Arts, Culture & Media

James Franco's new film explores life through the lens of a violent sociopath

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Director and actor James Franco, right, poses with actor Scott Haze during a red carpet for the movie "Child of God" during the 70th Venice Film Festival in Venice August 31, 2013.

Credit:

Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters

Lester Ballard, the protagonist of Cormac McCarthy's novel "Child Of God," is easy to hate. He's violent, he's morally corrupt, and he's into necrophilia.

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

James Franco directed and co-wrote the new film adaption of the book. The movie is a character study of Lester Ballard, played by Scott Haze. Ballard is living in isolation in rural Tennessee, and spirals into a dark, twisted, crime-riddled existence.

Franco says he relied on subtle comedy to help audiences stay with such a grim tale.

"What I found out when I started adapting the book is that when you normally have a character like this, he is being tracked down by the detectives," Franco says. "Rarely do you have a character like this who is at the center of the film in such a prominent way. My goal was not to make Lester sympathetic — in no way do I condone his behavior—but it's within the realm of art."

Franco says the film is designed to examine human behavior, not tell a moralistic tale.

"I'm using a monster to talk about more universal, human things," he says. "If I'm going to use a monster like this, I don't want to repel the audience. I want to shock them, but I want them to stay with us — I don't want them to kind of shut off emotionally from him. Comedy is such a powerful tool for bringing an audience onto the side of a character. If the audience can laugh with a character, you've won them over."

The film is heavily focused on Ballard, which led Haze to carefully prepare for the role.

"Cormac's writing, it doesn't lend a lot of itself to the inner workings of what Lester is feeling," he explains. "A lot of times when I was reading the novel, I tried to approach it in the sense of just thinking about, 'What is this man going through?' There are certain elements that I think that are really at play — of feeling really alone, wanting to connect, wanting to be loved and wanting to have a family."

Haze says Ballard was ostracized by society, cast away, and wasn't shown love.

"I think in living that stuff out, those are human desires that I think every human has — to want to feel connected, to belong to a group, or to belong to a society," says Haze. "That is something I wanted to convey."

Franco himself is a little difficult to judge. He's an actor, writer and director. He's a student, a teacher and an artist. Tomorrow, he will probably be something else entirely.

"We live in a postmodern age, and form is so fluid," he says. "A lot of people are stuck in these old ideas where a creative person needs to stay with one thing. I see form matching content, so the goal is not to put feather in my cap each time I do something new. It's just to explore."

Check out a trailer for the film below.