, clad in a homemade T-shirt featuring photos of Franco's face, was only too happy to oblige, handing her artwork over to one of his aides, who in turn jotted down her e-mail address.
“Of course, I would love him to have them,” said a giddy Macy after the incident. “I'm a humongous fan. For his birthday, I made him a cake.”
Macy even runs a blog devoted to Franco – jamesfrancoforever.tumblr.com – and immediately took to the site to express her enthusiasm.
“He looked at me, he spoke to me, and I'm pretty sure we mentally got married!” she wrote. “Everyone on the street thinks I'm crazy because I'm freaking out! It's like a dream.”
Franco was in town to discuss his new art installation, a multi-part tribute to Gus Van Sant's seminal 1991 film My Own Private Idaho that includes two new films Franco created that are screening for free at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, alongside archival photographs taken by Van Sant.
One of the films, My Own Private River, is a feature-length collection of deleted scenes and alternate takes from the original shoot, while companion piece Idaho was developed from one of three scripts Van Sant used to create the original movie.
Franco was 13 when that film – a dreamy drama that cast River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves as teenage hustlers with a complex relationship – was released. He said that he used to rent the VHS copy of the movie from his local video store over and over again.
“It was just something about the movie – the esthetic, the themes, I guess the idea of a makeshift family, River's incredible performance … and even the clothes,” said Franco, seated next to Van Sant.
“I remember at the time I'd try to dress like River's character.”
Franco and Van Sant – who was also present at Sunday's session – collaborated on the Academy Award-winning film Milk, and Van Sant remembered that even then, Franco wouldn't stop asking him about Idaho.
“I'm just plain obsessed with My Own Private Idaho,” said Franco, wearing a striped mohair sweater over a collared shirt with jeans and black boots.
“It's had a huge influence on me and my artistic esthetic.”
The multi-talented Franco – an actor, director, author and artist – also discussed several other of his ongoing projects, including his plans to make a film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's 1973 novel Child of God. He added, however, that his planned version of another McCarthy book, Blood Meridian, was on hold for “various reasons.”
Franco is in the midst of filming the Wizard of Oz prequel Oz with director Sam Raimi, and he mentioned that he would have to drive back to Detroit in the middle of the night following his Toronto appearance so he could begin shooting at 5 a.m. the following morning.
The cluster of passionate followers who greeted him at the festival were sure glad he made it, though many of the (mostly female) fans who showed up for the discussion looked to have been born well after Idaho was released.
Once the roughly 45-minute session was opened up for questions, one obviously diehard fan even asked about Franco's two cats.
“My cats Sammy and Zelda are normally New York apartment cats, but I'm working in Detroit for quite a while, so we flew them to Detroit,” he said.
“Sammy got sick on the way, but now he's happily at home in Detroit.”
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