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James Franco's "Maybe I'm Gay" Goes Viral for the Wrong Reasons

Wonderwall, Thursday, January 6, 2011, 6:03pm (PST)

By Drew Mackie

Riding a high off "127 Hours," actor James Franco doesn't need to do much to get the world to notice him. (Evidence of this fact: the multitude of blog posts devoted to his mustache.) But he made some serious waves Thursday when Entertainment Weekly posted an exclusive interview during which he said many things, including the sentence "Maybe I'm just gay." Guess what the world of gossip picked up on?

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It's too bad that most readers will only take away "Maybe I'm gay" from Entertainment Weekly's interview with Franco, because though he often makes wackadoo statements -- the kind one might say if he wanted attention, hypothetically speaking -- his explanation of why he played gay roles in "Milk" and "Howl" is well-reasoned. The article quotes Franco as saying, "There are lots of other reasons to be interested in gay characters than wanting myself to go out and have sex with guys ... And there are also lots of other aspects about these characters that I'm interested in, in addition to their sexuality." Franco goes on to say that he's played homosexual men in several different time periods, each one offering him new challenges as an actor who must struggle to play a different type of outsider. And then, as if to make fun of the simplistic logic of "gay roles = gay actor," he throws out a flippant "Or, you know what, maybe I'm just gay."

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See, because he's not gay any more than he is, say, an octopus, and even if he starred in a string of octopus-themed movies, nobody would start wondering if he were an octopus in real life. Celeb blog The Frisky does a good job explaining why Franco's reasoning is especially refreshing, especially coming from him. Noting that Franco has a habit of saying the kinds of things that generate headlines (he told James Lipton "Sometimes rabbits turn me on"), Frisky blogger Jessica Wakeman explains that Franco seemed to be using the possibility of being gay as a means to generate publicity, writing "I mean, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal are the two most famous straight-men-who-played-it-gay actors and they never made one-fourth the kerfuffle that James Franco has." But Franco's most recent statements win praise. Wakeman writes, "It's extremely cool that there's someone in Hollywood who can talk knowledgeably about identity politics ... I dig the gender analysis, James."

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It's just too bad that most blogs couldn't take the time to examine all of Franco's words as closely as The Frisky did. Most posts on the matter say more or less "Franco Says 'Maybe I'm Gay,'" missing the point of what the actor was trying to say. Even The Advocate, the gay news publication of note, doesn't seem to bother with the implications of Franco's statement, saying only "The actor, who told The Advocate last summer that he is straight, is now raising eyebrows by suggesting otherwise in an interview with Entertainment Weekly." But maybe we can't really fault everyone else, when even Entertainment Weekly itself slapped the "Maybe I'm gay" in the headline.

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In the end, Franco just deserves a little more credit for saying something intelligent, especially during a week when Mila Kunis got a deserved talking-to from Gawker for making the boneheaded statement "I'm a gay man in a straight woman's body." (Why is that stupid? Among other reasons, any follow-up she could give explaining her meaning would endorse one insulting gay stereotype or another.) Franco has seemed to tease his sexuality before, and for him to show that he really respects his past roles -- as well as future gay ones in upcoming biopics on Hart Crane and Sal Mineo -- shows that he really deserves all the praise he gets for being a thoughtful, skillful actor. And on our end of it, the celeb media needs to work a little harder to notice when celebs do something smart.

Follow Drew Mackie on Twitter and at Wonderwall.

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