An actor and author far from anonymous

On Thursday morning, I woke up at 6 a.m., got dressed, and braved the -28 °C weather in order to make my way to Indigo Montreal-Trust, where people were lining up to purchase James Franco’s debut novel, Actors Anonymous.

James Franco, Hollywood’s most educated man, was in Montreal last week to sign copies of his first novel, Actors Anonymous. Photo by Natasha Taggart

A total of 500 fans were able to purchase the book, some of whom had been waiting in line since midnight. Once they had bought the book, they were given a gold bracelet that would allow them to, at 7 p.m. that night, meet the famous actor, director, author and visual artist to have their books signed. I was put into group 10 out of 13, and then had to wait over nine hours until I could finally see Franco in the flesh.

The book signing, which took place on the second floor of the store, started 30 minutes late. The crowd, which consisted mostly of young, overly-excited women (I must admit that I was a part of this demographic), screeched his name when he finally welcomed his fans. We were then called up by group number, and were allowed to have two copies of Actors Anonymous signed.

When my group was called, I got in line and started to get nervous. I was about to speak to Franco and had no idea what I wanted to say. Everyone had their phones out at the ready, as there was about a 20-second window between standing next to Franco — therefore having the perfect opportunity to take a quick photo of his iconic crinkly smile — and then it being your turn to go say a few words.

Before I knew what was happening, Franco was asking me how I was. I froze, then told him that I was good. The next 30 seconds are a blur. I remember telling him something lame, like that I thought he was great. Then I mentioned that I had liked the book and he seemed surprised that I even brought it up. He winked at me and I had to move on.

At about 10 p.m., the event ended and Franco snuck out of the store through a secret exit, leaving his loving fans behind.

The whole event reminded me of a particular part of Actors Anonymous that was quite ironic. At the beginning of the book, Franco talks about how he struggled with being shy and that, when he was 27, he had to teach himself to talk to people. He mentioned that being famous helped and that, nowadays, people always want to be seen at his side. He then writes “or I’m like Santa Claus: Everyone needs a picture sitting on my knees. The ones I don’t mind are the young pretty ones.”

Well, everyone definitely wanted to take a picture with Franco on Thursday. Thankfully, many of them were young and pretty, so I guess he didn’t mind so much.

As for the novel itself, whether or not the fans had read it remains a mystery. For those of you who are considering picking it up or for those of you who have no idea what you had autographed, here is a review.

Actors Anonymous is unique, raw and gives a little glimpse of what it is like being Franco. The novel follows many seemingly unrelated young actors who are still nobodies, while being interspersed with Franco’s personal experiences with acting. The novel also includes poems about River Phoenix, a letter of apology to Franco’s film class, annotated stories and articles, text messages and scripts.

The book is roughly based on the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. In Franco’s version of the steps, God is the Great Director and the addiction is acting.

The most fascinating chapters in the book are by far those narrated by Franco himself. In these chapters, he gives readers a glimpse into his world and shows that making movies is definitely not the glamorous job it is portrayed to be. He speaks of the importance of every person who works on a movie, especially the director. Franco writes about the actors he looks up to, and talks about their lives — from Jack Nicholson to Marlon Brando. He also, of course, speaks a lot about art, of what it means to him and its importance.

It is hard to tell what parts of this novel are fictional and which are based on true events.

Any of his fictional characters could be him, and in some cases, know him or even dated him. As the book progresses, it also becomes obvious that all the characters are interconnected.

Photo by Nathalie Laflamme

At the book signing, Franco drew a little doodle next to his name. Everyone thought it was a snowman, but the drawing is oddly similar to a doodle one of the characters in the novel, an ex-heroin addict who works at a McDonald’s drive-thru, made for a woman he liked.

Franco’s writing style is simple yet filled with emotion and the content often shocking — talking about rape, death, prostitution, pedophilia, orgies and explosive diarrhea.

Some of the chapters in the book are annotated by one or two other characters, making the text confusing. In these, Franco is referred to as The Actor. One of these chapters includes parts of an article written about Franco that he did not like — each annotation is a negative comment about the article. It felt like Franco was using his novel as a way to get back at people. Of course, it is hard to tell how much of this story is based on truth.

Although Franco might be telling his readers that the film industry is not necessarily a good place to work, his text still offers a lot of life advice and shows to what extent pretending to be somebody else can affect a person. Franco also shows that fame is definitely not all it is perceived to be. As he writes in his book, “sometimes it would be nice to wear a mask in the outside world. Just stay anonymous for a while.”

A friend of mine mentioned that she thought Actors Anonymous would not have been published had the author not been Franco. In some ways, my friend might be right; the novel is definitely not your typical bestseller. Then again, I do not think anyone other than Franco could have written anything remotely similar to this novel. Franco fans will definitely enjoy this glimpse into his thoughts — they may even take his advice to heart.




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