Oz: The Great and Powerful is now the fourth film that James Franco has made with director Sam Raimi after their three movies made for the Spiderman franchise. “He is one of the most fun directors to work with and that is no small thing,” Franco said. The vastly talented artist is in Pasadena talking about his highly anticipated epic prequel to one of the Top 100 Movies of All-Time, The Wizard of Oz.
Having a helmer like Raimi running things, Franco admitted, makes the work seem almost easy. “A director on a film really sets the tone of just how people go about things. And so when you have someone like Sam, everybody is happy to be at work,” he said.
“He’s a very collaborative director and not just with the actors -- with all departments. It really makes people want to do their best because they all feel like they’re a big part of the movie and they are. I love working with Sam. I’d do anything with him.”
Franco, as was everyone in Disney’s production, was keenly aware of the original film’s place -- not to mention its iconic The Wizard of Oz quotes -- in not only pop culture history, but our society as a whole. Working from Oz author L. Frank Baum’s original story helped things immensely.
“When you deal with Oz, as a subject, you of course have a fantastical land. So I had faith that everyone would be able to create a spectacular world,” Franco said of the film’s exquisite look. He stressed there also needs to be much more. The original film wasn’t simply a walk down a yellow brick road of gorgeousness. “You don’t want just a movie that’s a journey through a fantastical world. You want the characters to have their own inner journeys.”
And Franco himself had to be just slightly aware of the iconic nature of the man at the heart of that Emerald City universe, The Wizard of Oz. In Oz: The Great and Powerful, we find out how this person becomes the man behind the curtain.
“It was Sam’s idea, with collaboration with the writers, that character would also have an inner journey. He would start off one place and then have room to grow once he got to Oz,” Franco said.
“As much of a cad as he is in the beginning, it would never go to the point where he is unlikable -- because all of his manipulations and conning of people are played for laughs. I can’t quite blame him for being the way he is because of his history. He grew up in circumstances where he just wanted to get out. He wanted something different and performing was a way out.”
It is because of where he is and how he is living his life that he winds up on that balloon and in a tornado that will deliver him to his destiny that lies in the magical world that fatefully carries his name. “He’s gone a little too far in his ambitions and it’s blinded him to the love of the people around him,” Franco added.
As a fan of the original film, the actor reveled in the universe that Raimi had created, teased so gorgeously in the Oz: The Great and Powerful trailer. We meet Oz as a traveling circus magician who is more con artist than illusionist. Yet, he still is a talented showman, established in the film’s first scenes.
“I just loved that the character was comedic, that he could go into this world and bounce off it rather than just be pulled into it smoothly. I thought that was a very unique take on a world like this. And as a performer, it was the most enjoyable part of it.”
As it was an enormous part of who Oz is, Franco requested time with one of magic’s best. “I got to learn with Lance Burton. I got private lessons. I could accomplish the tricks! There were even more tricks than made it into the film. I got to learn quite a few pretty cool tricks that if I took them to parties, I probably would get a lot of attention,” Franco said and laughed.
Franco, an artist himself as well as author, teacher, student and the dozens of other interests the superstar maintains, was inspired by the lush landscape of Raimi’s Oz... evidenced in our Oz: The Great and Powerful stills.
“When we went to the premiere a few nights ago, it was the first time that we’d seen the full thing with all the effects. Knowing all the work and time that went into that and hundreds, maybe thousands of people that labored on it, I think it is a piece of art,” Franco said. “It’s just a beautifully made movie and the images are artworks.”
Speaking of all those interests, we wondered how Franco manages to balance them all and still maintain the level of success that he has achieved as an actor.
“I do many different kinds of projects. But I try and be very responsible about how and where they’re released. I know that they’re for different kinds of audiences. When I do a film that’s released at Sundance I feel like I’m entitled to do material that pushes boundaries because that’s an audience that can take it,” Franco admitted.
“And then when I do a movie like this, I know what the intention is and I’m not going to try and bring in anything that doesn’t fit in this world. It’s my job to align myself with the intention and tone of this world. It’s just a matter of knowing the kind of project I’m working on and fitting myself into that.”