FourTwoNine magazine he wrote titled, The Straight James Franco Talks to the Gay James Franco. “Although, I’m also gay in my life up to the point of intercourse, and then you could say I’m straight.”like to think that I’m gay in my art and straight in my life,” James Franco said to himself in an article for
Franco toying with the public’s perception of his sexuality is nothing new. He’s made his fascination with gay culture known not just in interviews (in April, he told New York Magazine that he considers himself “a little gay” – even if he doesn’t sleep with other men), but also in his work. His directorial debut, The Broken Tower, explored the life of famous gay American poet who took his own life in 1932, while in the documentary Interior. Leather Bar., Franco partook in an explicit recreation of 40 minutes of deleted footage from 80s thriller Cruising, set in a gay sex club.
It’s little wonder then why Franco was drawn to his new film, King Cobra: it offered him the chance to play a real-life gay porn star convicted of murder.
“He loves his scandalous stories, and every now and then, he likes his gay stories,” confides King Cobra writer and director Justin Kelly over breakfast in Los Angeles, hours before he flies to London for the film’s BFI London film festival screening.
The pair had previously collaborated on Kelly’s first project, I Am Michael, another true story about a gay activist who denounced his homosexuality and became a Christian pastor. (The film is slated to open in the US in January, two years after its debut at the Sundance film festival.)
Franco first became acquainted with Kelly on the set of Gus Van Sant’s gay civil rights drama Milk. Franco was playing Harvey Milk’s much younger lover in the film; Kelly acted as the editor’s assistant. Following their work together on the Oscar-winning drama, Franco optioned the New York Times article My Ex-Gay Friend, on which I Am Michael would be based, and Van Sant suggested he hire Kelly to adapt it. A collaborative relationship was forged.
When Franco came to Kelly following I Am Michael, asking what they could do next, Kelly says he floated the idea of adapting the true crime book Cobra Killer: Gay Porn, Murder, and the Manhunt to Bring the Killers to Justice. Franco bit because “he saw it as a challenge” to get financed given the subject matter, says Kelly.
Like Andrew E Stoner and Peter A Conway’s book, Kelly’s film largely centers on the real-life rise of gay porn star Brent Corrigan (Teen Beach Movie’s Garrett Clayton), and how he became embroiled in the gruesome murder of Bryan Kocis (played by Christian Slater), the gay hardcore porn producer that gave him his first big break. Franco gets close to equal screen-time as Joseph Kerekes, the enterprising but cash-strapped porn producer, who came to be charged with the crime. He delivers a performance to rival his convincing turn as a tattooed drug kingpin in Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers.
Unlike in Boogie Nights, arguably the best-known film about the inner workings of the porn industry, the sex in King Cobra mostly takes place off set, in the homes of the main players. The scenes feels alive rather than static. Franco was game for anything, according to Kelly “He took things to the next level,” Kelly says. “For one sex scene, I thought I was being crazy by telling him he had to be fully naked wearing a cock sock, and bent over taking it up the ass.
I told him to say some corny porn things, and he started screaming, ‘Give me that big dick!’ Franco one-upped me.”
Franco’s participation wasn’t enough to impress Corrigan, whose real name is Sean Paul Lockhart.
When Kelly approached Lockhart to relay his plans for making a film about his life (Lockhart currently still acts in porn under the Brent Corrigan name and has his own sex toy line), he claims Lockhart thought it was all a hoax.
“I think he has a lot of fans who would say something like, ‘James Franco is involved in a movie about you, so you should meet me,’” he says.
After mailing him the script, they met in person, at which point Kelly offered him a small role, and the opportunity to be a consultant on the film. Lockhart declined to participate, but did allegedly sign the required paperwork so the film-makers could use his name. Kelly additionally claims Lockhart was paid an unspecified amount. (Lockhart declined an interview request from the Guardian.)
Lockhart has since made his reasons known for not working on the film, saying on his Facebook page last October that he would instead write a memoir to document the story in his own words. Leading up to King Cobra’s release, he’s publicly condemned Kelly’s film, tweeting that it “tells a story with contempt for queer culture and mockery for porn”. He alleges: “I gave them permission to use my name but explicitly made it clear that their story was heinous and not sanctioned.”
Kelly sympathizes with Lockhart, saying he “can only imagine how bizarre it would be to have a film made about your life”, but stresses that in granting permission to use his name, Lockhart’s reaction is “bizarre”.
“I feel like it was a win-win for his career,” Kelly says. “I feel in the film he comes across as a young kid who’s a bit lost and is trying to figure out what to do with his life. It becomes this journey of how he’s going to break free and find his path, his place in the world. In the end, his story is uplifting.”
Kelly says that although the bad blood has tainted the project, the fun experience he had making King Cobra outweighs the ensuing backlash.
As for reuniting with Franco, Kelly teases: “We have other things planned.”
King Cobra opens in theaters and arrives on VOD 21 October.