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James Franco explores leather, sex at Sundance

Published January 23, 2013 8:49 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

There's a lot of leather and sex in James Franco's life right now.

The 34-year-old actor-director is part of three movies at the Sundance Film Festival that deal with sex, pornography, and bondage and discipline.

"I guess I'm drawn to it," he said in an interview at the annual independent-film showcase.

Franco co-directed, produced and starred in "Interior. Leather Bar.," a reimagining of the segments cut from William Friedkin's 1980 film "Cruising," so it could earn an R rating. He produced "kink," a documentary about Kink.com, the leading producer of bondage-and-discipline pornography. And he plays Hugh Hefner in "Lovelace," set to premiere Tuesday at Sundance, which tells the story of "Deep Throat" star Linda Lovelace.

It's just a coincidence that all three films are playing at Sundance, he said.

"I wanted to explore real sex on film but in a way that was not pornographic, (but) was really about the behavior: the act as something that would reveal character or story," Franco said of the inspiration for "Interior. Leather Bar."

He didn't know much about BDSM before he discovered the Kink.com facilities while working on another project, but he was instantly fascinated.

"It's a kind of performance that's very specialized," Franco said. "At Kink, what the viewers expect is for (the performers) to really be experiencing the kind of pain that's being inflicted on them. And they don't — both the people that run Kink and the viewers — don't want any faking, so that's a new kind of performance. That's like performance art."

Franco said he experienced a "sliver of that" on the film "127 Hours," for which he earned an Oscar nomination. Playing stranded climber Aron Ralston, Franco would physically bash himself against the rocks during some takes, resulting in real bruising and exhaustion.

"So I'm not acting that," he said. "I'm not faking my exhaustion, so I can kind of relate in that way, except that's the kind of performance that they're doing every time. So to me it's fascinating from a performance perspective and filmmaking perspective.

"Things can become so standardized in any area of human behavior, human creation, whatever, that if I find a pocket of something that's unusual, that's against the grain, something that I just don't see every day, it'll get my attention," he continued.

"This seemed to me like the perfect kind of little microcosm to study, to both study the specifics and the vicissitudes of (Kink.com), but also to speak about bigger themes of the way that we all kind of interact with each other and power dynamics between any people, whether they're using bondage material or not."