In his new film "127 Hours," James Franco's character cuts off his own arm to escape death. And we're really hoping that's a special effect considering how skillfully, of late, the actor has been merging his art with his real life.
Like a kid in a candy store, Franco's applied his varied talents -- and the resources of his fame -- to play a series of postmodern practical jokes on the world while giving the finger to all who'd rather he play the vapid pretty boy.
Our 12 favorite instances:
1. The Soap Opera Side Career
2. Franco vs. James Franco: Art SmackDown 2010!
So... try to not let your brain explode. This summer, celebrating the end of his run on "General Hospital," James got himself a gallery showing at MOCA. Wait, let’s rephrase that. His character, Franco, (noted artist and possible crazy person) got himself a showing at MOCA. The REAL James Franco (noted actor, writer, possible crazy person) simultaneously got his own show at the Clocktower Gallery in NYC. What? Why do you look so confused?
3. 'Three’s Company… The Drama'
Escalating his heroic push to leave the world in a state of utter bewilderment, Franco announced he'll be premiering a multi-media examination of the '70s sitcom "Three’s Company” at the Sundance Film Festival in January. No one is sure what, exactly, this means. Well played, Franco; another piece of the puzzle, that is you, goes missing.
4. Man in Drag
Right on the heels of squashing gay rumors, the actor got all dolled up for a drag photo spread in Candy, a transvestism magazine. Because...why not? And a more attractive transvestite we've rarely seen. He also sported a wig and bra while receiving his Hasty Pudding "Man of the Year" award at Harvard in 2009. And yet this ranks as one of the more normal activities on the list...
5. Adult Education
Franco enjoyed college at UCLA so much that he decided to go to all of them! For his masters, he simultaneously attended Columbia, NYU, Brooklyn College and Warren Wilson College and is now at Yale and the Rhode Island School of Design. To earn extra cash for his mounting tuition bills, he's considering either a work-study gig at the registrar's office or reprising his role of Harry in "Spiderman 4." Tough decision.
(Next week: Come along as James Franco gives us a behind-the-scenes tour of his job at the Howard University registrar's office.)
6. Doing the Write Thing
Most movie stars do movie star things. Go to parties. Make sex tapes. Carry out community service sentences. But not James Franco. No, he had to go get a creative writing degree. What kind of example is he setting? Earlier this year, Esquire Magazine published the actor's story "Just Before the Black" in anticipation of the release of his new book, "Palo Alto." Lindsay Lohan needs to sit this kid down and set him straight.
7. Killing It on 'SNL'
In 2009, Franco starred in a brilliant, SNL send-up of a "Wiggles"-style children's show (the sort where overly caffeinated adults in pajamas get strangely excited about minutiae). The wholesome dancing and clapping rapidly descends into madness as the show's stars are doled out knives and forced to compete in a drug-fueled, death match set to toddler rap.
8. Pillow Love
Finally settling down for a more conventional role, James Franco played an alternate version of himself on NBC's "30 Rock," who dates Jenna (Jane Krakowski) purely to quell rumors of his romantic relationship with a Japanese body pillow named Komiko. The family friendly comedy ends with James having a three-way with Komiko and Liz (Tina Fey).
9. Funny or Die as Soapbox Forum
On June 12, 2009, Franco was slated to deliver the UCLA commencement speech. Jealous nerds protested, whining it was unfair to give the honor to Franco, a mediocre student who fell asleep in class. Franco ended up backing out due to a movie shoot. But never shying from a chance to get meta, he posted fake, embarrassingly clueless videos of his speech on the humor site Funny or Die.
Franco's been using the site as his personal vaudevillian stage for some time now, with bits like his knowing send-up of "The Hills" with Mila Kunis, and his hysterically obtuse acting lessons in "Acting With James Franco."
10. Dwarfing Expectations
Franco got his start on the under-appreciated Judd Apatow TV series "Freaks and Geeks," playing Daniel, a stoner high school student. Graduating with low grades and zero prospects, Daniel suspects his glory days are behind him. But in the series finale, he plays Dungeons and Dragons with the geeks and, to everyone's surprise, is finally good at something! Naming his RPG character "Carlos the Dwarf," he kicked serious ass and endeared himself to D&D fans everywhere.
11. "Stoner of the Year"
The craziest thing about James Franco winning the title "Stoner of the Year" from High Times Magazine is that he says he doesn't smoke up (we know, we're shocked too). And yet he's always sort of squinting, isn't he...? Of course, the award is really directed at his hilarious character, Saul Silver, in the hit comedy "Pineapple Express," for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe. His mother must be very proud.
12. The MTV Interview
Even Franco, who seems to be perpetually "on," can sometimes be off. On the set of his 2007 film "Finishing the Game," he gave a reluctant interview to MTV. Grumpy and dazed, he seems unenthused to play the role of James Franco, movie star. Is he having a bad day or putting the interviewer on? The danger in presenting yourself as a riddle is that everyone tries to figure you out -- even when you're just tired.