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James Franco and the Actor He Can’t Get Enough Of Talk Stage, Film and How to Play Crazy

When James Franco directs, he calls Scott Haze. The actor (named one of Variety’s 10 Actors to Watch last year) not only stars in Franco’s movie adaptation of Cormac McCarthy novel “Child of God,” opening Aug. 1. He also plays the lead in Franco’s Off Broadway directorial debut “The Long Shrift,” now running at the Rattlestick Theater. And he takes on a major role in Franco’s “The Sound and the Fury,” bowing this fall at the Venice Film Festival.

With Franco fresh off his recently closed Broadway debut “Of Mice and Men” and Haze starring in “Long Shrift” through Aug. 23, the two sat down to talk about the past, present and future of their ongoing collaboration.

How’d you two meet?

HAZE: I met James well over 10 years ago in Hollywood, in the back of a parking lot. He came and saw a play I was in called “The Beach Play,” and he told me he liked my performance. James’ face was all over Hollywood then, and I was like, “That’s the dude that just played James Dean” [in 2001 TV movie “James Dean”].

James, what made you think Scott would be right for “Child of God”?

FRANCO: We have mutual friends, mainly Scott’s childhood friend Jim Parrack [the “True Blood” star who appeared with Franco in “Of Mice and Men”]. Scott was just a wild man, and Jim has plenty of stories about him being even wilder when they were younger. And then Scott just changed. I think at first Scott thought that to be an artist meant you had to be crazy, just really kind of no-rules, and that’s how he lived. But at some point he realized there’s something to being responsible and being disciplined. I knew that he had that craziness in his past, so my guess was that now I could depend on him to be a responsible actor, but he could draw on his past for his character. Besides, with this movie and this role in particular, I thought everything would be served by casting someone who wasn’t a big star. I wanted to give a sense of: Did he find some crazy person in the middle of the woods and put him in this movie? I think there is a bit of that, and you wouldn’t get that if it was Sam Rockwell.

How do you prepare for a part that’s as scary and damaged — not to mention necrophiliac — as Lester?

HAZE: I moved to Tennessee. I thought there’s no way I was preparing for this in Los Angeles. I had to lose a lot of weight, because I’d just bulked up to play a Marine in “Post” [which Parrack wrote, directed and produced]. And now I had to be this ghastly, ghostly, monstrous creature who lives in the Tennessee hills. I have an old friend who, oddly enough, is the town historian of Sevierville, Tennessee, and who showed me everywhere that the book was set. I spent a good month and a half there.

And then how did you work on “Long Shrift” together?

FRANCO: On the set of “Child of God” Scott had a lot of freedom to explore, and a lot of that was because there were so many scenes where he’s alone. What I learned on “127 Hours” is that you can tell a story through behavior. If you have one character alone, you can let the actor just do everything. Don’t ask them to hit marks or break it up, just let them exist in the moment and film it in such a way that you can capture it. I always had two cameras filming Scott for “Child of God,” so I could always cut between them. And then you edit after. But for a play, sure, you explore, but then you have start the editing even before you start performances. You set the blocking. You tell the actors, “You guys control the pace.” You work all that out in rehearsal.

Next up you both head to Venice with “The Sound and the Fury.” What’s next for you two onstage?

JAMES: David Binder and all the producers of “Of Mice and Men” came to see “The Long Shrift” and really loved it, so I’m talking to David about some more plays that he would produce, not only another Broadway project for me to act in, but possibly some American classics to do, maybe as a director. And Scott, I’ll put Scott in anything.

HAZE: I’m going to team up with Rattlestick [the Off Broadway company that produced “Long Shrift”] and they’re going to let me do the plays that I write.

James, have you seen any of Scott’s plays?

FRANCO: After “The Beach Play,” I saw many of them.

HAZE: My plays keep James awake.

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