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- American actor
James Franco has been criticised by lawyers representing the women who sued him over sexual misconduct allegations for being “insensitive” while discussing the accusations for the first time.
In a new interview with SiriusXM, the actor admitted to having sex with his students at the acting school he founded and described being “completely blind to power dynamics”.
Addressing the allegations for the first time since they were made against him nearly four years ago, Franco discussed developing a destructive dependency upon “validation” in the form of professional success and sexual approval from women, saying: “It’s such a powerful drug, and I got hooked on it for 20 more years.”
However, lawyers for two of his previous accusers, who agreed to take a payout from the actor in June, were unimpressed by the mea culpa and have now criticised his “despicable conduct”.
“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,” attorneys at Valli Kane & Vagnini LLP and Hadsell, Stormer Renick & Dai LLP said in a statement to Variety.
“It is unbelievable that even after agreeing to a settlement he continues to downplay the survivors’ experiences and ignore their pain, despite acknowledging he had no business starting such a school in the first place.
“Nobody should confuse this interview with Franco taking accountability for his actions or expressing remorse over what happened. 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.”
Five women, including four of his former pupils, came forward in January 2018 with allegations of sexually inappropriate behaviour by the 43-year-old. At the time, Franco said the allegations were “not accurate” but that he did not want to “shut down” people who “did not have a voice”.
Two of his accusers, Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal – both of whom Franco taught at the Playhouse West Studio 4 school he co-founded in 2014 – went on to launch legal action in 2019.
In June, it was reported that Franco had agreed to pay $2.23m (£1.67m) to settle the suit, which alleged that he and his business partners had “engaged in widespread inappropriate and sexually charged behaviour towards female students by sexualising their power as a teacher and an employer by dangling the opportunity for roles in their projects”.
The allegations in the lawsuit had referred to a “sex scenes” masterclass taught by Franco, in which he was accused of having “intimidated them into performing gratuitous sex scenes”.
Appearing this week on SiriusXM’s Jess Cagle Show, Franco said that the class was about “contemporary romance” rather than sex scenes, saying: “It was a provocative title.”
While he admitted to having sex with his students, he said that none of them had been in that particular class. “Like I said, it’s not why I started the school and I wasn’t the person that selected the people to be in the class,” Franco added. “So it wasn’t a ‘master plan’ on my part. But yes, there were certain instances where, you know what, I was in a consensual thing with a student and I shouldn’t have been.”
Pressed on whether he had been aware of the power imbalance between him and his pupils, Franco said he was “not clear-headed” during that period, adding: “I suppose at the time my thinking was ‘if it’s consensual, OK’.”
Referring to his long silence on the allegations, Franco said it “did not seem like the right time to say anything” when they first emerged, adding: “There were people that were upset with me and I needed to listen.”
“So I’ve just been doing a lot of work,” he added. “And I guess I’m pretty confident in saying like, four years, you know? I was in recovery before for substance abuse. There were some issues that I had to deal with that were also related to addiction. And so I’ve really used my recovery background to kind of start examining this and changing who I was.”
Franco said he entered recovery from alcohol addiction at a young age, adding: “Once I couldn’t use alcohol to sort of fill that hole, it was like ‘oh, success, attention, this is great’. And so, in a weird way, I got addicted to validation, I guess, or success or whatever that is.”
He continued: “Along the road of trying to get success or climb the top of that mountain, attention from women, success with women also became a huge source of validation for me. The problem with that is, like any sort of drug, there’s never enough.”
Franco admitted that as a result he “could never be faithful to anybody” and had “cheated on everyone” before his current partner, Isabel Pakzad.
After a suggestion from his sponsor that, while the dishonesty of these infidelities could be damaging to his sobriety, “whatever happens between two consenting adults is fine” while single, Franco said that he “took that and ran with it” and “used it as an excuse to just hook up all over the place”.
“It was like, ‘well we’re being honest here, right’, and like you said, completely blind to power dynamics or anything like that, but also completely blind to people’s feelings,” he said.
While he “didn’t want to hurt people”, the behaviour “spun out to the point where it was like I was hurting everybody”, Franco said.
If you have been raped or sexually assaulted, you can contact your nearest Rape Crisis organisation for specialist, independent and confidential support. For more information, visit their website here.