Get past discussions of artistic intent, of the potential career benefits that the cast and filmmakers might have seen in making “Spring Breakers.”
What it really boiled down to is this.
“None of us had ever experienced Spring Break,” says James Franco. “Really.”
That goes for him, and writer-director Harmony Korine, and former child-stars turned “Spring Breakers” wild girls Ashley Benson, Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens.
“Actors who start their careers early miss some key experiences in life,” Franco confesses. “I didn’t go to prom. Well, I was dating a theater nerd so we went to a theater festival back in Aspen, Oregon instead. I experienced prom, for the first time, on film. Same with spring break. This is my Spring Break. And I was over 30 when I got around to it.”
Franco, 34, is getting around to a lot these days. “Oz, the Great and Powerful” has turned into the year’s first blockbuster, even if his reviews in it aren’t gilding his resume (“unconvincing generally” – New York Magazine, “too callow, too feckless, too much the dude for this role” – Boston Globe). The always-busy Franco will have been in over half a dozen movies this calendar year by the time the champagne pops Dec. 31.
But the noise around “Spring Breakers” is almost deafening, and he is as stunned by that as anyone.
“I had no idea that he was thinking of hiring pop stars. I assumed he would cast some unknowns, maybe even people he found in Florida, once we settled on St. Petersburg as a location. But then, he told me who he was considering. That changed the movie.”
A dark riff on a spring break gone wrong took on added meaning having Disney Channel veterans go through it. Did Franco relish his role, as Alien, a successful gangster and would-be rapper, in “corrupting” the former stars of “Pretty Little Liars,” “High School Musical” and “The Wizards of Waverly Place”?
Oh, Franco chuckles, “They went into it with eyes wide open. They seemed to relish the experience…They bring something more, because of their history, a past. They have a myth about them. And they turned out to be great actresses, and they were so excited and gave so much extra effort because they recognized this as being a chance to be different and to be in something new.”
And for Franco, “Breakers” offered a chance to do much more than sample something he missed back when he was working on “Freak & Geeks,” that beachside bacchanal for college kids. Being the elder of the cast gives him a little perspective on the movie’s bigger themes.
“One review of ‘Kids’ (which Harmony Korine wrote) referred to it as a ‘wake up call to the world.’ To me, that’s a very literal reading of the movie, important because it adds an element of danger and connects to actual experiences people are having. Today. But that’s a very limited reading.
“We didn’t set out to make ‘a cautionary tale,’ or a critique of what spring break has become…Come on. It;s an EXTREME spring break. I highly doubt that any college kids’ spring break experience ended in a bloodbath with automatic weapons. But we do, in this movie, get at the idea that there is a darker side to this uninhibited behavior, this unrestrained event can lead.”