PARK CITY, Utah—James Franco had no intention of being the sex king of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. But sometimes the universe gifts us a miracle.
So it has come to pass that the 34-year-old actor has arrived in town to promote no less than three sex-filled films. In "Lovelace," the dark story of the '70s-era porn star, he plays Playboy founder Hugh Hefner. "Kink" is a Franco-produced documentary about the world's largest producer of BDSM pornography. And then there's a co-directing effort called "Interior. Leather Bar.," a sexually charged riff on a 1980 film about gay cruising.
Has this all been part of Franco's plan, the next step in his always-keep-you-guessing, is-he-really-going-there-now career? Or is it just happenstance, the entertainment gods smiling down upon us? Franco, predictably thoughtful on the subject, can see it both ways.
"If you think about the origins of each of these films, it is a coincidence," he told MTV News. "But if you think about it as there's something in the air — and I do believe there are waves of things that interest filmmakers and people in television — then maybe it's not such a coincidence."
For instance, anyone who has stopped by a bookstore display table, perused a best-seller list, or checked out what everyone's reading on the subway could tell you that S&M has moved beyond the fringes of society and, at least conversationally, into the cultural mainstream. In "Kink," Franco explained, fans of E L James' fiction will find exactly what they're looking for — if they're brave enough to be honest about what's attracted them to her novels.
"This is for all the '50 Shades of Grey' fans," he told us. "This is what you're reading about. This is the real thing. This is what it looks like. This isn't the dime store version of bondage. This is what bondage is like."
But the MPAA ratings board cannot be counted on to allow such things — such kink — to be sanctioned as acceptable, R-rated viewing material, even as cinematic violence in all its bloody forms has become so common that unless you're Quentin Tarantino, no one gives a hoot. It's no surprise, then, that a continuing bit of speculation surrounding the planned adaptation of "Fifty Shades" is how the film can possibly snag an R-rating and still stay true to the source material.
"It's hard to put certain kinds of sex in film," Franco said. "Now, I could sort of understand that if it wasn't so easy to put other kinds of things in film, like violence. Obviously, there's some weird standard here that is just illogical."
Like Daniel Radcliffe before him (who told us earlier at Sundance that he finds the controversy over his "Kill Your Darlings" gay sex scenes "very strange"), Franco simply doesn't understand what the big deal is.
"[S]ex and sexuality are such big parts of our lives — the ways that we define ourselves, the ways that we interact with each other," he said. "Everyone thinks about it. Everyone knows about it. Even if you insist on living an incredibly chaste life and you're chaste in your thoughts, that's a conscious and concerted effort to keep sex from your thoughts. So you're still engaging with sex even if it's in a negative capacity."
"It's a huge part of our lives," he added. "It's part of being human."