James Franco is loosening up. That may seem an odd way to characterize an actor who is pursuing an MFA in fiction writing at Columbia University, taking classes at two other institutions of higher learning and preparing to play Allen Ginsberg over the semester break early next year.
But Franco, whose roles have generally followed the template set by his breakthrough performance as a brooding James Dean in a 2001 TV movie, has been showing off a lighter, softer side of late. He wafted through "Pineapple Express" on a haze of pot smoke, lagging languorously behind the beat as a permanently stoned drug dealer. And in "Milk," which opens Nov. 26, he displays a previously unexplored tenderness as Scott Smith, the longtime lover of Harvey Milk (played by Sean Penn), the openly gay San Francisco city supervisor who was gunned down in 1978.
"Reading the script, I knew that one of the major functions is to be the supporting boyfriend, what in a straight movie would be the supporting wife role," Franco said, grabbing a cigarette on the terrace of Manhattan's Bowery Hotel, a copy of Vladimir Nabokov's "Despair" close at hand. "For a female actress, maybe that would sound like, 'Oh, no, another supporting wife role.' But I've never been offered that part."
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