James Franco may have won big at the Golden Globes on Sunday, but the focus since hasn't been on his achievements. It's been on his "Time's Up" pin that he wore on his lapel. The focus has especially been on how the five women who are accusing him of sexually exploitative behavior toward them reacted to the hypocritical statement.
It “was like a slap in my face,” said Sarah Tither-Kaplan, a former acting student at the film school Franco founded. She went on to appear in several of his productions.
Tither-Kaplan is one of five women who is accusing Franco, 39, of behavior they found to be "inappropriate or sexually exploitative." The women told their stories to the Los Angeles Times.
Four were his students in acting classes. The fifth woman said he was her mentor.
In many of the cases, the women described a power imbalance in the relationship. They said they believed Franco could help them forward their careers. Because of that, they acquiesced to his wishes even when they were uncomfortable.
“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,” Tither-Kaplan told The Times.
Tither-Kaplan was one of many women who took to Twitter on Sunday night to vent anger over Franco’s win.
Kaplan described a "nude orgy scene" she filmed with Franco and several other women three years ago. She described the experience as exploitative and a lack of consent. Her full account can be read in the Los Angeles Times, but it will not be reprinted here.
Two other student actresses also recounted negative on-set experiences. They recounted a situation where Franco became angry when no women would agree to be topless in a shoot.
Franco’s attorney, Michael Plonsker, disputed all of the women’s allegations. He directed The Times to Franco’s comments Tuesday night on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.”
“Look, in my life I pride myself on taking responsibility for things that I have done,” he told Colbert. “I have to do that to maintain my well being. The things that I heard that were on Twitter are not accurate. But I completely support people coming out and being able to have a voice because they didn’t have a voice for so long. So I don’t want to shut them down in any way.”
“If I have done something wrong,” he added, “I will fix it—I have to.”
Franco's questionable treatment of women is well documented. In 2014, the then 35-year-old used Instagram to ask a 17-year-old British girl, who he’d met outside a New York theater, if she had a boyfriend and whether she was 18.
Even after learning her age—which would make an encounter illegal—he asked for the name of her hotel. He went as far as asking if he should rent a room.
After that episode became public, Franco apologized on ABC’s “Live! With Kelly and Michael.”
“I’m embarrassed, and I guess I’m just a model of how social media is tricky,” he said. “I used bad judgment, and I learned my lesson.”
But that wasn't the first woman who felt discomforted by his behavior. Before he opened his acting school Studio 4, Franco taught at Playhouse West in North Hollywood.
"Two of his former students there said he put female students in uncomfortable situations beyond the normal parameters of acting class," wrote The Times.
Hilary Dusome, 33, took a class from Franco in 2012. She said that initially, she found him to be "a really generous spirit," eager to help aspiring actors. However, her feelings shifted when she was selected to appear in what she believed to be one of Franco’s “art films.”
Natalie Chmiel, the other student, said she was told the footage would be used in a 7 For All Mankind jeans commercial.
Neither women got what they expected. They described an "unprofessional and hostile shoot at a strip club."
Halfway through filming the footage, Dusome said Franco asked the actresses to remove their tops.
He said, "So, who wants to take your shirt off?"
When none of the actresses stepped forward to be objectified, Franco stormed off, Dusome recalled.
"I felt like I was selected for something based on my hard work and my merit, and...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."
Chmiel, 33, corroborated Dusome's story. She also recalled Franco asking the women if any of them wanted to take their top off. She said he was “visibly angry” when they declined.
“He just took advantage of our eagerness to work and be a part of something bigger,” Chmiel said. “We were all these up-and-coming actors who were so hopeful.”
Franco's attorney denied that his client asked the women to remove their tops.
In 2014, Franco launched Studio 4. It opened a North Hollywood school opened first and a New York City outpost. It suddenly closed last fall.
"One of the things that made Studio 4 different from other acting schools, Franco promised, was its ability to funnel promising talent into the actor's own projects. Indeed, the school’s now-closed website said that Franco and his production company, Rabbit Bandini Productions, would 'cast roles directly from his classes, and will involve his students in a variety of his film and art projects,'" said The Times.
But women described the roles as small parts that always required nudity.
“I didn’t have agency representation at the time, so I thought, ‘Well, I’m not going to be able to get into good auditions, so this might be my opportunity,'" said Devyn LaBella, who spent a year as a student at the NoHo location.
Katie Ryan echoed LaBella. She said the Franco “would always make everybody think there were possible roles on the table if we were to perform sexual acts or take off our shirts."
Tither-Kaplan, who is pictured above, was apart of a docu-series that went behind the scenes of Franco’s Sex Scenes master class, which taught students about the art of being intimate on camera. In one of the short films, she was shown topless. The video was uploaded to Vimeo without her approval, and last year, she discovered images from the film on at least one pornography website.
“Now, if you Google me, you can see me naked,” said Tither-Kaplan, 26. “Before I’ve ever been on TV or before I’ve ever had any real credits or before any of this—of course, I regret that. I don’t want that.
In 2015, Franco asked Tither-Kaplan to play a prostitute in another of his projects, the feature film “The Long Home,” with a cast that included him, Josh Hutcherson, Courtney Love, and Timothy Hutton.
"The part required her to perform nude, and she agreed because she considered it a big break. In fact, she signed nudity agreements for each of the films she made with Franco," wrote The Times.
She says the scenes she had to film went beyond what was described in the contract. One woman who objected was sent home the next day.
“I got it in my head pretty quickly that, OK, you don’t say ‘no’ to this guy,” recalled Tither-Kaplan.
Another actress who participated in the shoots confirmed Tither-Kaplan’s account.
Late last year, after Harvey Weinstein’s alleged abuse of women became public, Tither-Kaplan revealed that Franco apologized for making her feel uncomfortable.
“I want to give him credit for at least being open to communicating with me,” she said. “I felt that he was still not really taking accountability for the environment on the sets.”
Another young woman, Violet Paley, 23, pictured above, spoke to The Times about her relationship with Franco. She says she met in early 2016, and he said he was willing to give her notes on her script.
Instead, they began a romantic relationship. Early on in the relationship, he pressured her to perform sexual acts she was uncomfortable with while they were sitting in her car.
"I just didn’t want him to hate me, so I did it," said Paley.
Later, Paley said, she and Franco advanced their consensual relationship, which complicated the situation. She told The Times she would have handled the situation differently, especially after the Weinstein scandal.
“I would say, ‘No, stop, get out of my car,’” she said. “The power dynamic was really off."
After Franco won the Golden Globe on Sunday night, Paley expressed her outrage, tweeting about their alleged encounter in her car.
It is unclear how the allegations will affect Franco’s career. The New York Times on Tuesday canceled a planned event with the actor, citing the controversy.
In related news, Seal is accusing Oprah of being apart of the Weinstein problem.