James Franco Interview For ‘Oz The Great and Powerful’
Sam Raimi’s ‘Oz The Great and Powerful’ imagines the origins of L. Frank Baum’s beloved character, the Wizard of Oz. When Oscar Diggs (James Franco), a small-time circus magician with dubious ethics, is hurled away from dusty Kansas to the vibrant Land of Oz, he thinks he’s hit the jackpot – fame and fortune are his for the taking – that is until he meets three witches, Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glinda (Michelle Williams), who are not convinced he is the great wizard everyone’s been expecting. Reluctantly drawn into the epic problems facing the Land of Oz and its inhabitants, Oscar must find out who is good and who is evil before it is too late. Putting his magical arts to use through illusion, ingenuity – and even a bit of wizardry – Oscar transforms himself not only into the great and powerful Wizard of Oz but into a better man as well. ‘Oz The Great and Powerful’ is pencilled in for a March 8th release. My other interviews for the film can be found through the followings links (more to come): Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams and Zach Braff.
I read that you grew up a fan of L. Frank Baum’s Oz novels, how was it jumping into this world he created? Also, what was it about this character of Oscar Diggs/Oz that appealed to you?
James Franco: Yeah, I’ve been a fan of the world of Oz since I was about 11, maybe younger. So I thought it was a really great opportunity to jump into the world of my childhood imagination. The character was written in a certain way – part goofball, part con man, part seducer, part vaudeville guy, all of which appealed to me. In some ways, he touches on many aspects of Americana, while being a cross between Charlie Chaplin and Clark Gable. A goofball and a dashing kind of guy, but a guy maybe not equipped in traditional ways to be a hero. He has unconventional ways of tackling his problems and fumbling through them (laughs). I love the character because of all that.
When we first meet Oscar in the film, what do you see as his primary motivation, and what do you think the world of Oz brings to him?
James Franco: Oscar Diggs starts off as a travelling magician. He’s actually a pretty good magician, but he feels like he hasn’t really achieved everything he wants to in life, he wants to be a world famous performer. He starts off a little bit rakish, he’s a bit of a selfish man and he’s a bit of womaniser. Plus, he’s a little cruel to his assistant, played by Zach Braff. Then when he’s whisked off to Oz by a tornado, all of the issues that he wrestled with in the real world are now, in some ways, made more extreme but also transformative. In the Land of Oz he gets to relive everything he went through on earth, he has a sort of second chance to do things over. At first he does things his old way, but gradually he learns to do things differently.
I heard that preparing for this role you spent some time learning magic tricks, how was that experience?
James Franco: I got to work with the great Las Vegas magician Lance Burton. I worked with him for about two weeks before we started shooting, and we worked every day. I told Sam Raimi that I would be happy to do that, I’d be happy to go and work on magic for two weeks if they didn’t cut anything out (laughs) – that if I went through all of this that it would all stay in the movie. Well, just as you’d expect, the movie was too long so the first things to go were my magic tricks (laughs). There’s still some in there though, I make people levitate and there’s a couple good ones. But you don’t get to see my full array of magical skills (laughs). I learned dove tricks and fire tricks as well as pulling things out of hats and making things levitate. And I think I got pretty good!
And on your journey you’re joined by two of my favourite characters in the film, Finley and China Girl, can you talk a little about them?
James Franco: Yeah. I think they’re very fresh, they’re also two of my favourite characters: China Girl, who’s played by Joey King, and Finley, this flying monkey, albeit good flying monkey, who’s played by Zach Braff. Sort of like Dorothy did with the Scarecrow, the Lion and the Tin Man, I come across these characters along the Yellow Brick Road. They’re oddballs, as you would expect in Oz. They help the Wizard on his quest in various ways. I think the China Girl becomes the Wizard’s conscious and points him in the right direction. Finley is I guess his sidekick. It was great interacting with Zach and Joey, that was a lot of fun.
What was it like working on these fantastical sets Robert Stromberg and his team put together? I can imagine that really helps inform your performance….?
James Franco: They were incredibly helpful. I talked to Robert about this, he’s worked on many films that create fantastical worlds – he won an Oscar for ‘Avatar’ and he won an Oscar for ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ And he said that the way he created the Land of Oz was the way that he prefers, because it was a combination of practical sets and blue-screen. So in that way he can, in post-production, create this incredible world behind the actors through the computer. But when we shot on set, I and the actors had sets to interact with, we didn’t just have a bunch of blue things around that we had to pretend were things, we had things to look at and interact with. So it was the best for everyone. They were just incredible sets.
And how was it for you working with Sam Raimi again?
James Franco: I love Sam Raimi. I’ve known him for over ten years, he’s become a very good friend and we have a great working relationship. He is one of the most fun directors to work with, but of course he also makes great movies. He is great at combining huge, spectacle films with grounded humans stories. The way that he balances those two sides is very unique to him and I think very innovative. If you look at the way the first ‘Spider-Man’ film was put together, I think it provided the template for all the other superhero films that came after. And I think he’s done something similar with the world of Oz. I love working with Sam, he’s awesome.
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