James Franco Writes Open Letter To Shia LaBeouf

'I hope ... that his actions are intended as a piece of performance art,' Franco said of LaBeouf's recent odd behavior.

James Franco knows all about doing weird stuff in public and freaking people out. Hell, he’s practically cornered the market on confounding his fans with unexpected choices and bizarre projects .

So it makes perfect sense that the actor/writer/director/performance artist/singer/soap opera star would have some thoughts on the recent odd behavior of fellow actor Shia LaBeouf. While Franco’s forays into performance art have won praise and, yes, some scorn (Google “Birdsh–“), in an op-ed piece for the New York Times, the actor offered some sobering advice to Shia.

Some highlights from the article:

Don’t Rush To Judgment
“Though the wisdom of some of his actions may seem questionable, as an actor and artist I’m inclined to take an empathetic view of his conduct,” Franco wrote before ticking off the list of LaBeouf’s recent actions, including charges of plagiarism, that he apologized for with what appeared to be more plagiarism.

“Was that clever or pathological?” Franco wondered.

And then there was the incident earlier this month where LaBeouf wore a paper bag 
 over his head that read “I am not famous anymore” 
 and the accompanying art show, “#IAmSorry.”

“This behavior could be a sign of many things, from a nervous breakdown to mere youthful recklessness,” Franco speculated. “For Mr. LaBeouf’s sake I hope it is nothing serious. Indeed I hope — and, yes, I know that this idea has pretentious or just plain ridiculous overtones — that his actions are intended as a piece of performance art, one in which a young man in a very public profession tries to reclaim his public persona.”

Hell, Brando Did It Too
Franco noted that actors, including such icons as Marlon Brando, have been fighting to regain their public images for decades. “At times I have felt the need to dissociate myself from my work and public image,” he said, pointing to his 2009 stint on cheesy daytime soap “General Hospital” while also starring in the Oscar-nominated “127 Hours.”

“My decision was in part an effort to jar expectations of what a film actor does and to undermine the tacit — or not so tacit — hierarchy of entertainment,” Franco said.

He also pointed to the 2010 image-busting documentary “I’m Still Here” by Joaquin Phoenix, in which the actor appeared to be setting fire to his screen career to pursue hip-hop. “Even if the conceit was ultimately a joke (and initially it wasn’t clear that it was, for Mr. Phoenix stayed in character in public throughout the filming), the movie was nonetheless earnest about an actor’s need to take back a little bit of power over his image by making such a film,” Franco wrote.

Playing Peek-A-Boo Can Be Fun, But Don’t Overdo It
Actors, perhaps more than other artists, know what it’s like to have other people mold their public personas. “Our rebellion against the hand that feeds us can instigate a frenzy of commentary that sets in motion a feedback loop: acting out, followed by negative publicity, followed by acting out in response to that publicity, followed by more publicity, and so on,” he said.

“Mr. LaBeouf has been acting since he was a child, and often an actor’s need to tear down the public creation that constrains him occurs during the transition from young man to adult.”

Bottom line: if what Shia is doing is indeed an art project, Franco is all for it. But, he added a very important caveat to that note of support.

“I just hope that he is careful not to use up all the good will he has gained as an actor in order to show us that he is an artist.”

Can't stop, won't stop.