There have long been rumblings about actor James Franco and his relationships with women, plus the public incident in which he DMed a 17-year-old on Instagram for a sexual encounter. In a new exposé, five women have come forward to allege exploitative sexual behavior.
The L.A. Times reports that the majority of these incidents are associated with Franco’ acting school, Studio 4. Four of the women were his students, one described him as her “mentor.” Sarah Tither-Kaplan, who drew attention by tweeting about Franco after he appeared at the Golden Globes wearing a “Time’s Up” pin, says that Franco seemed to use his school as a way to access young women who were eager for opportunities in the industry.
“I feel there was an abuse of power, and there was a culture of exploiting non-celebrity women, and a culture of women being replaceable,” said Tither-Kaplan.
Two of Franco’s students from his time teaching at Playhouse West in North Hollywood, Hilary Dusome and Natalie Chmiel, say they were asked to participate in what they thought was a short film directed by the actor. One was told it was for a 7 For All Mankind jeans commercial. The shoot was at a strip club, and both actresses felt Franco’s behavior on set was unprofessional:
Midway through filming, Dusome said Franco approached the actresses — who wore masks and lingerie — and asked, “So, who wants to take your shirt off?”
When no actresses volunteered, Franco stormed off, Dusome recalled.
“I felt like I was selected for something based on my hard work and my merit, and when I realized it was because I have nice [breasts], it was pretty clear that was not the case,” Dusome said. “I don’t think he started teaching with bad intentions, but he went down a bad path and damaged a lot of people in the process.”
Students at Studio 4 were told they’d be considered for roles in films made by Franco’s company, Rabbit Bandini Productions, but it was reportedly rare for a student to receive a call after auditions:
Katie Ryan, who met Franco at Playhouse West and took several classes at Studio 4, said the actor “would always make everybody think there were possible roles on the table if we were to perform sexual acts or take off our shirts.”
She said that for years, she received mass email requests from Franco to audition for roles playing “a prostitute or a hooker.”
Tither-Kaplan says that a short film she made for Franco’s Sex Scenes master class (yes, that was a real thing), in which she appears topless, now appears on a pornography site without her permission. Tither-Kaplan shared an email from 2015 she and other “Sex Sceners” received from Rabbit Bandini saying the films had been uploaded to the Studio 4 Vimeo Channel, which is likely where the images were taken from.
Around that same time, Tither-Kaplan was hired to play an extra on the set of Franco’s indie film The Long Home. She agreed to perform nude, and was later asked to appear in a “bonus” orgy scene. In the scene, Franco was supposed to simulate oral sex on two actresses, but Tither-Kaplan says she observed him removing the plastic guard protecting their genitals. Another scene, she says, was tacked on in which women were required to be topless. One woman who refused was sent home the next day in what Tither-Kaplan thought was retribution.
In another account, Violet Paley says that in 2016 she was in the early stages of a romantic relationship with Franco, and she thought was interested in her work as a filmmaker. She says they were talking in her car when he suddenly pressured her into their first oral sex encounter.
“I was talking to him, all of a sudden his penis was out,” said Paley. “I got really nervous, and I said, ‘Can we do this later?’ He was kind of nudging my head down, and I just didn’t want him to hate me, so I did it.”
Paley says she was uncomfortable and therefore pretended someone was near the car in order to stop.
She told the LA Times that she emailed Franco about the incident after the Harvey Weinstein allegations broke. They eventually spoke on the phone, and she says he admitted “it was wrong for him to have a sexual relationship with someone he knew to be in recovery for substance abuse.” But he also said he hadn’t “done anything Illegal” and was “a changed man.”
Franco’s attorneys have denied or called all these accounts inaccurate. You can read the full report here.